What is a Design Sprint?

New to design sprints? This article will tell you everything you need to know about what design sprints are, when to use them (or not) and where they make the most impact.

Design Sprint Training by Design Sprint Academy

What is a Design Sprint?

A 6-phase design framework for validating ideas and solving big challenges.

Design = how it works.

Sprint = short & focused.

Where Does it Come From?

Design Sprints started at Google 10 years ago, and over a decade became the way Google creates and innovates.

The design sprint framework was introduced to the world with the launch of the “Sprint, How To Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas In Just Five Days” book in 2016.

Types of Design Sprints

Since their inception, Design Sprints evolved and adapted to better respond to the different business needs and organizational goals. There are different ways to categorize Design Sprints. For example based on duration (5-day, 4-day, 3-day sprint or even 2-week sprints) or some specific method or technology (AI sprints, Talent Sprints, Green Sprint, Voice Sprint etc.).

At Design Sprint Academy, we think outcomes is the most relevant criteria to categorize different types of design sprints.

Product/Service Design Sprint

Outcome 🎯— A new product or service validated/invalidated by the market.

Business Design Sprint

Outcome 🎯— A new business model that leverages the organizations’ core strengths.

Strategy Design Sprint

Outcome 🎯— A game plan for growth based on feasible strategies that everyone’s on board with.

Moonshot Design Sprint

Outcome 🎯— A new vision for the future that pushes boundaries and re-imagines the current context.

Brand Design Sprint

Outcome 🎯 — A vision for the company’s brand collectively defined by the company leaders.

PRO TIP ⚡ ️Discover. Design Sprint 3.0 — a framework that fits best large organizations and solves complex business challenges.

What Do You Need for a Design Sprint?

🚀 One big challenge or critical problem that needs solving.

🎳 A team of 7–10 people with diverse skills and areas of expertise, working together for 4-5 days to develop a solution (prototype) to the above-mentioned challenge.

👩‍💻 Five users/customers to test the prototype on the last day of the sprint.

What Happens in a Design Sprint?

A cross-functional team moves from problem to tested solution in only a few days by effectively collaborating and going through different thinking stages.

Understand

The sprint starts with understanding the challenge and exploring the problem space. That involves the team sharing their knowledge and expertise, empathizing with users, mapping their journeys and experiences to identify pain points and opportunities for the future.

Define

Once the team gained a shared understanding of the problem, they are ready to define the sprint's direction, the most critical point in their customer journey, and come up with questions that need answers by the end of the week. These questions would then drive solutions to be built and tested.

Ideate

With a clear goal in mind, the team can now go into solution mode. This phase starts with gathering outside inspiration because innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Then each team member is empowered to come up with their own unique solution to the problem.

Decide

This phase is about deciding which solution gets prototyped. It can be one of the solutions, but more often than not, it’s a combination of the best parts of multiple ideas. The team ends the day by drafting the prototype skeleton — we call this the storyboard.

Prototype

The team has one day to build a prototype. In a design sprint, the prototype is a realistic facade of the concept that needs testing; it’s more like the storefront, not the store itself.

Test

On the last day of the sprint, the prototype is tested with 5 customers, which will validate or invalidate the solution. At the end of the sprint, whether the solution was validated, invalidated, or partially validated, the team knows how to move forward.

PRO TIP⚡️ Skip the long learning curve and unlock the 💪 full power of Design Sprints. Join the Design Sprint Certification program.

What Are the Design Sprint Principles?

1. Together alone

Design Sprints rediscovered the power of silence. Three to ten minutes of silent thinking are very beneficial for introverts, allowing them to gather their thoughts and contribute more actively. At the same time, it helps the team mitigate the “group think” or going for the “quick win.”

2. Tangible discussion

In a Design Sprint, everything is captured. Hundreds of color-coded sticky notes on the walls or on digital whiteboards replace the team’s short-time memory and help focus the attention on the things that matter the most.

3. Everyone has a voice

Nobody is left behind in a Design Sprint. A Design Sprint Facilitator is in charge of managing the group dynamics and the conversations, making sure everyone gets the chance to share their opinion and make decisions.

4. Strict time boundaries

Design Sprints follow a strict schedule. All team activities are time-boxed and focused, making sure the team moves fast through the week.

What Are the Key-Roles in a Design Sprint?

🪄 The Design Sprint Facilitator Role

The Design Sprint Facilitator is a dedicated third-party sprint master, who’s responsible for preparing the sprint, keeping everyone on track, managing the time and the process, enforcing the “rules of the game,” managing the group dynamics and the conversations, and lastly with documenting the sprint progress and outcomes.

👑 The Decider Role

The Decider is typically someone with decision-making power that can either kill the project or push it forward. The Decider shares the vision for the sprint and gets the team excited about the future, helps the team get unstuck through the sprint, and decides the best solutions to be prototyped and tested.

💪 The Sprint Team Member

The sprint team member is the expert who holds the key to the solution. In a Design Sprint, their role is to share their knowledge, contribute with ideas, and ultimately solve the challenge.

PRO TIP⚡️ Having trained the likes of Google, Microsoft, Roche, SAP to nail their Design Sprints, we’ve compiled our learnings into 🛠 comprehensive kits that will help you run your sprint like a pro — stress and hassle free!

When to run a Design Sprint?

The framework can be used anytime when an organization needs to answer critical business questions, when a project is stuck or when big problems don’t have an obvious solution.

Design Sprints can be applied in a multitude of use cases, to:

✅ Test new business ideas

✅ Kick-off a big project

✅ Improve a service

✅ Optimize a process

✅ Start a new product or ideate a specific area of a product

✅ Discover the right priorities and features for a product

✅ Engage new audiences

✅ Define marketing and growth strategies

When not to run a Design Sprint?

Design Sprints have their limitations and might not be the ideal solution when :

❌ You are trying to cover all aspects of a very complex product/service at once. Sprints are very focused on answering specific questions you don’t have obvious answers to.

❌ You want to explore multiple use cases and hypotheses. Sprints are 1 week-long (or less), and the team can’t cover all possible hypotheses in such a short timeframe.

❌ You don’t understand or can’t articulate the problem you are trying to solve. The design sprint is a process that helps coming up with a solution. Before doing a design sprint one needs to clearly define the problem, both from a business and customer perspective.

❌ You already know what the solution is or what to build. Running a design sprint at this point would be a complete waste of energy and resources.

❌ There is no clear plan or support to execute the sprint outcomes. Without this, in most cases, the sprint week is just a wasted week.

❌ You are looking for just small improvements to your product or service. Sprints are not a replacement for standard UX processes. Use sprints to answer big questions and set/validate a direction. But don’t think of them as a magic pill. Design Sprints are most effective when they are integrated with other processes in the organization.

PRO TIP ⚡️ — Avoid Design Sprint pitfalls by ensuring the sprint challenge is well defined and aligned with the organizational goals. Learn more about Problem Framing and why is it crucial to sprint success.

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