The One-Day Design Sprint

Thomas Zarazik
Nov 28, 2019 · 9 min read

Don’t get me wrong: I am not saying that I found a magical recipe which makes five days fit in only one. The five-day Design Sprint is a very effective method useful to solve all kinds of problems, but some problems don’t need a five-day investment. The main advantage of the one-day format described below is that it can foster the use of this method in a corporate environment.

Design Sprint

What is a Design Sprint?

For those who still don’t know about the , here is a quick recap (GV = Google Ventures):

The sprint is a five-day process for answering critical business questions through design, prototyping, and testing ideas with customers. Developed at GV, it’s a “greatest hits” of business strategy, innovation, behavior science, design thinking, and more — packaged into a battle-tested process that any team can use.

When well executed, the Design Sprint has many advantages:

  • Simple solutions:
    The collaborative approach and prototyping provide simple solutions to complex problems in a short period of time and at a low cost.
  • Rapidity:
    The Sprint accelerates the design of new products or services. No time is left for long debates and the strong time constraint promotes creativity and decision-making.
  • Reduced risk:
    Prototyping allows to quickly validate the choices that are made, hence minimizing the risk of late failure.
  • Collaboration & Innovation:
    The co-location of multidisciplinary resources that share the same level of information and move for a full week towards a common goal strengthens team spirit and fosters the emergence of innovative solutions.
  • End user’s validation:
    During a Sprint, the solutions are designed with full consideration of the end-user’s point of view and are validated by them.

The typical agenda of the five-day Sprint would be the following:

Picture taken from the Sprint
  • Monday: Mapping the problem and choosing a target.
  • Tuesday: Generating solutions and sketching them.
  • Wednesday: Picking the best solutions and stitching them.
  • Thursday: Building a real-world prototype.
  • Friday: Testing with end users and taking decisions.

Each day is time-boxed and has a precise agenda in order to achieve the above objectives.

Engineering, finance, marketing, customer relationship, logistics, design…

For the Sprint to be efficient, the composition of the team is primordial. There is a real need for a multidisciplinary team which, depending on the addressed topic, may include people from engineering, finance, marketing, customer relationship, logistics, design, etc… and a Decider — basically the sponsor of the project or product.

With the classic Sprint, this group of seven or fewer people work together for a whole week, five consecutive days… In some environments, that can be a real showstopper for anyone who is willing to try and change the ways of working, hence the idea to shorten the process.

How might we shorten the Design Sprint?

In corporate context, various topics can benefit from a Design Sprint approach. While GV’s Sprint was originally built for startups, the problems in enterprise context are often not that big and don’t need five whole days to get solved.

What can be done is to take some specific workshops out of the process in order to serve a specific purpose — see examples of . Doing that may help solving problems but may also cause the loss of some benefits of a whole Design Sprint.

After running a lot of Sprints, AJ&Smart reviewed the approach and came out with the : four days including only two days with the whole team. That is a real improvement! From my experience as a consultant, it is possible to go even further than that with a one-day format.

The one-day format

“One-day” refers to the period when everyone is in the room at the same time. This day is not enough to get the full benefits of the process: there is some preparation work and follow-up once the day is done, allowing to go through all of the five modes of Design Thinking (according to the model).

The one-day Design Sprint goes trough all of the Design Thinking five modes

Before the day: Immersion phase

There is a lot of preparation work before launching a Sprint, no matter its length. First, there are all the logistics: clearing the team’s timetable, getting a Sprint room and all the supplies ready. Then, a good practice is to build the Sprint’s thinking on a solid ground of user understanding material.

In order to build as much user knowledge as possible, the best ways are to observe the end users, interview them or even play their role.

In practice, the interviews might be the most effective way to gather information about the users, being careful not to skew the results — learn more about and during user interviews. With a good targeting of the audience, five interviews might be enough even though some topics require more than five, for instance if different types of users must be considered.

Getting to know the users with an immersion phase before the actual Sprint

Running an interview requires only two people: an interviewer and an observer. It means that some members of the Sprint team do not live the interviews themselves. The key findings must be written down somewhere so that they can be explained to the whole team: I like to use either personas or an empathy map, as they are practical ways to organize these key findings in a compact and readable way.


On the D-day, the goal is to make the most of the team during the only period when everyone is in the same room. Various workshops are needed to go from the user understanding to a plan for building a potential solution.

The agenda can be adapted to a specific situation, but a typical one would be the one below. It borrows most of its workshops from the five-day Sprint, arranged in a more compact way.

  • Ice breaker
    I like to use the “draw a vase” icebreaker, because it forces the team members to start drawing something and it is a good way to explain how framing the problem impacts the potential solutions.
  • Introduction
    After an explanation of the agenda of the day by the Facilitator, the Decider may introduce the topic, reminding what is at stake during the day.
  • Ask the experts + How might we?
    The workshop is the same as in the five-day Sprint, except that some experts can get more speaking time than the others: the interviewer and the observer from the immersion phase. It is time for them to explain their key findings to the team. After having prioritized the “How Might We” questions, the three (for instance) most important ones can be distributed among the team, so that there are at least two people for each of them.
  • Three-step sketch
    Unlike in a five-day Sprint, everything is fresh in the memory of the team so the “taking notes” step can be removed. While the “ideas” and “crazy four” steps — there is no time for a full crazy eight — are still individual, I like to make the team work on solution sketches by groups of two or three: it is a good way to start mixing and prioritizing the ideas.
  • The sticky decision
    Basically the same as in the five-day Sprint, except that everything is done faster. The limited number of sketches makes it quicker too.
  • Solutions stitching
    This is a workshop that I love to do before going straight to the storyboard phase. The goal is to select the best ideas from the solution sketches and arrange them in time and space so that the user flow makes sense. In a way, it is a bit like the Map of the five-day Sprint but representing the target user journey.
  • Storyboard
    In the end of the day, the Storyboard plays a central role in the process: it will be the plan for the prototype that is to be built after the end of the day. It is important that the people who are going to build the prototype are in the room during this workshop. They can even play the role of the “artist”, drawing and writing everything on the whiteboard, to make sure that they share the understanding of the team regarding what should and should not be included in the prototype.

Stopping here could seem right, with good ideas ready to get implemented, but these “good” ideas are not actually worth much without a validation by the end users.

After the day: prototyping and testing

In order to get feedback from the end users, a tangible representation of the solutions must be built and put it in some users’ hands. That’s when the prototyping and testing phases come into play. Luckily, these two phases do not need to gather the whole team.

Prototype to get feedback from end users
  • Prototyping:
    While everyone can prototype, not everyone can do it fast: someone with good abilities should follow the storyboard in order to build a prototype. The major risk here is to spend too much time working on the prototype, that’s why the user tests should be planned in advance in order to set up a time limit and be able to get feedback fast.
  • Testing:
    Last but not least, the user tests validate the solutions built by the team. In the light of the users’ feedback, it is the role of the Decider to choose whether these ideas should be brought to life. Eventually, the team should get some news from the decisions that are taken, mostly because it is often the same team that will develop their ideas further.

Benefits and prerequisites

This one-day format preserves the benefits of the original five-day Design Sprint, adding even more to the list:

  • It requires even less investment than the original Sprint. With only one day gathering the whole team, it means that the time loss remains small in case of bad feedback from the users.
  • It can be used even more often, requiring less logistics and preparation work.
  • Most importantly, it allows to get the right people in the room more easily, as it is easier to clear one day than five in a busy agenda.

Obviously, there are some mandatory prerequisites to be preserve the benefits of the original Sprint:

  • The right people need to be in the room from the beginning. If someone is forgotten, they cannot be brought in emergency on the second day (since there is no second day…).
  • Most of all, the Facilitator’s skills are put to test: no time must be lost. Hence the Facilitator must master the various exercises of the day and most importantly be rigorous about time keeping. The process of making rough versions first and adding detail incrementally within the fixed time boundaries is central to the success of the Sprint.
Meet colonel Facilitator and the mighty time-timer

This format is already tested with strong results, now go and try it yourself! In case you never dared to try a and run a Design Sprint you have no more excuses: it’s only one day 😉

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Thomas Zarazik

Written by

Thomas is a Technology Consultant @ BearingPoint France, interested in Technology, Design and Running

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +792K followers.

Thomas Zarazik

Written by

Thomas is a Technology Consultant @ BearingPoint France, interested in Technology, Design and Running

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +792K followers.

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