The Basic Idea
Let’s say you’ve been working with your team for months to launch a new product. Each team member has been focusing on specific aspects. However, as launch day approaches, you start to feel uncertain about the product’s success. You might feel overwhelmed by the task of summarizing all the work that has been done and ensuring everyone is on the same page. In such scenarios, a structured, focused approach to problem-solving and innovation is often missing.
This is where a “Design Sprint” comes into play. A five-day plan to build and test a prototype to ensure your product will work or find the issues that must be solved before launch day. Design Sprints call for sustained attention and interdisciplinary teamwork over the course of a week to address business challenges.
These five days (or five phases) are divided into the following:
1. Understand/Map: Establish long-term goals as a team.2
2. Sketch: Individual and creative work to develop solutions for goals set on Day 1.3
3. Decide: Critique all solutions from the previous day, pick favorites, and create step-by-step plans.4
4. Prototype: Develop a tangible prototype.5
5. Test: Perform a real-world test and gather feedback.6
The idea is that by the end of the Sprint, you should have a glimpse of how your product will perform and what problems or challenges you should focus on to enhance its performance. This way, you minimize risks and increase the chance of a successful product.
By embracing the principles of a Design Sprint, teams can move from ambiguity to clarity and idea to action in a matter of days—way faster than the usual months or years timeline. It’s about working smarter, not harder, and making significant strides in a project while reducing the time and resources typically needed for development.
Theory, meet practice
TDL is an applied research consultancy. In our work, we leverage the insights of diverse fields—from psychology and economics to machine learning and behavioral data science—to sculpt targeted solutions to nuanced problems.
In 2010, Jake Knapp, a designer at Google, developed the methodology of the five-day Design Sprint. He drew inspiration from various sources, including seminars at IDEO and the collaborative nature of product development at Google. Jake Knapp also integrated lessons from his personal experiences in developing and working with products such as Gmail and Chrome.1
Finally, in 2012, Jake introduced Design Sprints to Google Ventures (GV), Google’s internal investment division. In response to his proposal, Sprints were tested within Google and other startups where the idea was then refined and improved by other members of GV.1 Some adjustments involved varying the number of people that were included in a Sprint—Knapp’s first one involved 40 people, which became overcomplicated and used up far too many participants.
Once testing proved their methodology a success, they released a series of how-to articles and published the “Sprint” book in 2016. Since its widespread introduction, big companies such as LEGO, educational institutions like Stanford, the United Kingdom government, and even the Smithsonian Institute have conducted sprints to address a wide variety of problems.1
Below are some of the team members who tweaked the Design Sprint to what it is today:
Jake Knapp: Co-author of “Sprint” and inventor of the Design Sprint. Jake also participates in talks on various subjects, including startups, business strategy, marketing, design and time management. He is also a guest lecturer at universities such as Stanford, Columbia, Harvard and the London School of Economics.7
Braden Kowitz: Co-author of “Sprint” and design leader who launched the first versions of Google Workspace and Google Spreadsheets. As a former Design Partner at Google, he emphasized putting the user or customer first and listening to their needs before focusing on the actual technology or product.1
John Zeratsky: Co-author of “Sprint.” As a former Partner at GV, he is responsible for creating “Day 1” of the Design Sprint. He emphasized the importance of starting at the end and focusing on each business’s goals. John spent almost 15 years as a designer, helping startups build new products. He has worked for and consulted companies like Netflix, Airbnb and Schneider Electric. John is also a guest lecturer at universities such as Harvard and London School of Economics.10
Michael Margolis: UX Research Partner at GV. He’s responsible for the execution of “Day 5.” In other words, he figured out how to perform customer research and obtain results in a single day11. He has conducted over 275 studies for GV startups, including Lime and Uber.12
As you might notice, everyone in the creator’s team aligns with the Design Sprint by bringing individual ideas together to solve a collective goal.11
In today’s fast-paced, technology-driven world, the Design Sprint provides a meticulous plan that quickly transforms ideas into real-life products. The team at GV found a way to organize work into brief, targeted Sprints that reduce distractions and increase productivity. Design Sprints consider and acknowledge the reality of our complex working environment by providing practical and tailored solutions.
Now, the advantages of the Design Sprint aren’t limited to time management; it also brings a team together by focusing on creativity and collaboration. The 5-day plan considers a critical aspect of teamwork: listening to individual voices. Feedback tends to go back and forth in a traditional—and slow—linear manner. However, the Design Sprint encourages a dynamic way of working by testing ideas and developing solutions in real-time. This often leads to “lightbulb” moments, sparking innovative solutions.
Finally, it seems like the Design Sprint can be applied across various organizations and still perform well. This approach encourages a quick-thinking, team-based approach to problem-solving and emphasizes user/customer satisfaction. In other words, you only need a team, an idea and potential users to be able to run a Design Sprint. So, the possibilities are almost endless.
Unfortunately, Design Sprint isn’t meant for every workplace. It is most effective when applied to broad and bigger problems that are often surrounded by opinions and bias.14 Now, the success of these 5-day Sprints depends on the participants’ strong commitment. They must be prepared to dedicate their time and focus and set aside other pressing matters. Some members could start questioning the process and wondering: “If some team members have already given great ideas, why are we still here?”
The Design Sprint also encourages everyone, including CEOs and stakeholders, to participate. But this isn’t always possible nor doable; this demographic typically expects to be involved in crucial decision-making. In the book “Sprint,” Jake Knapp emphasizes that one of the most advantageous and distinctive features of the Design Sprint is the involvement of all team/company members.9 Thus, not having their full attention, time, or commitment could have an effect on the outcome.
We have to talk about the “workplace” after the COVID-19 pandemic. The Design Sprint was created before many of us transitioned to “work from home” and remote work lifestyles. Their team-building methods were meant to happen in person and not online. Digital tools might help to perform the Sprint remotely, yet it might not work for everyone or every team.
Finally… money. Is it worth investing in? The point of the Sprint is to play with time, fast-forward to the future, and observe if the product or idea worked. But what if it doesn’t? Technically, you have saved money by carrying out the product process in a matter of days and not months, but that doesn’t always mean that money was “well spent.”
The Design Sprint can be a great tool for some ideas and some teams. It demands time and energy from everyone involved. You might want to consider big ideas or problems for the Sprint and also consider picking and choosing the phases that could be beneficial for your product and team.
“Inventing the future of play”- How LEGO applied the Design Sprint
After everything mentioned, it seems like performing a Design Sprint on such a big company like LEGO could lead to disaster. Nevertheless, LEGO’s internal agency wanted to reinvent how they worked and break free from a culture of habits. In a strikingly bold move, LEGO stopped production for two months in 2017 to change their thinking. A bold move by management driven by the urgency to “reinvent” themselves within the tight timeframe of only nine days, making the Design Sprint the most viable choice.14 During this period, cross-functional teams within LEGO were formed, engaging various departments, from design to marketing, to collaboratively brainstorm, prototype, and test new ideas. The result of this bold initiative was significant. It not only led to immediate operational changes, but it also sparked a cultural shift at LEGO.14 The company began to adopt a more innovative approach in its strategy planning and development process. Employees became more open to experimentation and quickly adapted by implementing a culture of continuous improvement and innovation.14
Related TDL Content
This piece explores the tendency of individuals to overestimate negative outcomes while underestimating positive ones. Additionally, it offers insights into how to counteract this bias and its significance in decision-making processes.
This article examines the tendency to rely heavily on the first piece of information in decision-making, which significantly influences rationality in decisions. It explores various scenarios and provides insights into strategies to mitigate its effects.
- Knapp, J., & Zeratsky, J. (n.d.). The Design Sprint. The Sprint Book. Retrieved from https://www.thesprintbook.com/the-design-sprint
- GV Library. (n.d.). Sprint Week: Monday. Retrieved from https://library.gv.com/sprint-week-monday-4bf0606b5c81
- GV Library. (n.d.). Sprint Week: Tuesday. Retrieved from https://library.gv.com/sprint-week-tuesday-d22b30f905c3#.8v2irrofq
- GV Library. (n.d.). Sprint Week: Wednesday. Retrieved from https://library.gv.com/sprint-week-wednesday-900fe3f2c26e#.dla3y4wa6
- GV Library. (n.d.). Sprint Week: Thursday. Retrieved from https://library.gv.com/sprint-week-thursday-df8d7c8c0555#.rxkfebpkn
- GV Library. (n.d.). Sprint Week: Friday. Retrieved from https://library.gv.com/sprint-week-friday-7f66b4194137#.6035fkh04
- Jake Knapp (n.d.). Retrieved from https://jakeknapp.com/speaking
- Braden Kowitz. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://kowitz.co/
- Knapp, J., Zeratsky, J., & Kowitz, B. (2016). Sprint: How to solve big problems and test new ideas in just five days. Simon & Schuster.
- John Zeratsky. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://johnzeratsky.com/.
- GV. (n.d.). The Sprint Process. Retrieved from https://www.gv.com/sprint/
- Michael Margolis (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.gv.com/team/michael-margolis
- González, J.L. (2023) Design Sprint pros and cons. UX Collective. Retrieved from: https://bootcamp.uxdesign.cc/is-the-design-sprint-suitable-for-you-f4c144f032e0
- Courtney, J. (2018). How LEGO Run Design Sprints at Scale. UX Planet. Retrieved from: https://uxplanet.org/how-lego-run-design-sprints-at-scale-47bf56b785f7