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Evolution of the design sprint

Josh Porter
Josh Porter
Managing Partner, Digital Products
6 min read
29 September 2023

A decade and some change ago, the product development world was introduced to a breakthrough concept and methodology aptly named the design sprint. Conceived by Jake Knapp and the Google Ventures Design Team, this week-long process for testing and validating a specific product vision has become a cornerstone for driving innovation and kickstarting the launch or refreshment of digital products. 

Its power comes from being a tight and controlled set of activities with a clear deliverable and timeline. The exercises within the methodology are based on tried and true design concepts such as divergent and convergent design activities, usability testing to validate assumptions, and a robust kickoff meeting to pull together the right stakeholders to ensure success.  

While DEPT® itself looked quite a bit different as an agency in 2010, members of our Digital Products practice were in on the design sprint action before it hit the mainstream — testing, iterating, and helping to optimise the process as the team at GV piloted the methodology with its  portfolio companies. 

Now a published and pervasive approach, the traditional five-day design sprint remains a significant tool for product development across the industry. But that’s not to say it doesn’t present its own limitations and challenges. The original methodology, designed for startups testing a business concept, isn’t appropriate for most design work. 

At DEPT®, we’ve never treated any one process too precious. So we’ve learned to adapt and evolve the design sprint methodology in many ways, guiding clients through variations of the process to solve problems and answer big questions more effectively. 

The traditional five-day design sprint

The core purpose of a design sprint is to test a business hypothesis and have a clear, prototyped, and tested answer by the end. The five-day structure ensures quick forward movement and a hyper-focus on the problem or question. Here’s what each of those days typically includes: 

Day 1: Scope
To kick off the project, the team participates in a group discussion to map out the problems at hand and nail down which questions are top priority to be answered by the sprint. The team will align on expectations and roles for the next four days. 

Day 2: Sketch
This day is focused on coming up with potential solutions to the previously defined problem. It will likely entail competitive research, seeking inspiration from similar situations, and generating ideas. In the latter half of the day, every participant will create a sketch mock-up of their potential solution. 

Day 3: Decide
With multiple ideas sketched out, the team now considers each one through questions and discussions. Then, the team will vote or come to a consensus on which idea to pursue and create a storyboard documenting the product. 

Day 4: Prototype
Now entering building mode, the team will create a product prototype. By limiting the time to one day, the group must stay focused on the solution in front of them. 

Day 5: Test
On the final day of the sprint, the prototype will be validated through usability testing with real customers. This is a critical opportunity to gather feedback and ask detailed questions that will inform the next phase of the product development process. 

Breaking the restraints

The typical design sprint is intentionally time-constrained and rigid in structure. And in plenty of scenarios, this is ideal. For early-stage startups and businesses bringing brand-new products to market, the quick and clean structure is typically powerful for aligning teams, driving momentum, and quickly validating a single business question. 

But as the size of a project or problem increases and/or the maturity of a company or product deepens, we’ve found that five days simply isn’t enough time to create a prototype that will:

1. Effectively communicate the product team’s vision for the future
2. Galvanise stakeholders to take action on bringing that future to life
3. Simulate the rich and sophisticated user experiences we’re designing for 

So, we challenge our clients to think beyond the weeklong structure of a design sprint while still leaning into the essence and purpose of this methodology — fast, efficient, and hyper-focused problem-solving. 

We still use the original one week formulation, but less and less all the time. 

We’ve found that evolving and adapting the sprint practice from one to multiple weeks (depending on the individual situation) allows us and our partners to tackle more ambiguous projects, results in more successful prototypes, leads to greater stakeholder buy-in, and ultimately, breeds more innovation.

A forcing function for final products

The inception of design sprints kicked off a way of thinking in the product world where speed and intentionality are valued above perfection and detail (at least when it comes to testing early hypotheses and/or getting a project off the ground). Although the five-day sprint still has its time and place, we’ve found that the value of a sprint isn’t the day-by-day breakdown of activities but its core ethos. 

This thinking guides our Digital Products team in developing and facilitating sprints and allows us to extract the benefits of this methodology across a much wider array of projects. By viewing sprints as a means to an end, a forcing function that structures and accelerates a project, we help teams reach valuable outcomes —  that would otherwise take months — in a matter of weeks.

And more importantly, this means sprints don’t have to be limited to design. The sprint mentality is a tool that can be applied and executed across the product development lifecycle to answer questions quickly, explore potential solutions, and give evidence to speculations — all the way from discovery through validation

Speeding up innovation

The original design sprint took a process that often felt like a mile and turned it into a 100-meter dash. Straightforward, one lane to the finish line. Now, we’re using sprints to turn marathons into 5k runs. The speed remains, but the course to the finish can be tailored to fit the team’s needs, allows for more opportunities to test what works, and results in a decisive outcome that wows all spectators — and stakeholders. 

product vision meeting


How to generate product ideas

Get your copy of our latest longread for a look into DEPT®’s Discovery Sprint process. Plus, explore five idea generation exercises and see them in action with a real DEPT® client.



Managing Partner, Digital Products

Josh Porter