Design sprints that can speed up and polish innovation

21 April 2020 5 min. read
More news on

Companies across the globe are increasingly using design sprints to innovate smarter. By placing their next (digital) product idea in the hands of users before anything else, companies can transform abstract strategies into tangible product experiences, enabling them to enjoy a higher likelihood of innovation success.

Having been much debated for decades, the value of design thinking is nowadays well-researched and established. In one of the most cited examples of all, Apple managed to leverage the approach to differentiate its now iconic products from competitors (and still does), Tesla has been lauded for taking automotive design to the new level, while some of the most successful platforms/marketplaces use the approach to master how they serve the needs of their customer. 

Putting numbers to the table, a major study by strategy consulting giant McKinsey & Company released late 2018 found that firms that place design thinking at the heart of their products and services indeed see increased revenues and higher shareholder returns vis a vis their peers. As a CEO put it, “people want beautifully designed products. Full stop.”

Design sprints can speed up and polish innovation

Sprinting towards the output

One of the key elements of any design thinking approach is the design sprint, which similarly to sprints in the world of agile relates to a fast and condensed way to solve digital business challenges using design, prototyping and feedback from real customers.

According to Maarten van den Heuvel, a partner at Dutch consultancy Go Weekly, “instead of spending months of time, design thinking allows companies to get results within a week”. While the broader design thinking process revolves around building a validated digital prototype, the real win of a sprint lies in its “multi-disciplinary and collaborative approach across teams” in “short, iterative runs” which ultimately enables “faster and more effective innovation”. 

Founded in 2014, Go Weekly is a Netherlands-based expert firm specialised in innovation sprints. Building on its track record at industry leaders such as ABN Amro, Adidas, Eneco, Engie, Uber and Unilever, the firm has developed a proprietary framework for design sprints. Company founder Maarten van den Heuvel unpacks on the key elements:

Tailored sprints

“Where design sprints usually focus on a product related challenge, we have decided to tailor our approach to three focus areas: Strategy, Concept and Team. We tend to focus on the acceleration that the design sprint approach brings to the table. Though very important, for us, the ‘design’ in ‘design sprint’ is always a means to an end and never the goal in itself.” 

Strategy sprint

“Our strategy sprints are high-energy innovation sessions with leadership teams to envision and plan for the future. We discuss strategic topics such as vision and mission, new business opportunities, brand and marketing and digital trends.” 

“The nature of participants in these kinds of sprints is a little different. Usually, company leaders have strong opinions. Using certain elements from the design sprint can help facilitate decision making and accelerate alignment on a crystallised vision. A typical strategy sprint won’t last for an entire week due to obvious reasons but it shows how much you can achieve in a mere couple of hours.”

Concept sprint

“With our concept sprints, we solve big challenges and co-create new products or features. Bringing an idea to life in one week using design, prototyping and feedback from real customers. We distinguish between three versions of the concept sprint:

  • The sprint original most closely resembles the original design sprint process
  • Our personal favourite, the sprint special, goes beyond the book to add flexibility and conceptual expertise
  • Usually we recommend to build on the momentum and sprint again to polish or pivot the product concept

"Our sprint special in particular tweaks the design sprint process. With only three workshop days and two days in between for us to expand on the team’s ideas. Leaving more time for busy teams with impossible calendars and adding more substantive elaboration by our experts. Adding an agency-style client experience to the mix. This is why we always run our sprints with a strategic facilitator (someone with a strategic background that can also run a great workshop) and a concept designer (a conceptual thinker that happens to be an amazing visual artist).”

Team sprint

“When the strategy and concept are in place, more often than not, we get asked the question: And now what? That’s where our team sprints come in. Coaching teams to implement a design sprint mindset to improve their way of working.”

“Additionally, we offer design sprint training for client teams to master the method themselves. For many clients, a sprint is the first step towards an agile mindset. Together, we put the process into practice. From the theory to expert insights and hands-on tips and tricks. It’s an approachable in-house training experience.”