Design Sprints are becoming more and more popular as the notion of “Design Thinking”  is gaining adepts around the world. In the case of corporate innovation, those design sprints shall provide decision makers with enough information to provide or not the necessary funds to pilot a new product or service (the concept).

I have been involved in this kind of exercises a handful of times, both as a member of an innovation team and as a facilitator. A short time ago I facilitated a Design Sprint for a new customer. In principle, it sounded as an ordinary case (apart from that it was some very exciting areas that had to be explored).

It wasn’t ordinary at all. The members of the team had ordinary jobs at big corporations. They could only dedicate two days to the Design Sprint exercise in order to develop their innovation ideas and present a prototype of the concept.

Two days is a very short time.  Usually the whole cycle has a duration of five days and a set of carefully defined objectives for each day:

Day one – Understand and define the problem at hand

Day two – Diverge, generate as many design ideas as possible

Day three – Converge, selecting the design to prototype

Day four – Prototype your design

Day five – Test your concept design with your target segment

A more in-depth explanation of these phases is available here.

With the customer’s collaboration, I managed to reduce these five very detailed phases to a two-day intensive workshop.  It worked really well and the customer was very satisfied. These are the lessons I learned in the process. I include an example of agenda for a two-day Design Thinking workshop at the bottom of this post. 

First of all, as the time at their disposition is extremely limited, some work has to be done in advance. The teams going through the process must have a quite precise idea of what the problem to be solved is. The team must also have defined a set of personas they assume would be interested in a solution to the problem the team is attacking. Usually, the members of the team have little time beyond their regular working hours.  Neither the facilitator nor the team can expect a high grade of accuracy yet.

This implies though that you quickly have to compensate for this and rapidly increase the level of accuracy of the definition of the problem and the personas. In order to increase the level of accuracy in this phase, I have two recommendations:

First, include an expert in the actual problem area. This expert will act as a mentor to the team and has to be physically available during the whole Design Sprint process. This doesn’t mean that he/ she must continuously work together with the team. He/ she may work in another room with ordinary tasks when not needed. The mentor can be recruited from the company if the problem to be solved is related to core-operations. If not, I recommend to recruit an external one.

This expert will provide the necessary feed back to the team in order to refine the definition of the problema and describe the current available solutions in the market.

My second recommendation is to select one – and only one – persona. You won’t have time for more. This implies a strong component of judgement, because usually the team will remain undecided about which one of the three or four personas they have identified should be the main target. Here, the team, together with the mentor have to make some tough decisions and never look back within the period of the Design Sprint workshop. Some of the parameters that the team may consider in order to select the target persona are:

  • Availability
  • Insight into their behavior, including
    • Frustrations
    • Needs and wants
    • Jobs to be done
  • Customer Life Time Value
  • Customer Acquisition Cost

Read also: Den eneste formelen en gründer i internett-økonomien må kunne utenat  (in Norwegian)

After refining the definition of the problem and selecting the persona, remember to write down the assumptions that are still left. Write them down on an flip- chart sheet of paper, stick it to the wall and update the list throughout the entire workshop by removing ones or adding some new ones. The remaining assumptions  will become crucial information for decision makers when assessing the risks involved in funding, piloting and ultimately scaling the concept. In addition, a honest explanation of the remaining assumptions will add credibility to the team and to the work they have done.

The understand phase always implies a journey mapping. It is my recommendation that you map two of them.

  • One mapping the journey of the actual persona along the (best) present alternative available
  • Another one mapping the journey of the actual persona along the solution proposed by the team

Mark all pain points along both journeys. Try to quantify them, if possible in monetary or time units. This exercise will make it simple to rapidly visualize the benefits (and some potential drawbacks) of the concept. Remember to meanwhile update your list of assumptions.

This will make it very easy for both the team and the decision makers to visualize the benefits of the concept compared with present alternatives. It is also an excellent aid when defining its value proposition.

When prototyping, involve a professional designer. There are for example many excellent software packages to prototype websites and apps – Sketch and Marvel App to name two of them. However, keep in mind that there will be no time for the team to learn new skills on the fly. Someone with experience in the field will save valuable time that can later be used to test the prototype.

My last advice is to alpha-test the concept prototype with the members of the team that haven’t been involved in the prototyping phase and with the mentor. A beta test can be carried out later on with target individuals that match the persona. Still, an alpha test  can be done quickly and will most probably deliver valuable inputs in order to refine both the concept and the test plan before finally testing on the target group.

Best of lucks!


Day One


Day Two


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