The Design Sprint

The sprint gives teams a shortcut to learning without building and launching.

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.

Working together with companies in a sprint, we shortcut the usual endless-debate cycle and compress months of time into a single week. Instead of waiting to launch a minimal product to understand if an idea is any good, teams get great data from a prototype. The sprint gives these companies a superpower: The ability to build and test nearly any idea in just 40 hours.

This page is a DIY guide for running your own sprint. On Monday, you’ll unpack the problem. On Tuesday, you’ll sketch competing solutions on paper. On Wednesday, you’ll argue and decide how to turn your ideas into a testable hypothesis. On Thursday, you’ll hammer out a high-fidelity prototype. And on Friday, you’ll test it with real live humans.

The Sprint book

“Read this book and do what it says if you want to build better products faster.” —Ev Williams, founder of Medium and Twitter

Sprint takes you behind the scenes with some of America’s most fascinating startups. You’ll meet a robotics maker searching for the perfect robot personality, a coffee roaster expanding to new markets, a company organizing the world’s cancer data, and Slack, the fastest-growing business app in history.

A practical guide to answering critical business questions, Sprint is a book for teams of any size, from small startups to Fortune 100s, from teachers to nonprofits. It’s for anyone with a big opportunity, problem, or idea who needs to get answers now.

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Sprints are versatile

At GV, we’ve run sprints with companies like Nest, Foundation Medicine, and Blue Bottle Coffee. We’ve used them to answer questions about the fundamental viability of new businesses, to make the first version of new mobile apps, to develop new features for existing products with millions of users, to define marketing strategies — the list goes on.

Blue Bottle Coffee used sprints to expand their business into online sales.

FitStar used sprints to perfect the new-user experience for their personalized fitness app.

Savioke used sprints to give their hotel delivery robot a personality.

Foundation Medicine used sprints to design interactive diagnostic tools for oncologists.

Basic sprint resources

Before the book is available, you can run your own sprint with our basic how-to guide. We’ve pulled together an assortment of articles and other resources developed while working with startups over the past three years.

Set the Stage

Let’s look at what happens before a sprint. You’ll need to choose a big problem, gather your team, clear your calendars, and gather some essential supplies. And you’ll need a deadline. Schedule a user study before you start the sprint — it can be scary, but good deadlines are an essential part of every sprint.

Monday: Unpack

On the first day of the sprint, your team will “unpack” everything they know. Expertise and knowledge on most teams is asymmetrical: Sales knows things engineering doesn’t, customer support knows things design doesn’t, and so on. We’ll explain how to draw insights from the team together, create a simple user story, set the scope for the week, and take useful notes as a team.

Tuesday: Sketch

During Sketch day, your team will work individually to draw detailed solutions on paper. As you sketch, everyone works separately to ensure maximum detail and depth with minimum groupthink. By breaking it down into four discrete steps (Notes, Mind Map, Crazy 8s, and Storyboard), we show you how CEOs, engineers, and sales folk alike can contribute their ideas effectively. After sketching, you’ll use a structured critique and weighted voting to select the best ideas from the field of possibilities.

Wednesday: Decide

By Wednesday, you’ll have over a dozen solutions to choose from. That’s great, but it’s also a problem, because you can’t prototype and test a dozen solutions. You’ll have to narrow down and make tough decisions. To prepare for Thursday, you’ll draw a storyboard, which serves as a blueprint of your forthcoming prototype. Meanwhile, it’s time to select research participants and get to work planning Friday’s interviews.

Thursday: Prototype

You’ll spend Thursday in the flow, being ridiculously productive. We show you our systematic plan for doing the impossible: build an entire realistic-looking prototype in just eight hours. Like George Clooney in Ocean’s Eleven, you’ll gather a team of experts, assign roles, and put your plan into motion. And just like in the movie (sorry, spoiler alert), you’ll get the job done and still have time to enjoy your evening.

Friday: Test

On Friday, you’ll show your prototype to real customers in 1-on-1 interviews. We show you how to make sense of what you observe, taking notes as a team and finding patterns in real time. By the end of the day, your ideas have all been exposed to oxygen — some will be smash hits, while others will meet an early end.

Obviously, when a risky idea succeeds, it’s a fantastic payoff. But it’s actually those epic failures which, while painful to watch, provide the greatest return on investment. When a prototype flops, it means we’ve spotted critical flaws after only five days of work. It’s learning the hard way — without the “hard way.”

Your sprint story

If you run your own sprint, let us know! We love hearing from people using sprints at their companies. Tweet us at @gvdesignteam, or help spread the word below.

The Sprint book

A practical how-to guide for sprints, featuring behind-the-scenes stories from some of America's most fascinating startups. Sprint is coming March 8 but you can pre-order it today.

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From GV

Timer illustration

GV design partner Jake Knapp began running design sprints at Google in 2010. He worked with teams like Chrome, Google Search and Google X. In 2012, Jake brought sprints to GV, and the rest of the team chipped in their expertise to perfect the process.

Braden Kowitz added story-centered design, an unconventional approach that focuses on the customer journey instead of individual features or technologies. Michael Margolis took customer research — which can typically take weeks to plan and often delivers confusing results — and figured out a way to get crystal clear results in just one day. John Zeratsky helped us start at the end, and focus on measuring results with the key metrics from each business. And Daniel Burka brought firsthand expertise as an entrepreneur to ensure every step made sense in the real world.