When to Consider a More Flexible Design Sprint

At Rocket Insights, we pride ourselves on testing new product or feature ideas with customers as quickly as possible.

Our preferred method is to use design sprints, based on the Google Ventures Design Sprint methodology, to clarify focus and help clients figure out if a product idea is worth pursuing. A design sprint is a five day process for validating ideas and solving critical business challenges through design thinking, prototyping, and testing.

While we most often recommend a traditional five day sprint, there can be times where five consecutive days just isn't ideal for your situation. This article will share some sample flexible design sprint plans we've done for clients in the past which may help you decide if you should also consider a more flexible approach.

But, first, let's look at a typical design sprint for context.

Here's a typical five day design sprint schedule:

  • Monday - Scope: Create a simple user story and set the scope.
  • Tuesday - Sketch: A hands-on workshop to uncover the best ideas.
  • Wednesday - Decide: Vote on and refine the best ideas to build and test.
  • Thursday - Prototype: Design and build the clickable prototype.
  • Friday - Test & Review: Conduct usability tests to uncover valuable insights and debrief at the end of the day.

A five day design sprint ensures that we spend time defining the problem and iterating on a solution to test with your team (in person, or virtually these days). While a full five day work week may feel like a lot of time to commit upfront, it actually can save months and months of work (and money!) on unvalidated assumptions.

But, as mentioned above, sometimes the five day sprint isn't the right fit. Here are some scenarios where we've adjusted the traditional sprint to address a client's unique constraints and challenges.

The super speedy sprint

This is basically a condensed design sprint for those who have little to no time. We can achieve this by combining days in the five day sprint, like 'Sketch' and 'Decide'.

When to use it: You literally have no time. We get it. We're here for you.

Active time commitment from your team: 2-3 days

Sample Schedule:

  • Day 1: Scope and align (this can also work as a half day)
  • Day 2: Sketch and decide
  • In-between: Prototype (our team will spend a day prototyping, so this won't require active meeting time from your team)
  • Day 3: Test and regroup

Take it slow

This is the opposite of the super speedy sprint, where instead of condensing it down, we spread out a few of the design sprint days over a few weeks. To avoid losing momentum, we try to send take-home updates to review in between active sessions.

When to use it: You need to get a lot of decision makers in the room, but it's near impossible to clear all of their schedules for more than two or three days.

Active time commitment from your team: 3-4 days over 2-4 weeks

Sample Schedule:

  • Day 1 - Week 1: Scope and align
  • Day 2 - Week 2: Sketch (can be combined with 'Decide')
  • Week 3: Prototype and test (this doesn't require active meeting time, but we strongly recommend for our client teams to sit in on user tests!)
  • End of Week 3: 2 hour session to debrief

Build it bigger or make it shiny

We've expanded Day 4 (Build) from one day to as much as a full month to build a more robust prototype. We've also taken an extra week to polish the UI to make the design more appealing to stakeholders.

When to use it: You still need to validate a big idea, but want a bigger MVP or a higher fidelity prototype.

Active time commitment from your team: 3-4 days over 2-6 weeks

Sample Schedule:

  • Day 1: Scope and align
  • Day 2: Sketch
  • Day 3: Decide
  • Week 2-x: Prototype and test over a few weeks.
  • End of Prototyping and Testing Period: Half day session to debrief

Extra, extra...

Occasionally, you just may have more than one problem to solve, and don't know where to start. That's where we come in.

When to use it: You need to spend some time doing extra research, your brand needs work, or you need to map out your product experience in full.

Active time commitment from your team: 4-5 day Design Sprint + anything from a one day workshop to a one week research sprint

Sample Add-ons:

  • One week foundational research sprint
  • Half day product experience mapping workshop
  • One day brand experience workshop

There are countless other design sprint variants we could have listed here, but we'll stop there for now. As you can see, the design sprint doesn't have to be a rigid process - it can also be a modular toolkit adapted to our clients' needs. Whatever the challenge, we think design sprints are an awesome way to kick things off!