The Who, What, When, Where & Why of the 5-day Sprint


The Design Sprint is a staple structure in the world of facilitation for solving big challenges. It’s a five-day process, initially developed at Google Ventures, used for validating ideas and tackling a business problem. The process guides teams through a design-based thinking process to uncover insights, prototype an idea, and test it with users. 

Whether you are preparing to run your own sprint or are going to partake in one as a participant, it is important to know the ins and outs of Design Sprints to get the most out of them. Let’s take a look.

Why Run a Design Sprint?

Design Sprints have multiple functions and benefits. Here are some of the top reasons to run a sprint:

  • Align a team around a shared vision.
  • Answer critical business questions.
  • Discover the essence of a creative challenge or problem.

Cut through endless internal debate by building a prototype that your customers can give feedback on.

When to Run a Design Sprint

Design Sprints are beneficial at various stages of a project or product life cycle. The following are some excellent times to turn to a sprint:

  • When kicking off a new initiative.
  • When looking for new breakthrough features for a product.
  • When you need to switch gears or iterate on a current product.
  • When you haven’t talked to your users enough.

How to Find the Magic

The Design Sprint is a platform/tooling agnostic. It helps companies find the magic and deep value for their end-user before building anything. The sprint helps teams identify their core “jobs to be done”; what’s most important to focus on and how to get there.

Think of the Design Sprint process and prototyping as the evolution of Mario in the image below:

Credit: Samuel Hulick

The Design Sprint is a process to begin iterating towards your customers ideal version of fire-spitting Mario. The end-users’ experience with your product is the focus–the magic you want to create! How you actually build the product and what you build it with are follow-on activities. After sprinting, your team will have more confidence in the core value and needs of the end-user before the heavy work of actually building the product.  

The Design Sprint helps us make sure we are building the right thing rather than obsessing on getting the thing exactly right.

Focus on Desire

The Design Sprint is targeted at testing desirability–keep this at the forefront of your mind. When you create a simulation of your concept and use it to test your ideal vision, you gain deeper insights around the ideal state and desirability from the end-user. You can then take those insights to the table when you build out the final solution. While it is efficient and a big win when your prototype becomes the initial spec for what you end up building, it’s primary goal is to answer your questions and gain insights.

While the main focus of a Design Sprint is testing desirability we certainly don’t want to waste time testing things that are completely infeasible. At Voltage Control, we always recommend including someone in the Design Sprint that understands the logistics (ex: engineer, operations, hardware, software, materials, etc.). A person with relevant insight on logistics can lend perspective that might inspire others with the confidence they need to explore certain ideas they may have been afraid to approach. This person also serves as a built-in filter to keep the group from wasting time on outlandish, impractical ideas. That said, the facilitator must ensure that the logistics and status quo aren’t stifling innovation, but rather informing and directing it. 

Where to Run a Design Sprint

The five-day sprint was originally developed as an in-person workshop. People come together for an engaging, interactive experience and participate in hands-on, visual, deep work collaboration. Sticky notes are aplenty and whiteboards are used to write and sketch out ideas. However, you don’t need to wait to be IRL to undergo a sprint. Remote Design Sprints are also an option, and an increasingly popular one due to The Great Pause. With adjustments to cater to the virtual landscape, your team can still experience effective and productive remote collaboration. There are even virtual whiteboards (yes, digital stickies!) and other remote tools to promote visual collaboration just as you would in-person.  

Who Participates in a Design Sprint

Everyone involved in a Design Sprint plays a vital role.

The sponsor is the person with the big idea; they have the vision. They seek to answer: What is the problem you are addressing and what is your desired outcome? The sprint is designed to build and leverage something that comes closest to their “right thing.” On some occasions, there are multiples sponsors in an organization who are championing the Design Sprint to help solve their shared problem. When they have opposing opinions on how best to solve it, it’s super exciting too if one or neither of them is right!

The sprint team is a curation of 7 people who you feel will provide diverse and critical perspectives on the project. Who’s opinion and insight do you value? Who’s voice and input do you need most to get you from point A to point B? Think about who understand the problem deeply. How has to deal with it on a regular basis. Who will have to implement and support the solution? Who understands the needs of the customers? Who will build your prototype? Who can represent operations and logistics? Who understands the voice of the brand and how to position the solution?  Who understands the finances? Who always figures out how to break things? Who is really creative about breaking the rules? 

Finally you’ll need to consider few special roles when planning a Sprint:

The Decider is one of your sprint team members who will make all the critical decisions. Perhaps it is the CEO or a stakeholder; they have the final say. It is their approval you seek to take the generated idea to the next level of integration. Ideally, they will be in the entire Design Sprint. If they can’t make it to the entire sprint they should proxy to someone else or make sure to attend at key moments when decisions are made. Pro Tip: Good Deciders listen carefully, ask questions of the team, and make swift and concrete decisions.

The Prototyper is one or more of your sprint team members with the skills needed to build your prototype. Depending on the opportunity or challenge you are seeking to solve your prototype may take on different forms. If you know you are building a mobile app, then you’d want to select a prototyper with UX & UI design skills who is familiar with app prototyping tools like Figma or Invision. If you aren’t quite sure, you’ll want to use a prototyper with deep design skills and diverse prototyping experience to ensure they are ready for anything. 

The Experts are 3-4 people that we invite to join us on Monday so that we can ask them curious questions while we write How Might Statement to unlock potential solution ideas. Curating experts is a great way to include people whose input is crucial but just don’t have enough time to attend the entire sprint. 

The Facilitator is a non-biased and neutral leader who is an expert in facilitation and the Design Sprint process. This person can be internal or external to your organization. Pro tip: Hire an outside facilitator when dealing with big or sensitive decisions. They are removed from office politics, making it easier to enforce good behavior from the group and it protects the leadership from including a specific agenda. A workshop facilitator increases engagement and positivity in the group, and an outside facilitator is a fresh new face and personality who can help to break old patterns and create new ones for optimum productivity. 


Now that you know the “who, what, when, where, and why’s” of Design Sprints, you are more prepared to utilize the 5-day workshop to tackle your big challenges and ideations. Happy exploration! 

Want to learn more about Design Sprints?

From expert facilitation to in-house training, we are here to help you succeed. Please reach out to us at hello@voltagecontrol.com.