I often get asked how to tell if it is a good time for a Design Sprint. Regardless, if you are following the exact GV Design Sprint protocol as Jake, John, and Braden outline in the book, it will involve some non-trivial commitment in time. So it is not surprising to see people getting both excited about the potential but concerned if it makes sense to invest the time right now.

When I get asked this question, my first step is to sit down with the team, ideally at a whiteboard, where we work through their situation. Sometimes this process ends up resembling a condensed version of Day 1 and a map of the problem space often evolves on the whiteboard. This is a good indicator that it is a good time for a Sprint.

Design sprint in action

Reflecting on the various scenarios and conditions that have proven well suited for a design Sprint, I’ve organized them into three categories: uncertain priorties around disparate business opportunities, lack of product solution fit, and inability to decide between two competing solutions to a problem.

Prioritizing Potential Business Opportunities

When you are having difficulty prioritizing between various business opportunities and customer demands, a Sprint can provide clarity and focus around where the company should devote resources. You may find that just completing the first 3 days provides that adequate clarity and focus. However, completing a full Sprint will result in prototyping and testing one or more concepts, which provides deeper customer insights. In either case, a Sprint is a valuable tool to focus your company.

Exploring Product Solution Fit

Often a product has been built without adequate understanding of the customer or the job they expect the product to do for them. If your product is a square peg in a round hole, or you simply think there is room to improve, it may be time to consider a design Sprint. The process can help to unpack the problem space, and attempt to hone in on the cause of your misalignment. This is an example of the type of Sprint where you might repeat Day 4 and Day 5 to get more refined in your understanding of how to address your customers needs.

Testing Divergent Solutions

The Sprint book captures this category perfectly with the example from Slack. When you have two strong opinions around how to address an issue with an existing solution, or how to bring a new solution to the market, it is a perfect time for a Sprint. You should be able to breeze through Day 1, and maybe even Day 2, as you are already at a point where you have conceptualized two solutions. That said, I encourage you not to skip them altogether, as those days are useful in aligning all your stakeholders. Everyone’s individual work will expose new and innovative ideas.

Lastly, I’ll leave you with one simple rubric: Consider whether an A/B test would be an appropriate method of answering your big questions. If not, then a design Sprint is a likely candidate. A/B testing is helpful in testing incremental changes, while design Sprints and similar research-based discovery processes are better suited for more strategic maneuvers.

If you are thinking of hosting your own design sprint and need help or are just curious, I look forward to hearing from you.