Understanding the Power of Sprinting

I’ve often found myself at a crossroads between wanting to innovate rapidly and the need to deliver accurate, reliable results to create a step change and not just incremental value. Following the previous article about our Discovery process, the next step is the “design sprint”, which has become a game-changer for my team and me.

What is a Design Sprint?

A design sprint is an intensive, short-term process used for rapidly solving complex problems and creating new products, services, or features. The methodology is simple and much like a running sprint.  A critical first step is that we must define the distance to cover and goals. Then, we must “run” in the open to bring out the best in each of the disciplines at the table and measure our progress. Finally, there has to be a finish line – a timebox of our activities. 

We’ve found that magic happens when we use big whiteboards to solve problems. As humans, our short-term memory is not all that good, but our spatial memory is awesome. A sprint room, plastered with notes, diagrams, printouts, and more, takes advantage of that spatial memory. The room itself becomes a sort of shared brain for the team.

Pros of Design Sprints

  • Cross-Functional Collaboration: Encourages teamwork across different departments.
  • Rapid Problem Solving: Accelerates the process of identifying solutions to complex problems.
  • User-Centered Design: Focuses on user experience and feedback.
  • Reduces Time and Costs: Avoids the development of non-viable products or solutions not fully flushed out.
  • Clarity and Focus: Provides a clear direction and aligns the team’s efforts.

Cons of Design Sprints

  • Intensive Resource Allocation: Requires full-time commitment from key team members.
  • Not Suitable for Every Problem: Best for more complex, high-impact issues. Not every task needs a full design sprint. 
  • Potential for Burnout: The intense nature of the sprint can be exhausting.
  • Limited Time Constraints: Complex problems might not always be solved in the limited amount of time for the first sprint. A subsequent sprint might need to be planned to tackle additional phases.
  • Dependence on Team Dynamics: Requires a well-functioning, collaborative team.

In Practice

Design sprints are an instrumental step in the process and engrained in our culture. We conduct an initial discovery session (it’s free) with each client, and then take what we learn to prepare an effective design sprint agenda.  This approach allows us to run alongside your team, iterating quickly on the feedback gathered, and make the most of our time together. By involving cross-functional teams (including designers, developers, and product managers), we are able to quickly iterate on the initial concept, build a visual prototype, and validate it with real users. This not only saves months of development time (means cost savings for the client and reduced headaches for all),  but it also ensures that we are building a product that truly meets the needs of our Client’s users, business, and culture.  

References and Further Reading

For those looking to dive deeper into design sprints, I recommend the following resources:


At Emory Solutions, we are constantly seeking methods to balance speed and accuracy in development. Design sprints offer a structured, yet flexible approach to innovate and validate ideas quickly. While design sprints come with their challenges, the benefits of rapid problem solving, user-centered design, and cross-functional collaboration make it an invaluable tool in our software development toolkit.

Remember, the goal of a design sprint is not to have a perfect solution by the end.  The goal is to learn and gather enough information that allows informed decisions moving forward and provides visual designs to set the course for an agile development process. It’s about failing fast and learning faster to save time and resources in the long run.

As the tech landscape continues to evolve rapidly, incorporating design sprints into our project planning and execution strategy remains a top priority for Emory. It’s not just about creating products; it’s about creating the right products…and design sprints are key to achieving that goal.

Happy sprinting!

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