How do Design Thinking, Design Sprints, Agile, or Lean fit together?

Simon Tratnik
  • 4
    min read
  • Simon Tratnik
    Sep 25, 2023

If you work in the innovation space, you may be familiar with the many methodologies available for your team to utilize.

Which approach should your team employ—Design Thinking, Design Sprints, Agile, or Lean? Each method promises the pinnacle of efficiency and effectiveness, but how do they relate to each other?

This blog aims to elucidate just that—how these methods are not just stand-alone systems but can be interconnected parts of your overall strategy for product development.

Why the Distinction Matters

Understanding each method's unique focus and specialty is pivotal. Design Thinking is best suited for user-led problem discovery, while Design Sprints excel at alignment, design, prototyping, and user validation.

On the other hand, Agile is geared towards development and iteration. You might wonder why this segmentation is crucial?

Employing the wrong method at a specific stage in the product development process can not only stall progress but also drain resources and demotivate your team.

The Product Development Continuum

To bring clarity to this puzzle, envision the product development process as a continuum that begins with Problem Discovery and culminates in a Product Launch. This continuum helps you pinpoint the optimal stage to employ each method.

  • Problem Discovery: This is where you start to identify the gaps or issues that need addressing. Design Thinking, with its focus on empathizing with users, shines brightly in this phase.
  • Problem Definition to Ideation: Here, you're narrowing down the problem and starting to think creatively about solutions. This is the stage where a Design Sprint could be particularly useful for achieving alignment and generating a prototype that resonates with users.
  • Product Design to MVP (Minimum Viable Product): In these stages, you're beyond the conceptual phase and are now into building something tangible. Agile methods, with their cycles of development and feedback, are especially suited for these steps.
  • Feedback Gathering to Launch: This is the home stretch, where you refine, iterate, and finally introduce your product to the market. Both Agile for development and Lean for resource optimization can be effective here.

The Two Buckets: Design and Development

To make this even more comprehensible, let's bucket these methods into two primary categories: the 'Design Bucket' and the 'Development Bucket'. These conceptual containers help clarify where each method shines in the context of your product development journey.

Design Bucket

Design Thinking

Within the design bucket, Design Thinking specializes in user-led problem discovery. Its empathetic approach is ideal for the early stages of the continuum—when you're still grappling with defining the problem. It helps to ground your project in the real-world needs and aspirations of your target users.

Design Sprints

Design Sprints also reside comfortably in the design bucket. However, they are geared towards alignment, prototyping, and user validation. Once you've defined your problem and are ready to ideate and prototype potential solutions, a Design Sprint becomes your go-to approach. It allows you to quickly validate ideas before investing significant resources in development.

Development Bucket


Agile methods lie in the development bucket. They focus on—yes, you guessed it—development and iteration. Agile becomes invaluable during the MVP and Launch stages of the continuum, as its frameworks enable rapid cycles of building, testing, and refining your product based on real-world feedback.

The Principles Underpinning These Methods

So, why is it vital to understand these methods at a foundational level? It's not just about using them in isolation; it's about understanding the core principles that make each method powerful and adaptable.

Design Thinking instills empathy and user-focus, Design Sprints emphasize alignment and quick validation, and Agile champions iterative development.

Once you grasp these foundational ideas, you find that the methods are not rigid boxes but flexible tools. You can even blend elements of one with another to adapt to your project's unique challenges and opportunities.

When you understand the underpinning principles, you unlock the ability to be flexible and adaptable in your approach, allowing you to seamlessly weave these methods into your overall product development strategy.

After all, structured collaboration is the key to innovation. With this clarity, you're better equipped to navigate the complex tapestry of product development and drive meaningful innovation.

How to Use These Methods in Tandem

Perhaps the most valuable insight is that these methods are not mutually exclusive; they can and should be used in tandem for an optimized product development cycle. So, how do you smoothly transition between them?

  1. Start with Design Thinking: Kick off your project with a Design Thinking approach to deeply understand your user's needs.
  2. Move to Design Sprints: Once the problem is clearly defined, shift into a Design Sprint to rapidly prototype and validate potential solutions.
  3. Transition to Agile: As you move from prototyping to development, Agile takes the lead, allowing you to build, measure, and learn in rapid cycles.

Each transition should be seamless and logical, with the outputs of one method feeding directly into the inputs of the next.


Alright, let's break it down. We've walked you through the key methods you can use to innovate and build great products. The bottom line? Knowing when to use Design Thinking, Design Sprints, and Agile can make a real difference for your team.

Whether it's empathizing with users through Design Thinking, validating ideas swiftly through Design Sprints, or realizing those ideas into tangible products via Agile, knowing how and when to employ each method can be a game-changer for your team.

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