Design Thinking vs Agile Sprints vs Design Sprints: Key differences and how to use them

Simon Tratnik
  • 4
    min read
  • Simon Tratnik
    Mar 24, 2023

When it comes to product development, there are several methodologies that companies can use to create successful products. Design Thinking, Design Sprints, and Agile Sprints are three commonly discussed processes, but it can be confusing to understand the differences between them.

In this article, we'll take a closer look at each process, explore the key differences, and explain how to use them in your product development process.

Design Thinking: The User-Centered Mindset

Design Thinking is a mindset and a philosophy for understanding the user and working from a user-centered perspective. It's an open process with various exercises that help you find the problem and come up with ideas. In other words, design thinking is the operating system that includes all the things you can do and all the things you can pull from if you want to get the user's perspective on a problem.

Design thinking starts with empathizing with the user and understanding their needs, wants, and pain points. The next step is defining the problem and creating a problem statement. Ideation comes next, where the team generates as many ideas as possible. After that, the team prototypes their ideas and tests them with real users. Finally, the team refines their solution and implements it.

Related: What is Design Thinking, and how do we apply it?

Image show employee during the Design Sprint training where facilitator is teaching how Design thinking is a mindset around user centric design, while Design Sprint is a step by step recipe to achieve that.

Design Sprints: The Step-by-Step Recipe

Design Sprints are a step-by-step system for solving big problems as a team. They are used to validate product ideas and help teams create high-fidelity prototypes that can be tested with real users. Design sprints are essentially an applied execution of design thinking. It takes the philosophy of design thinking and turns it into a recipe.

Design Sprints start with defining the problem and agreeing on a goal. Ideation comes next, where the team generates solutions to the problem. After that, the team creates a prototype of their solution and tests it with real users. Finally, the team refines their solution and implements it.

Design Sprints are a great way to validate product ideas and quickly get real users' feedback. They're also a great way to bring cross-functional teams together to work towards a common goal.

Related: How Design Sprint helps enterprises cut costs, time and risk


Agile Sprints: The Execution Process

Agile sprints, however, have nothing to do with idea validation or creation. Agile sprints are a system within a company for getting things developed. If a team has finished a design sprint and has all the screens and everything ready, they can enter the information into the backlog.

Agile sprints are then used to execute and create software. It is a process of executing and actually creating software. The developers themselves work in sprints, usually for two weeks, and work on a specific part of the app for two weeks.

Agile sprints are an iterative approach to software development, where teams work in short cycles to deliver working software. The process starts with defining user stories and breaking them down into small, manageable tasks. The team then works on these tasks in short sprints, usually two weeks. At the end of each sprint, the team delivers working software that can be tested and reviewed.

Agile sprints are a great way to continuously improve and iterate on a product. They allow teams to respond to changing requirements and feedback from users.

Related: Fake Agile: What Is It and How to Avoid It?

Design Thinking is a mindset, Design Sprint is a 5-day recipe for Solution Discovery and Agile Sprint is a delivery of a product.

Key Differences and How to Use Them

To summarise, design thinking is a mindset, design sprints are a recipe that helps you validate whether ideas are right or wrong and also helps you come up with ideas, and agile sprints are a process of executing and creating software. While design thinking and design sprints are related, agile sprints are not related to either of them.

From the Trenches: Real-World Examples

Apple, a company synonymous with innovation, has long embraced design thinking as a foundation of its product development process. By placing user needs at the centre of its approach, Apple has consistently delivered products that delight customers and redefine industries.

Google Ventures, on the other hand, has popularised the Design Sprint methodology, helping startups such as Slack and Blue Bottle Coffee refine and validate their product ideas before investing in development.

Finally, agile sprints have become the cornerstone of software development at companies like Spotify and Netflix, enabling them to quickly adapt to user feedback and evolving market demands.


Combating Challenges with Tailored Solutions

Understanding the differences between these methodologies is key to overcoming product development challenges. For instance, if you're exploring a new product idea or seeking a deeper understanding of user needs, design thinking and design sprints are your go-to approaches. They enable you to generate and validate ideas, ensuring that your product aligns with user expectations.

Conversely, when you're in the execution phase of a project and need to deliver working software, agile sprints are the way forward. This approach fosters continuous improvement and adaptability, allowing you to respond to user feedback and changing requirements.

Team is using Design Sprint before every Agile Sprint, that's why they look focused and happy to validate ideas first, before they build it.

Putting Theory into Practice

Consider my own experience in leading a cross-functional team tasked with revamping a mobile app. We started by employing Design Thinking to empathise with users and identify their pain points. Next, we ran a Design Sprint to brainstorm solutions and create a prototype, which we then tested with real users. Finally, after we validated the product direction, we used agile sprints to develop and refine the app based on user feedback iteratively.

Key Takeaways

Mastering the art of product development requires a deep understanding of design thinking, design sprints, and agile sprints. By leveraging these methodologies and tailoring them to your unique challenges, you'll be better equipped to create products that resonate with users and deliver value.

Now, take a moment to reflect on your current product development process. Are you effectively utilising these methodologies to address your challenges? If not, it's time to take action and elevate your product management and collaboration to the next level. Get in touch to request a free 30-minute consultation to learn how to put theory into practice for your organisation.

By the way… in initial consultation calls, we always give honest advice, free of charge and with no strings attached, but we only have three slots each month. So if you’re keen to run a proven Design Sprint recipe, request a call now.


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