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Design Sprint: What is It and Why Does It Work so Well?

Let’s discover how a design sprint can help optimise your product development especially if you’re a startup with limited resources.

When Melewi was first started, we defaulted to using the waterfall methodology (you’re likely familiar with this, it involves sequential phases that stretch over months):

Waterfall methodology

Ugh, disaster. Scopes always crept, timelines were never on track. Projects typically wrapped up months later with a bloated project, a frazzled client and a frustrated team.

It had to change. So after months of research and experimenting, we stumbled upon an ‘agile’ methodology called ‘Scrum’ that involved something called ‘sprints’.

Is agile scrum sprinting some sort of swift running in rugby?

‘Agile’ is best known as a set of principles for software development that focuses on being adaptive; and many of the greatest tech companies are agile at their core. ‘Scrum’ is an iterative and incremental ‘agile’ software framework. But since we’re a product design studio, we’ve had to adapt these development methodologies to design… which was not a straightforward task.

Luckily, the talented folk at Google Ventures had been doing the same! While it was of great help, we had to further adapt GV’s design sprint to make it work for us on these factors:

  • Making it remote
  • Adapting it to an agency
  • Adapting it to client projects
  • Pricing it effectively

So then, what are sprints? Simply put: a sprint is a short timebox of work focused on completing a small slice of the overall goal.

At Melewi, a design sprint typically looks like this:

More often than not: a typical 2-week sprint at Melewi
  • 2-week long timebox of focused work
  • Starts off with a sprint planning session to set out the goals for the sprint
  • Ends off the sprint by delivering the final designs for usually a set feature or two, as well as a retrospective recapping how the sprint went
  • Because we’re a design agency, we created something we call the “sprint intensity”: which is the number of hours we dedicate and charge within a sprint (e.g. 36 hours/sprint)

But waterfalls are cool; Why would a design sprint work better?

I could go on and on about the inefficacy of the waterfall methodology, but instead, I’ve summarized six reasons why sprints work so well:

01. Sprints are lean

No one likes waste. We don’t either – especially wasting effort, time or precious resources. In sprints, we catch up with the client (or in your case, this might be the stakeholder/decision-maker) approximately once every two days.

By doing constant quick reviews, we always ensure we’re on the right track before continuing. If there are any mistakes or changes needed, we fix it before proceeding so we rarely have to backtrack.

02. Sprints are reactive to what the business needs

With sprints, if we need to shift our focus to something else, we can easily do so without worrying about renegotiating contract scopes. We know how businesses work – things break, circumstances change. To design effectively, the design team must be as reactive as the business need to be.

03. Sprints are flexible

Sprints are flexible to pivot to what’s needed, to scale the intensity up or down, or even to stop or extend. Clients or decision makers know how much will be done and are in control of how much time & cash will be spent. Doing sprints with a design team means we can adapt to what the business needs, and you aren’t locked into a rigid 6-month contract.

04. Sprints are fast, focused & effective

We set the goals at the start of the design sprint, and (usually) accomplish them by the end. With consistent milestones, reviews and deadlines, clients or decision-makers can see progress and deliverables in regular two week intervals instead of six months.

Additionally, containing work to timebox allows more focus for the team to concentrate on the task at hand, rather than be overwhelmed with a huge scope of work.

Our favourite example of how a good team and workflow can deliver awesome results is a project with Visa where we wireframed, designed and prototyped 150 screens in 2.5 weeks.

05. Sprints significantly reduce timelines:

Developing a product from scratch takes a long time!

All businesses need good results to happen quickly – they cannot afford to sacrifice for one or the other. Launch timelines can be significantly reduced working with sprints since development can occur in tandem instead of having to wait for all the design work to be done before it can begin.

06. Sprints allow you to be truly involved in your own product

Strong collaboration is the backbone of how sprints work. It’s an uncomfortable feeling to have someone take your idea and work on it on their own for weeks or months on end before you get to see any progress happen.

With sprints, you’re a crucial part of the creation process. Your input, expertise and knowledge are essential to making a successful product, and it’s vital you’re involved in how it shapes up!


Here at Melewi, we’re constantly improving and optimising our processes. This means we live in the present. It also means our clients get what works for them. And ultimately, that’s what it means to be agile.

What has your experience with the different methodologies been like? Curious about what working in design sprints can do for you? Talk to us to try out a sprint or two!

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