Design Sprints & Startup Sprints

The latest event in Manchester Digital’s Startup Stories series popped into the calendar last Friday, and event sponsors lead a panel debate – from design sprints to startup sprints: taking you from raw idea to a tested prototype and business strategy in just two weeks.

Quite a bold statement, but these boys are practitioners not spectators, and had drawn an eclectic audience reflecting the depth of the subject under discussion – entrepreneurs, software engineers, designers, analysts, agile practitioners.

There were also bloggers, explorers, speakers, swimmers, dog lovers, coffee addicts, campers, walkers, musicians, gamers, footballers, readers, travellers, gardeners, parents, and optimists. Well, that’s what the post-event chat revealed.

The panel comprised the following practitioners, advisors and professionals:

  • Anna Dick – CTO, Hiring Hub
  • Rich Lang – Founder, Spokd
  • Nathan Langley – Design Lead, Co-op Digital
  • Gavin Bell – Investment Manager, Maven
  • Fiona Doran – Design Researcher at Common Good
  • Chuck Rice – Head of Design,
  • James Brookes – Head of Projects,

The scene was set with the call to action: no more startup bullshit, let’s make intelligent ventures without design debt, technical debt and business debt, and avoid the hyperbole we see in much of the startup world.

Chuck led us into the first session, starting at What problem does it solve? talking through the idea-build-launch-learn cycle, as the right way to address the Problem-Solution fit challenge startups face.

Sharing the experience across a wide range of sectors and projects, Chuck took us on a whistle-top tour of the methodology from Google Ventures, Jake Knapp and AJ&Smart, with the credentials and evolution of the Design Sprint methodology. Check out their portfolios here: Google Ventures and

The key takeaway Chuck emphasised was that the Design Sprint is a process that radically changes the way you work to be more effective in solving problems and building better products faster. The change of pace and the quality of the work that comes out of it is great, but there’s still a mental barrier to placing ‘bets’ in such a short, intensive period.

Everyone on the panel had something of value to say, based on their own learnings, practice and experience. Anna told of the challenges of building a dev team to take an MVP forward, keeping existing customers supported whilst running a Design Sprint with greater focus on user engagement, experience and interaction, and sharing the outputs across the business.

Rich talked about the challenges but value of the Design Sprint as a process to stretch your thinking as a solo founder, whilst Gavin highlighted the value from an investor’s perspective as being the customer centric perspective and insight provided.

From the designer’s craft perspective, Nathan and Fiona shared experience – medals and scars – of a variety of projects, with the core emphasis on a user centric mindset, customer journey and testing to all aspects of product development.

We then moved onto the Startup Sprint, and James talked us through how it answers the question: How can you find you find your problem-market fit in the shortest time?

So what is a Startup Sprint? Taking aspects from several well-known processes for establishing a business, and merging with some of’s own secret sauce of ideas and experience, the Startup Sprint is for entrepreneurs who want to validate their business idea in as lean a way of possible.

The approach takes the principles from the Lean Startup and refactors these into a process to go from the ideation stage through to a visioning Orbit, value proposition, business model, first cut product development roadmap and architecture strategy.

The benefits of the Startup Sprint are that the approach enables a founder entrepreneur to take the problem-solution fit to problem-market fit much more quickly. By the end of the Startup Sprint, the learnings and outputs are captured in a Startup Blueprint.

This provides a much fuller picture of how the application or platform could become a reality, from a customer, product, business and financial model perspective, which make a huge difference in investor pitches, and brings clarity and definition to the funding ask.

The panel were insightful and entertaining, sharing their views and practical experience. Here are the key takeaways for adopting the Design Sprint to Startup Sprint approach:

Collaboration Both Sprints foster collaboration between folks with varied skills. It is an extremely satisfying experience, sparking people to think creatively and compare their perspectives from completely different fields. It fosters shared visibility and alignment of your startup venture goals.

Momentum It fosters an agile mindset – Speed is the new currency of business. The Sprints are meant to be short and sharp, combined they speed up new product discovery and business models, and enable you to get answers to complicated problems within a short period of time.

Reduces risk You minimise risk by reducing time and budget on validating your ideas, shrink months of development, feature testing and building your value proposition into just a few days. It is a perfect method to create a prototype in a blink of an eye.

Productivity The amount of work that can be accomplished by a small team the Sprints is incredible. You’ll be amazed at how productive your team can be when they have the structure of the Sprints to guide them.

User centric The approach builds products with the needs of the user that they want to fulfil in mind. It quickly uncovers usability flaws and unknown product hang-ups, creating a guiding artefact as a workable, fluid prototype that you can test with your users and get immediate feedback.

Innovation focus A lot of this has to do with focus, removing distractions. A startup team is pulled in many directions, but in a Sprint, we can be focused solely on the task at hand. At the beginning of a Startup Sprint week, the mindfulness to the challenge is one of the keys to encouraging new thinking.

The Startup Stories events show the energy and entrepreneurial spirit that is Manchester. Manchester changed the world’s politics, from vegetarianism to feminism to trade unionism to communism, and has been the home to every upstart notion that ever got ideas above its station.

It’s a hot bed today of tech entrepreneurship, filled with radical philosophy and swagger, originally fostered in the streets, mills, pubs, churches and debating halls. Now innovation thrives, from the catalytic bravado and innocence of Factory Records, to the high tech flair and inspiration of Peak.

So come along to the next Startup Stories event on Friday 18 January, when will be leading a session on Open Banking and the Fintech revolution.

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Wherever you are on your startup journey, get in touch and let’s unpack your thinking together and see where we can help turn your idea into a reality.