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3 Differences Between Design Sprint and Lean Inception You Need To Know


Design Sprint and Lean Inception are two collaborative workshops that are often (incorrectly) used interchangeably to help a team quickly align about developing a successful product. In reality, there are significant differences between these two methods. Understanding these differences is key to choosing the path that will work best for your context.

In a nutshell, what is Design Sprint?

Without getting too detailed, Design Sprint is a workshop to build and test a prototype in just five days. It is a proven approach that shorten the traditional and somewhat lengthy design-thinking process into a highly effective workshop that runs for only a week.

With a small design team and a clear agenda for the week, the team will rapidly go from the problem to a tested prototype for a possible solution. Tweet This.

Monday is about framing the problem. On Tuesday the participants sketch possible solutions. Then, on Wednesday, the group decides which are the best sketches. On Thursday, it is about building prototypes. And finally, on Friday, the team test these prototypes with a few real users.

>> Download the Design Sprint – day by day.pdf

In a nutshell, what is Lean Inception?

Again, scratching the surface, Lean Inception is also a proven workshop used to quickly align a group of people towards a successful product development. Like Design Sprint, Lean Inception also has a clear agenda for five day workshop that has shown great results.

With the right participants and a clear agenda for the week, the group will rapidly go from the product vision to a plan for the Minimum Viable Product, enabling them to think big, but start small and learn fast. Tweet This.

Monday is about framing the product vision and the product goals. On Tuesday the team will share information about the users and their journeys. Then, on Wednesday, the group will brainstorm about possible product features. On Thursday, it is about prioritising the features given the business, UX and tech perspectives. And finally, on Friday, the team decides and specify what is the very first step towards validating the business hypothesis (the MVP).

>> Download the Lean Inception – day by day.pdf

How are Design Sprint and Lean Inception the same?

Both Design Sprint and Lean Inception solve complex problems throughout a well-orchestrated design thinking collaborative workshop. Both place a high value on understanding the business context and the problem before seeking a solution. And both share the very similar focus on first understanding options for later narrowing down towards a proposed solution.

How are Design Sprint and Lean Inception different?

  • The participants. Where the Design Sprint participants are typically the design team (a group of specialists sketching solutions, creating and testing prototypes), the Lean Inception participants are the people from the business, the people representing the user needs (many times these people are also part of the design team) and the developers.
  • Decision maker. The design sprint requires the role of a decision maker. This role is to be taken on by the person that bears the responsibility for the product or solution to be developed. On the Lean Inception workshop there should not exist a decision maker. It is quite the opposite route of having one person as a decision maker. The initial days of the Lean Inception workshop look at the problem from different angles: the business, the users and the technologists. And them towards the end of the workshop, the whole group must align and decide on the MVP. It is a collaborative and aligned decision.
  • The outcome. The end result of a Design Sprint is a prototype, something that the team has put very little time and effort into but has helped them test a concept. The end result of a Lean Inception is a plan for the MVP, something the team decided to be the minimum set of features to satisfy early customers, and to provide feedback for the next product increments. In both cases, the outcome of the workshop is the input for the product development.

How does Design Sprint and Lean Inception complement each other?

Option 1 – Design Sprint then Lean Inception

Design Sprint for ideation and then a Lean Inception to define the first step towards building (and validating the product), the MVP. The point is, even though a few users like the prototype it does not mean the early customers will use or buy it. You still need to validate your product. Or, even better, you should validate the MVP, the minimum viable product to validate the business hypothesis. Then you increment the product based on real usage feedback. Lean Inception help you co-create this plan, including the business, the UX people (probably with many of the same people responsible for the Design Sprint) and the developers.

Option 2 – Lean Inception then Design Sprint

Lean Inception for deciding the MVP and its features and then a Design Sprint for deciding the best prototype for the MVP. The point is, on the Lean Inception, the whole group – business, UX and developers decided about the MVP. Now let the designers work their magic, explore options, create different sketches and test them with a few real users.

You want to validate the MVP. But if you don´t get it right, with a great design, your users will not understand it. A Design Sprint is a great option to get the design right, in just a week!

Which is better for your needs?

There’s really no way to answer that question for you in this article.
Both Lean Inception and Design Sprint are powerful, proven workshops that can vastly improve your success chances. The best option is to become familiar with both of them and experiment with various aspects of both in your product discovery and development. Creating a hybrid of both is perfectly acceptable if that works best for you.

>> Prefer listening or watching a video about this content? Then check out this 30 minutes webinar on Design Sprint and Lean Inception

>> Join the next Remote Lean Inception training.



Paulo Caroli

Paulo Caroli is the author of the best-selling book “Lean Inception: How to Align People and Build the Right Product” (the first on a series of books on business agility). He's also the creator of FunRetrospectives.com , a site and book about retrospectives, futurospectives and team building activities. Caroli writes on this blog frequently. Receive the next post in your email. Sign up here.
Lean Inception: Learn How to Align People and Build the Right Product

Lean Inception: Learn How to Align People and Build the Right Product

Lean Inception is a crucial agile methodology for aligning teams on effective product creation. Introduced by Paulo Caroli, it combines Design Thinking and Lean StartUp techniques to define strategies and Minimum Viable Product (MVP) scope. It is valuable for large projects, startups, and business innovations. Not suitable for discovery activities, prototyping decisions, or cross-team alignment. Active participants, stakeholders, and skilled facilitators are essential for the success of this collaborative process. Lean Inception is fundamental for guiding teams toward meaningful and efficient product outcomes.

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