Design thinking, lean start-up, agile: how to read from the startup Bible

Defining problems, testing solutions and developing problems as per the gospel of Agile and Lean

The process of building a tech venture has become a serious subject of research in the last 20 years, resulting in a body of methodologies, tools and frameworks.

Design thinking, lean start-up, agile development and design sprints, for instance, are now universally known as essential parts of the start-up toolkit.

These terms might sound similar and confusing for a young entrepreneur though. Putting the pieces together and seeing the big picture is even more challenging.

Ignoring the differences and interdependencies, however, is like not knowing the birthday of your new girlfriend or boyfriend: it only works for a couple of weeks.

So do the right things from the start. Learn and understand the mechanics of building a start-up in detail. What do all the methodologies actually stand for? How do they fit together? And, finally, how they can make your business more efficient and faster?

What is it all about

Let’s first explain the basic terms that are frequently used in the context of building a start-up.

Design thinking is a highly iterative process for solving problems. At its core, there are five phases:

  • Emphasise by observing and developing empathy with the target users, primarily through interviews and surveys. While emphasising, you’ll be able to set aside your own assumptions and focus on the world of the users.
  • Define users’ needs and articulate them as a problem statement from the user perspective.
  • Ideate (brainstorm) new solutions, based on the problem you’ve identified in the earlier stages.
  • Prototype these solutions by making simple “products” and experiment how they work on a small group of people.
  • Test the best solutions, identified in the prototype phase and use the learnings to feeds the cycle from the start to redefine the problems and better understand the users.


Lean startup is a methodology for finding a working business model by experimenting with the minimum viable products (MVP) – versions of the products that are good enough to launch but far from “perfect”. Similarly to design thinking, lean start-up is a highly iterative process, structured around the so-called build-measure-learn approach. The goal here is not to build a final product, but rather to validate or invalidate the initial idea that has been refined by the design thinking cycle.

Design sprints is a step-by-step system for resolving problems as a team. To use design sprints, you already need a well-defined problem to start with. The methodology is based on a five-day linear process, consisting of mapping, sketching, deciding, prototyping and testing. In comparison to design thinking, sprints are more focused on developing solutions.

Agile development is a methodology for producing software which better aligns the work with customer needs and company goals. In comparison to “traditional” development, agile teams work in small increments. Plans and results are constantly evaluated so that teams can respond to change faster and more efficiently. Scrum and Kanban are two most widely used agile frameworks for developing and delivering digital products.



How do you bring the pieces together?

The above Garter diagram is a nice visualisation of how the agile and lean concepts fit together.  

Design thinking is used when you are discovering customer’s problems and possible solutions.

Having a clearly defined problem, use lean start-up methods to rigorously test the solutions (as minimum viable products) in order to find a feasible business model.

In the process, you might stumble upon harder-to-solve challenges. Design sprints (“iterate” part in the diagram) are super useful for finding solutions to problems that are already well-defined. In comparison to design thinking, sprints are time-limited and deploy more structured and outcome-driven exercises.

After establishing a solid product-market fit, agile methodology empowers development teams to quickly bring quality products to life – without cost and schedule blowouts. If lean startup helps you build the right thing, agile will help you build the thing right.

Combining design thinking to define problems, lean approach and design sprints to find profitable solutions and agile to deliver them as promised, you’ll build a powerful business machine. All of the methods engage users in providing feedback so you can measure the progress and continually adapt to changes. If done right, you’ll keep the competitive edge while giving your people the space to unleash their creative potential.


If you are interested in how agile and lean works more in detail, check d.labs’ dedicated webinars. You’ll learn:

  • How to define ideas with a business ideation canvas
  • How to do customer discovery interviews
  • How to build a powerful learning engine in one month
  • How to develop quality products fast and without big budgets

Want to chat more about how we can help you build and scale your tech venture? Get in touch at