Shaking things up with Jake Knapp

Jake Knapp — co-writer of the book Sprint — visited the Clockwork office on April 1st. What seemed like a joke, turned out to be real..

Gaël van Heijst

A designer walks into the room…

What’s a Design Sprint you say? Moving towards a validated prototype in one week, together with clients. Sounds easier than it is. Jake provides us with some examples. Jake worked for Microsoft and Google, and helped Slack, Uber and LEGO in facilitating sprints. He published a book about it in 2016, and starting telling his story on multiple stages.

When Jake walks into the room, smiles appear on people’s faces. Almost two meters high, grimacing from ear to ear. Just a regular dude, coming to tell a story on something he is passionate about. Wearing fluffy slippers. What seemed to be his manager, following him closely. Scheduling a new book presentation maybe? We’ll find out later…

Invitees get seated, and our managing director Martin kicks the night off right. “We have something nice to behold tonight.” Everyone came all the way down the Moermanskkade for the same reason. This, together with the sun setting on our little harbour. Jake seems impressed, and laughs together with us.

“I assume you said some good things about me in Dutch. You look like nice people!”

Dot-voting (left) on subjects.

Upon entering our office, we asked visitors to dot-vote on their favourite subjects. The following Q&A will give you a taste of this insightful evening. We’re gonna start with Jake’s favourite subject, ‘Tell a joke.”


Do you have any good jokes for us Jake?

JK: I always like to keep a few good ones up my sleeve. Even though they are really bad, I use them to get the group shift their focus on busy days. Okay, here it comes. You ready for it? Skeleton walks into a bar… Orders a beer and a mop.

A fair amount of the group seems amused, the ice is broken.

In what way does your more recent book ‘Make Time’ connect to ’Sprint’ ?
JK: In order to answer this one, there’s a few things you should know. I used to work as a designer at Encarta. Does anyone of you still know what that is? Yeah, I’m getting old too. I noticed I disliked their way of working at one point. Then I joined forces with Google, only to found out they had the same problems. So, I started tinkering with theses ideas for the ‘Design Sprint’, out of my own frustration.

I noticed that the way we’ve been using our calendar, proved to be inefficient for creative work. Were we not using our calendar as a blank canvas, to be filled with half an hour meetings throughout the day? After my time at Gmail en Hangouts I ended up at Google Venture (GV), where I worked on the idea of the ‘Design Sprint’ during my ’20% Projects’.

So I switched things up, completely. Instead of design products, we started Designing Time. We tested this way of working with the team. Everyone should clear their agendas, for a week fo deep work. The right people in the room, full focus on one problem.

Any good jokes, Jake?

A week without meetings? Can we not do it in four days?
JK: That’s a question I get a lot. And I always advise to do what suits you and your company. A team that is accustomed to each others’ skills and wishes, could get the job done quicker. But than again, something along the way suffers a lack of attention or detail. In my humble opinion, five days is really the sweet spot to aim for.

Five days in the same room… how do we keep energy levels high?
JK: Just let it rest a while. Leave discussions that need to be held outside of the room, where they belong. The Sprint-book provides day-to-day templates, down to the minute, even suggestions on when to schedule breaks.

What’s your favourite day of a sprint week?
JK: Thursday is my favourite day, by far. Being a designer myself, there is nothing as fulfilling in designing in a time-boxed space. It’s the ideal motivator to make decisions fast. Headphones on, and full focus!

Getting’ comfy

How do I keep focus in the team?
JK: Trust the process. Doing necessary preparation helps as well. The reason that you’re all there for the week — with that specific problem — should be crystal clear. People are clearing their agendas for a reason. Every hour is as valuable.

I can not be there the whole week. How do you keep all stakeholders involved?
JK: Guaranteeing involvement from all stakeholder is done fairly simple. Your room should read the story. If you’re documenting every day rigidly, stakeholders should be able to follow your process. Even at the CEO, with only half an hour to spare, should be able to be up to speed in no time.

Help! We don’t have any designers on our team! What to do?
JK: A design or prototype can be many things. I like to look for forms that get as honest feedback as possible. My goal is to capture the first reaction of a respondent. This doesn’t have to be a fancy click demo. A PowerPoint with a webcam? Just as good!

So you’re saying everyone can facilitate a Design Sprint?
JK: Essentially you don’t need any special skills to do so. Being somewhat skilled in talking in front of groups of people, comes in handy. But that’s a skill a lot of people have. If you need specific skills in interviewing or designing, I suggest hiring an agency who has done this multiple times. It’s these people that can look at your project objectively and apply the right skill and knowledge.

How do you usually prepare for a Design Sprint?
JK: Usually I don’t actually! I like to go in unprepared. Let them tell me what the problem is. I learn the most that way.

Selfies with Jake

Any specific bloopers or successes you’d like to share?
JK: The biggest setback ever was when, when in one particular case, the CEO came in on Thursday and told us we were never gonna build something like this anyway, but do carry on. People were ready to leave the building. Right then and there. Successes are made on subject I myself are not particularly familiar with. Say healthcare for instance. It’s really fulfilling if you can explain something really hard, in a very easy way.

How does the future of the Design Sprint look?
JK: The method is there to customise it to your own needs. I’m very curious to see how people will use it over time. Apart from that, I’m fairly pleased with the way the method spreads. More and more, universities, corporates and even governments are using Design Sprints to get stuff done.


Jake, can I have your autograph?

After the Q&A people line up. Either for a personal tip, sharing an anecdote or simply to get their book signed. I got an awesome story on making prototypes while blasting Metallica 😎.

Don’t procrastinate and listen to Metallica 👌🏻

Oh, and that manager of him you say? That’s his 15-year old son, Luuk. Busy minding his own business, in the back of the room. Every now and then he gets to help his dad out, he likes that. My dad a cool guy? I guess, yes. But once he starts talking… And he sure did. Keeping us interested for 1.5 hour straight, without break.

Spilling with the same energy and enthusiasm, we leave the Clockwork office. Carrying a copy of Sprint under our arm.

Closing an awesome night!
Gaël van Heijst

Written by

Design & write, photography on the side | UX Designer @ Clockwork, Amsterdam | www.gaelvanheijst.nl

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