Book review: Sprint (Part 1 — Setting the stage)
I personally find it very encouraging to see that more and more companies go down the route of experimentation and continuous discovery. Businesses are starting to realise that committing to a single solution upfront and implementing it in the hope that it will be successful can be a very risky strategy. “Sprint — How To Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days” builds on this change by introducing the concept of a 5-day sprint in which to identify problems, explore possible solutions AND get feedback from real customers.
Jake Knapp and two of his colleagues at Google Ventures, John Zeratsky and Braden Kowitz, have successfully applied ‘sprints’ for a wide range of companies, helping the likes of Pocket and Blue Bottle to tackle difficult problems in just five days. This is how the five days are broken down:
- Monday (day 1) — ‘Start at the end’; agree to a long-term goal and pick a problem to solve during the sprint
- Tuesday (day 2) — Review and improve existing ideas and sketch possible solutions
- Wednesday (day 3) — Select a solution to focus on and create a storyboard
- Thursday (day 4) — Build a prototype, a realistic ‘facade’
- Friday (day 5) — Learn through customer interviews
Fig. 1 — Steven Nguyen “Reflecting on our first design sprint” — Taken from: https://sprintstories.com/reflecting-on-our-first-design-sprint-2d58519eefad#.ej6ivw4ma
The “Sprint” book contains a wealth of great techniques to utilise as part of a sprint. I want to do it justice and will probably devote a couple of posts to this great book. Before delving into each of the days of the sprint, let’s start by looking at ‘setting the stage’ before kicking off the sprint. It’s important to have the right challenge and the right team before you begin a sprint:
- Challenge — As readers of my posts might know; I’m quite obsessed about understanding the problem(s) worth solving before exploring solutions. I therefore believe that picking the right problem or challenge to solve is absolutely critical to a successful sprint. Knapp, Zeratsky and Kowitz suggest three challenging situations where sprints can help: high stakes, tight deadlines or when you’re simply stuck.
- Team — The key thing when assembling a sprint team is to get a ‘Decider’ in the team; someone who’s in a position to make important decisions. This can be the CEO or another important stakeholder. I like how the book provides a number of arguments one can use when a Decider is reluctant to get involved in the sprint (see Fig. 2 below). You should end up with a well balanced team, made up of people who can implement as well as subject matter experts (see Fig. 3 below).
On top of picking a team, it’s also important to have a designated facilitator who can manage time, conversations, and the overall process. Naturally, this can be someone from within your company or someone external. For example, I know lots of digital agencies that facilitate sprints as part of a piece of work for their clients. As much this is beneficial to the client, this also helps the agency by creating a shared and robust understanding of what’s going to be built and why.
Fig. 2 — Get a Decider (or two) involved — Taken from: “Sprint”, pp. 31–32
- Rapid progress — Emphasise the amount of progress you’ll make in your sprint: In just one week, you’ll have a realistic prototype.
- It’s an experiment — Consider your first sprint an experiment. When it’s over, the Decider can help evaluate how effective it was.
- Explain the tradeoffs — Show the Decider a list of big meetings and work items you and your team will miss during the sprint week.
- It’s about focus — Be honest about your motivations. If the quality of your work is suffering because your team’s regular work schedule is too scattered, say so. Tell the Decider that instead of doing an okay job on everything, you’ll do an excellent job on one thing.
Fig. 3 — Recruit a team of seven (or fewer) — Taken from: “Sprint”, pp. 34–35
- Decider — Examples: CEO, founder, product manager, head of design
- Finance expert — Examples: CEO, CFO, business development manager
- Marketing expert — Examples: CMO, marketer, PR, community manager
- Customer expert — Examples: researcher, sales, customer support
- Tech/logistics expert — Examples: CTO, engineer
- Design expert — Examples: designer, product manager
Main learning point: I recommend everyone doing a ‘sprint’ before committing to a specific solution. “Sprint” is a great book, with a lot of helpful guideance as to how to best solve big problems in five days. I’d argue that some of the techniques to use as part of sprint shouldn’t be constrained to a 5-day period or at the start of a piece work; I’ll outline in the coming posts how some of the sprint exercises can be used on a continuous basis.
Related links for further learning: