Book Review: Sprint by Jake Knapp

As a designer who has facilitated design jams, ideation sessions, and indeed even my own flavor of design sprints, I found Jake Knapp’s book Sprint to be a great addition to my methodology toolbox.

Jake explains in the preface that this methodology was born out of a frustration with classic brainstorming. So while the terminology “sprint” may bring up notions of Agile and Scrum, I feel it’s more akin to the root meaning of the word:

sprint (noun): an act or short spell of running at full speed

Knapp’s sprint is a structured five day workshop that starts with a big hairy important question, and ends with a duct tape* prototype tested with target users. It is intense, and not something you do every week. This is in contrast to Agile sprints which are used week-in and week-out over the duration of months. These sprints are not a process for how execution work happens, but they are a tool to determine and answer the most important questions about what to build.

*I call it a duct tape prototype, in the book they called it a facade. In either case, it’s all about faking the front end of the experience quickly and just enough to test it with users.

Give yourself a weekend to read through Sprint and reflect on the anecdotes shared and how you might bring this methodology to your work. The book was well formatted and easy to read. I managed to finish reading it over the course of two days while looking after a baby. The book provided guideposts right from the beginning so I never felt the need to skip ahead. I appreciated the heads up about their checklist at the end of the book so I didn’t feel any stress about needing to pause to write down a cheat sheet of notes. With the physical copy of the book, the blue edges helped me visually see where I was in the book (in the sprint) and when the next chapter (the next day of the sprint) would start.

Sprint gives just enough information to run one these problem solving sprints, and there are other design books dedicated to some of the topics if you want to dive deeper. I especially recommend learning more about how to conduct various types of user research and understanding why it’s important to phrase questions in the way Knapp recommends. This includes the non-questions when you trail off and let the participant fill in the blank to get a more insightful answer than leading them with a specific question.

I look forward to facilitating my first week long Knapp style sprint. I think the biggest challenge I’ll have is convincing five to seven co-workers to block out their entire week. Where I work, people are so reluctant to ask for people’s time that they try to squish efforts like this into a single day, or even a half-day. There is a chapter dedicated to Team that gives some arguments for how to convince the decider: rapid progress, it’s an experiment, explain the tradeoffs, it’s about focus. Explaining the tradeoffs is the least intuitive argument from the list, but I think it’s actually the most compelling one to try. It’s about showing and discussing the list of big meetings you’ll skip or postpone. I suspect that it’s the fear of missing out that prevents people from skipping meetings. But as most of us have experienced from taking vacation, things rarely change dramatically in the time you’re gone. I’ll have to give these arguments a try — I think it’s worth it.

Even if you don’t anticipate being able to do a week long sprint, I recommend reading Sprint by Jake Knapp for the various tools and approaches you can incorporate into your workflow.

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