Jake Knapp convinced me to run a design sprint

Have you heard of “design sprints”, have you tried to run one? Was is a total waste of time?

I had read about the design sprint concept, it sounded great. A few years ago, before I worked at Tes, I decided to try it. Unfortunately the outcome was far from great, so when Jake Knapp (creator of design sprints) was listed to present at the conference Mind The Product 2017 I was not excited.

The event was going well, then I realised it was time for the design sprints talk — I thought “maybe a chance to catch up on the mountain of emails growing from being out of the office”. Jake came on stage and immediately engaged the audience including myself. The talk was fantastic and completely changed my entire perspective on the concept of design sprints. The next day while driving to Wales to go mountain biking I listened to his book Sprint via Audible. I had previously failed to appreciated that the design sprint was a productivity tool (obvious now). I had misunderstood the concept and confused it with agile principles.

Productivity processes are about detail, the book provides detail by the hour for the 5 day sprint, and importantly explains why. The process makes the most of group thinking, individual creativity and concise rapid decision making informed by everyone. I was now fully informed and sold on the idea. I was excited to make it work. I understood my previous mistakes — I had not focused on a big enough problem, the process was too unstructured, the right people were not in the room, too much time was wasted in idea selection, we didn’t focus on the right moment of the problem, the prototype was too basic (clickable wireframes don’t look real) and the process was squeezed into 4 days not 5 days. TBH previously I had really got it wrong!

I reached out to Jake who kindly shared some slides with me to help pitch the concept into the business. It was not a difficult pitch, as a product team we encourage evidence based experiments to learn about our problems and validate solutions. The CEO was keen to support such a customer centric initiative.

Armed with the step by step guide we picked a really big problem we need to solve — which was one of my mistakes the first time round. We have assembled a team, cleared the calendars for 5 days which got the sprint a great deal of internal attention! The team includes the CEO and CTO providing executive level support.

I have ordered my Time Timer Clock, purchased lots of stationary, stocked up on Graze snacks, I am ready for day one — which is tomorrow. I plan to share the story of our design sprint here.

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