by Jake Knapp, John Zeratsky, Braden Kowitz

  • Management
  • Ashto = 7/10
  • Jonesy = 6/10

What You Will Learn from Sprint

This week, Ashto and Jonesy learn about Google Ventures’ unique five-day process of product prototyping and testing ideas with customers. A bestseller that touches on business strategy, innovation, behavioural science, design, and more, Sprint includes a step-by-step process that any startup team can utilise for their project. This book presents a preview of the future through a finished product and customer reactions, giving startups an opportunity to assess the potential of a product before making any expensive commitments.
Identifying critical flaws in your projects in just five days of work is the height of efficiency. Sprint is a practical guide that helps minimise the failure rate and save companies weeks or months of money, effort and heartache.

Monday: Setting a Long-Term Goal

To start the conversation, you ask your team this question: ‘Why are we doing this project? Where do we want to be in six months, a year or even five years from now?’ This discussion could take anywhere from thirty seconds to thirty minutes, but take your time to figure it out. Slowing down might be frustrating for a moment, but the satisfaction and confidence of a clear goal will last all week. Don’t worry about overreaching; the sprint process will help you find a good place to start and make real progress toward even the biggest goal. Once you’ve settled on a long-term goal, write it at the top of the whiteboard. it’ll stay there throughout the sprint as a beacon to keep everyone moving in the same direction.
When writing the long-term goal, you were optimistic. But now it’s time to get pessimistic. Imagine you’ve gone forward in time one year, and your project was a disaster. What caused it to fail? How did your goal go wrong? Lurking beneath every goal are dangerous assumptions. The longer those assumptions remain unexamined, the greater the risk. Just like the main goal, these questions guide the solutions and decisions throughout the sprint. It’s also recommended to bring in people in the following roles:

  • The Decider focuses on strategy and making the final decisions.
  • The voice of the Customer
  • Someone to explain How Things Work (the mechanic of the product)
  • Someone with an experience in Previous Efforts

Tuesday: Lightning Demos & Sketching

The Sprint method for collecting and synthesising existing ideas is to do ‘lightning demos’ – where people take turns giving 3-minute tours of their favourite solutions. These span across other products and different domains, from within your own company but also from totally unexpected areas. This exercise is about finding the raw materials that you can remix and reuse, not about copying your competitors. Generally, there is little benefit from looking within your existing industry, and so much can be gained by looking beyond the horizons of your company and industry. The ideas that spark the best solutions come from similar problems in totally different environments.

When you combine all of these ideas you just captured, cross-reference them with Monday’s map and your sprint questions. You’ve got a wealth of raw material and in the afternoon, you’ll turn that material into solutions.

On Tuesday afternoon, you’ll work individually, take your time, and sketch. You’re sketching because it’s the fastest and easiest way to transform abstract ideas into concrete solutions. Once your idea becomes concrete, it can critically and fairly be assessed by the rest of the team without any sales pitch. This quiet sketching time allows everyone to flesh out their ideas on their own, the way they want to do it – combining the benefits of teamwork in previous brainstorms with the benefits of individual-focused work.

Wednesday: Decision

By Wednesday morning, you and your team will have a stack of solutions. You can’t prototype and test them all – you need one solid plan. In the morning, you’ll critique each solution, and decide which ones have the best chance of achieving your long-term goal. Then, in the afternoon, you’ll take the winning scenes from your sketches and weave them into a storyboard: a step-by-step plan for your prototype.

Thursday: Fake It

On Wednesday, you and your team created a storyboard. On Thursday, you’ll adopt a ‘Fake It’ philosophy to turn your storyboard into a realistic prototype. Here, we’ll explain the mindset, strategy, and tool that makes it possible to build that prototype in just seven hours.

If you’ve ever watched an Old Western movie, it looks surprisingly realistic. The buildings look real, but there’s nothing behind them – they’re just a facade of the buildings, the front of buildings only, on a movie lot in Hollywood. That’s exactly what we’re going to be doing here. Thursday is about illusion – you’ve got an idea for a great solution but instead of taking weeks or months or even years to build it, you’re going to fake it in just one day. in one day you’ll make a prototype that looks real, and on Friday, your customers (just like a movie audience) will simply react to what they see.

You can prototype anything if you just focus on a few key elements rather than the whole thing. Prototypes are disposable, so don’t prototype anything you aren’t willing to throw away. This specific solution might not work, so don’t give in to the temptation to take extra days or weeks building and perfecting it. You have specific questions your sprint is designed to answer – so only build what you need to answer those questions.

Friday: Testing The Prototype

One team member is the interviewer, who sits with the customer and guides them through the prototype, while the rest of the team is in another room watching a live stream of the experience. The rest of the team is taking notes quietly, while they watch how the customer interacts with their prototype.

After 5 interviews, the common patterns will be easy to spot. Jakob Nielsen, a user research expert who pioneered the field of website usability – found that 85% of the problems were usually detected by just 5 users. Testing with more people led to much more work but only tiny improvements in detecting problems
One-on-one interviews are a remarkable shortcut because they allow you to test the facade of your product, long before you’ve built the real thing (and before you’ve fallen in love with it). They deliver meaningful results in a single day and they offer an important insight that’s nearly impossible to get with normal large-scale quantitative data. You find out why things worked or didn’t work. When all you have is statistics, you have to guess what your customers are thinking; but when you’re doing an interview, you can simply ask.

Conclusion of Sprint

This book was a very tactical step-by-step how-to book for a very niche and specific situation. However, there were also a bunch of unconventional ideas about how to work faster and smarter. Some of the meta lessons we can take away from this book and apply to a whole wide range of different scenarios include:

  • Instead of jumping right into solutions, take your time to map out the problem and agree on an initial target.
  • Instead of shouting out ideas, work independently to make detailed sketches of possible solutions.
    Instead of abstract debate and endless meetings, use voting and nominate a Decider to make crisp decisions that reflect your team’s priorities.
  • Instead of getting all the details right before testing your solutions, create a facade
  • Instead of guessing and hoping you’re on the right track (all the while investing piles of money and months of time into your ideas) test your prototype with target customers and get their honest real-time reactions.
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