Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days by Jake Knapp is an unusual business read — it’s practical and engaging without putting you to sleep. The idea is to solve a key customer problem and test it with real customers for immediate feedback. I plan to apply this not just in start-up environments, but also larger companies that I’m consulting with for marketing-related challenges.
While developing products at Google, Knapp experimented with and improved a process called a “sprint,” which contained “magic ingredients — a focus on individual work, time to prototype and an inescapable deadline.”
In an era where workers experience FOMO (fear of missing out) on meetings that yield few results, sprints distill the amount of collaboration and debate into a digestible form and produce results. Ironically, the intense focus with limited time brings the team together. I’m willing to jump in and test this for myself.
Here are key points in the book:
1. Keep the End in Mind
Ask big questions that you may not solve immediately, but help direct the team to where they are going. What is really key is to word them as questions versus assumptions, as Knapp lists out in Chapter 4.
2. Everyone Draws
Pictures are powerful. Even if you fear drawing, this is not meant to be fancy — rather a way to convey the idea you’re proposing. There’s no time for presentations, just raw pen and paper to capture ideas. It’s also much more engaging and ensures no one is distracted by emails or Slack messages.
3. Time Constraints
Get the Time Timer, a visual way to show how much time is left. It’s typically used in classrooms but shows promise for teams that struggle to stay on time and meet deadlines. It sets up a precedent for making deadlines.
4. Work Solo and Together
Ideation requires thinking time. Make sure participants have time alone (especially true for introverts) and opportunity to bring their ideas back to the team. Great ideas can come from “alone time” and expanded on with the small team.
5. Select One Decider
Designate a decider who ultimately makes the final direction after the team has voted for the best solution to a customer problem. I’ve worked in highly collaborative environments and without a final decision maker, teams waste time. This solves it!
6. Test It
The end goal of Knapp’s process is to get your prototype (website, product, office set-up, etc.) up by Day 5, ideally Friday. Jakob Nielsen, a user research expert identified that after testing with five people, you have 85% of problems identified (Sprint, Chapter 15). Customer interviews helped many companies identify “why” the prototype wasn’t working and immediately address it. The type of questions is also important, such as avoiding multiple choice and leading questions. Chapter 16 covers this in greater detail.
Knapp’s book was a fast read and very practical. I recommend it to marketers looking to solve customer problems quickly. Blocking a full week to execute this may be the biggest challenge, but if Knapp’s examples hold true, the payout will be well worth it — to build the right product for customers.