Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in just Five Days

I was excited to read Sprint. It promised “How to solve big problems and test new ideas in just five days.” It wasn’t a big problem, but we recently got a big slobbery dog who makes us change the water frequently. I wanted a better solution on how to save some of this water. It might not be a big problem but I thought I’d use this as a way to follow along.

My assumptions were wrong.

Really wrong.

However, the book still turned out to be good.

Really good.

The target isn’t a lone inventor (though anyone can learn from their principles). Jake Knapp and his co-authors run sprints for startups at Google Ventures and Sprint is their how-to manual, written after dozens and dozens of efforts to improve products and ideas. They work with companies to solve problems and test big-idea solutions with potential for big paydays, without devoting too much time or money. It’s never a flawless success, but partial successes and interesting failures move projects faster than general meetings and group brainstorms. The ideal sprint is run with a small group of people thinking how to make something better, rather than going from idea to invention.

The sprint is great for testing risky solutions that might have a huge payoff. (156)

Their experience shines through as they masterfully weave together real life examples (both good and bad), step-by-step instructions on how to run your own sprint, and explanations of the processes and theories behind why they do what they do. The writing and design is superb too. Handmade-looking graphics play into the fun atmosphere as well as provide clear insight into how the sprint process works. Similarly, they draw on popular culture to communicate key ideas (examples including Oceans 11, Lord of the Rings, and Apollo 13. Their playful tone mixes well with their expert advice.

In a sprint, time is precious, and we can’t afford distrations in the room. So we have a simple rule: No laptops, phones, or iPads allowed. No virtual-reality headsets. If you’re reading this book in the future, no holograms. If you’re reading it in the past, no Game Boys. (41)

Engaging writing aside, the book functions as a reference for anyone who is or may need to quickly decide the fate of a major project. They break the book down by each day you’re in the sprint (Monday-Friday) with tabs printed on the edge of each page according to the day. They also include facilitator notes (so that you can run your own sprint), supplies you’ll want to buy before running your own sprint, and checklists to keep you on track when you’re running a sprint.

The format of a sprint is deceptively simple:

    Monday: Map your process and target a problem
    Tuesday: Sketch ideas
    Wednesday: Decide on your solution
    Thursday: Build a realistic prototype
    Friday: Test the prototype with potential users

The five day format is part of a broader obsession on doing just enough to maximize return without devoting more time, money, or effort than necessary. Five days, not more or less. Five test users, not more or less. They discuss their “prototype mindset” when talking about how they build something real enough to keep the illusion of the product but no more (to prevent getting too attached to the product or wasting money/time/effort). But the “prototype mindset” underlies the entire sprint process—they need to test a solution in a way real enough to see if it’ll work, but fit it into a week so you don’t get bogged down in the process.

It’s what work should be about – not wasting time in endless meetings, then seeking camaraderie in a team-building event at a bowling alley – but working together to build something that matters to real people. This is the best use of your time. This is a sprint. (225)

Focused preparation, decisive decision-making, the best of individual and group work, fast feedback from people who represent your users (and not simply relying on your expertise). These are the ideas behind running a sprint and whether or not you’ll be running a sprint soon, their philosophies can certainly be adapted to your everyday situations.

Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days

Next time: Blockchain Revolution: How the Technology Behind Bitcoin Is Changing Money, Business, and the World

Brian is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com

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