One of the best books I read this year was Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days. Written by Jake Knapp, partner at Google Ventures, Sprint addresses how you can improve your product innovation processes and get better innovation results. If you're a product manager or product executive looking for inspiration on how to more consistently innovate breakthrough products and technologies, this book is for you.
I read the book this past week, and I highlighted what I thought were the most important points. Below is a summary of direct quotes and other important points from the book.
Reading this summary will give you the gist, but if you haven't read the entire book, I hope it pushes you to do so. Well worth your time.
Product innovation is hard
Even the best ideas face an uncertain path to real-world success. That's true whether you're running a startup, teaching a class, or working inside a large organization.
This book is a DIY guide for running your own sprint to answer your pressing questions
On Monday, you'll map out the problem and pick an important place to focus. On Tuesday, you'll sketch competing solutions on paper. On Wednesday, you'll make difficult decisions and turn your ideas into a testable hypothesis. On Thursday, you'll hammer out a realistic prototype. And on Friday, you'll test it with a live human.
Here are three challenges where sprints can help
A sprint is your chance to check the navigation charts and steer in the right direction before going full steam ahead.
Not Enough Time
You need good solutions, fast. As the name suggests, a sprint is built for speed.
Just Plain Stuck
A sprint can be a booster rocket: a fresh approach to problem solving that helps you escape gravity's clutches.
Who to Include in Your Sprint team
Decider such as the CEO, founder, product manager, head of design.
Set a long-term goal
Be clear on why you're doing this project and where you want to be six months, a year or even five years from now.
Make a (customer journey) map
1. List the actors: all the important characters in your story (on the left)
2. Write the ending (on the right)
3. Words and arrows in between
4. Keep it simple
5. Ask for help
You should be able to make the first quick draft of your map in 30-60 minutes.
How Might We Method
This method of note-taking, invented by Procter & Gamble in the 1970s, forces us to look for opportunities and challenges, rather than getting bogged down by problems or, almost worse, jumping to solutions too soon.
Using the How Might We Method
1. Put the letters "HMW" in the top left corner of your sticky note.
3. When you hear something interesting, convert it into a question (quietly).
4. Write the question on your sticky note.
5. Peel off the note and set it aside.
Vote on How Might We Notes
1. Give two large dot stickers to each person.
2. Give four large dot stickers tot he Decider because her opinion counts a little more.
3. Ask everyone to review the goal and sprint questions.
4. Ask everyone to vote in silence for the most useful How Might We questions.
5. It's okay to vote for your own note, or to vote twice for the same note.
Four-Step Sketch Method
1. Notes. Take notes on the goals, opportunities, and inspiration you've collected.
2. Ideas. Spend 20 minutes writing down rough ideas.
3. Crazy 8's to limber up and explore alternative ideas.
4. Solution Sketch a single well-former concept with all the details worked out.
Crazy 8s Brainstorming Method
Crazy 8s is an exercise to rapidly sketch eight variations of an idea in eight minutes.
How to Decide Between Competing product Ideas
Knapp recommends this five-step process:
- Art museum: Put the solution sketches on the wall with masking tape.
- Heat map: Look at all the solutions in silence, and use dot stickers to mark interesting parts.
- Speed critique: Quickly discuss the highlights of each solution, and use sticky notes to capture big ideas.
- Straw poll: Each person chooses one solution, and votes for it with a dot sticker.
- Supervote: The Decider makes the final decision, with--you guessed it--more stickers.
How to Do the Speed Critique
- Gather around a solution sketch.
- Set a timer for 3 minutes.
- The Facilitator narrates the sketch. ("Here it looks like a customer is clicking to play a video...")
- The facilitator calls out standout ideas that have clusters of stickers by them.
- The team calls out standout ideas that the Facilitator missed.
- The Scribe writes standout ideas on sticky notes and sticks them about the sketch. Give each idea a simple name, like "Animated Video" or "One-Step Signup."
- Review concerns and questions.
- The creator of the sketch remains silent until the end. ("Creator, reveal your identity and tell us what we missed!")
- The creator explains any missed ideas that the team failed to spot, and answers any questions.
- Move to the next sketch and repeat.
How to Run a Straw Poll
- Give everyone one vote (represented by a big dot sticker).
- Remind everyone of the long-term goal and sprint questions.
- Remind everyone to err on the side of risky ideas with big potential.
- Set a timer for ten minutes.
- Each person privately writes down his or her choice. It could be a whole sketch, or just one idea in a sketch.
- When time is up, or when everyone is finished, place the votes on the sketches.
- Each person briefly explains his or her vote (only spend about one minute per person).
When you need to gather information or ideas from the group and make a decision, you can use the note-and-vote method.
- Give each team member apiece of paper and a pen.
- Everyone takes three minutes and quietly writes down ideas.
- Everyone takes two minutes to self-edit his or her list down to the best two or three ideas.
- Write each person's top ideas on teh whiteboard. In a sprint with seven people, you'll have roughly 15-20 ideas in all.
- Everyone takes two minutes and quietly chooses his or her favorite idea from the whiteboard.
- Going around the room, each person calls out his or her favorite. For each "vote," draw a dot next to the chosen idea on the whiteboard.
- The Decider makes the final decision. As always, she can choose to follow the votes or not.
How to Do User Testing
- "Thanks for coming in today! We're always trying to improve our product, and getting your honest feedback is a really important part of that."
- "This interview will be pretty informal. I'll ask a lot of questions, but I'm not testing you-I'm actually testing this product. If you get stuck or confused, it's not your fault. In fact, it helps us find problems we need to fix.
- Ask open-ended questions about the customer
- "What kind of work do you do?"
- "For how long have you been doing that?"
- "What do you do when you're not working?"
- "What do you do to take care of yourself? To stay in shape? To stay active?"
- "Have you used any apps or websites or other things to help with fitness? Which ones?"
- "What did you want them to do for you? What do you like or dislike about them? Did you pay ofr them? Why? Why not?"
- Introduction to the prototype
- "Would you be willing to look at some prototypes?"
- "There are not right or wrong answers. Since I didn't design this, you won't hurt my feelings or flatter me. In fact, frank, candid feedback is the most helpful."
- "As we go, please think aloud. Tell me what you're trying to do and how you think you can do it. If you get confused or don't understand something, please tell me. If you see things you like, tell me that, too."
- Do detailed tasks to get the customer reactions
- "Let's say you came across FitStar in the App Store. How would you decide if you wanted to try it?"
- "What is this? What is it for?"
- "What do you think of that?"
- "What do you expect that will do?"
- "So, what goes through your mind as you look at this?"
- "What are you looking for?"
- "What would you do next? Why?"
- Quick debrief to capture the customer's overarching thoughts and impressions
- "How does this product compare to what you do now?"
- "What did you like about this product? What did you dislike?"
- "How would you describe this product to a friend?"
- "If you had three magic wishes to improve this product, what would they be?"
Summary of Unconventional Ideas on How to Work Faster and Smarter
- Instead of jumping right into solutions, take your time to map out the problem and agree on an initial target. Start slow so you can go fast.
- Instead of shouting out ideas, work independently to make detailed sketches of possible solutions. Group brainstorming is broken, but there is a better way.
- Instead of abstract debate and endless meetings, use voting and a Decider to make crisp decisions that reflect your team's priorities. It's the wisdom of the crowd without the groupthink.
- Instead of getting all the details right before testing your solution, create a facade. Adopt the "prototype mindset" so you can learn quickly.
Photo Credit: Jake Knapp @ Google Ventures, Fast Company, fastcodesign.co,