An all-in-one guide to test a big idea in just one week. Map out the problem, sketch out solutions, pick an idea, build a prototype and finally, test it with real live humans.
Sprint — a “greatest hits” of business strategy, innovation, behavioural science, design, and more—packaged into a step-by-step process that any team can use.
Here are three challenging situations where sprints can help: high stakes, not enough time, just plain stuck.
Recruit a team of seven (or fewer): decider, finance expert, marketing expert, customer expert, tech/logistics expert, design expert, bring the troublemaker.
There are only six working hours in the typical sprint day. Longer hours don’t equal better results.
Map out the problem and pick an important place to focus.
A look ahead—to the end of the sprint week and beyond.
Set a long-term goal — “Why are we doing this project? Where do we want to be six months, a year, or even five years from now?”
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?
An important part of this exercise is rephrasing assumptions and obstacles into questions.
A simple diagram representing lots of complexity.
The common elements? Each map is customer-centric, with a list of key actors on the left. Each map is a story, with a beginning, a middle, and an end.
For the rest of the day, you’ll interview the experts on your team to gather more information about the problem space.
Nobody knows everything, the information is distributed asymmetrically across the team and across the company. It’s useful to have at least one expert who can talk about each of these topics: strategy, voice of the customer, how things work and previous efforts.
When you hear something interesting, convert it into a question (quietly) (see How Might We, Creative Confidence).
Then, vote on How Might We notes (using sticky dots).
Who is the most important customer, and what’s the critical moment of that customer’s experience?
Once you’ve clustered your team’s How Might We notes, the decision about where to focus your sprint will likely be easy. It’s the place on your map where you have the biggest opportunity to do something great (and also, perhaps, the greatest risk of failure).
Sketch competing solutions on paper.
Your team will take turns giving three-minute tours of their favourite solutions: from other products, from different domains, and from within your own company.
Ask everyone on your team to come up with a list of products or services to review for inspiring solutions.
If you’ve picked a super-focused target, it might be fine to skip assignments and have the whole team swarm the same part of your problem. If there are several key pieces to cover, you should divide up.
Sketching is the fastest and easiest way to transform abstract ideas into concrete solutions.
Individuals working alone generate better solutions than groups brainstorming out loud.
The four step sketch
Make difficult decisions and turn your ideas into a testable hypothesis.
Five step process for sprint decision making:
When you have two good, conflicting ideas, you don’t have to choose between them at all. Instead, you can prototype both, and in Friday’s test, you’ll be able to see how each one fares with your customers.
If you start prototyping without a plan, you’ll get bogged down by small, unanswered questions. Pieces won’t fit together, and your prototype could fall apart.
What’s the best opening scene for your prototype? If you get it right, the opening scene will boost the quality of your test.
Keep the story fifteen minutes or less. Make sure the whole prototype can be tested in about fifteen minutes. That might seem short, especially since your customer interviews will be sixty minutes long.
A rule of thumb: Each storyboard frame equals about one minute in your test.
Hammer out a realistic prototype.
The prototype mindset — to prototype your solution, you’ll need a temporary change of philosophy: from perfect to just enough, from long-term quality to temporary simulation.
Once the illusion is broken, customers switch into feedback mode. They’ll try to be helpful and think up suggestions. In Friday’s test, customer reactions are solid gold, but their feedback is worth pennies on the dollar.
This distinction between feedback and reaction is crucial. You want to create a prototype that evokes honest reactions from your customers.
Test prototype(s) with real live humans.
One person from your team acts as Interviewer. He’ll interview five of your target customers, one at a time. He’ll let each of them try to complete a task with the prototype and ask a few questions to understand what they’re thinking as they interact with it.
Five is the magic number (Jacob Nielsen). They deliver meaningful results in a single day.
The five act interview:
The rest of the team is sat in a room close by, watching each interview via video conference.
When you hear or see something interesting, write it down on a sticky note. You can write down quotes, observations, or your interpretation of what happened.
Look for patterns — list every pattern and label each one as positive, negative, or neutral.
At the end of the sprint review your long-term goal and sprint questions from Monday. You probably won’t answer every question, but you’ll make progress.
Every interview draws you and your team closer to the people you’re trying to help with your product or service.
Image credits: Sprint by Jake Knapp, John Zeratsky and Brad Kowitz