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

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These are my personal notes. I use them to remind future Brett what is important. As with all books I review, you can use my outline to determine if you should read this book. You will get something different out of the book than I did.


Jake Knapp is a self-described process geek. He discovered and iterated the Sprint process while working at Google and Google Ventures. He originally used Brainstorming, but found that the best ideas were done outside of brainstorming.


An story demonstrating the success of using the Sprint process. Savioke, a robotics company, uses the process to determine whether their Relay robots will be liked by guests of hotels — their target entry market. The introduction then gives a quick outline of what will be later covered in the book.

Set the Stage

1. Challenge

Identify a problem which is really hard to solve. The chapter gives three three challenging situations where the Sprint process can help.

High Stakes — The solution to your problem will require a lot of time and money.

Not Enough Time — You don’t have a lot of time to solve your problem.

Stuck — The problem has been looked at before but the team is stuck and doesn’t know how to proceed.

When our new ideas fail, it’s usually because we were overconfident about how well customers would understand and how much they would care.

2. Team

How to choose what people should be in the Sprint. The team should be no larger than seven people.

The Decider — The shot caller. Their job is to make tough decisions about the Sprint when the situation arrises. Examples: CEO, founder, PM, Head of Design.

Finance Expert — Someone who can explain where the money comes from and where it goes. Examples: CEO, CFO, Business Development.

Marketing expert — The person who craft’s the companies message. Examples: CMO, marketer, PR, community manager

Customer expert — Someone who talks to customers on a regular basis. Examples: researcher, sales, customer support

Tech Expert — The person who will build it if the Sprint succeeds. Examples: CTO, engineer.

Design Expert — The designer of the product. Examples: designer, product manager.

3. Time and Space

Outlines what the week will look like. Sprints days, except for Friday, are 10am to 5pm.

Time Timer MOD: Sprint Edition — specifically created to match the books cover.

Devices — laptops and cellphones — aren’t allowed in the sprint room.

Whiteboards. Two big ones are a requirement. They have other suggestions if you can’t afford whiteboards, but let’s be real. Get whiteboards.

A device that is allowed, and required, is a TimeTimer. The authors have experimented with other clocks and apps but have found this clock to be the best. Some pages are dedicated to just this clock.


Start at the End

If you could jump ahead to the end of your sprint, what questions would be answered?

The first thing to identify is what you want to accomplish. Keep that goal in mind for the week.

The authors suggest asking your team this question:

Why are we doing this project? Where do we want to be six months, a year, or even five years from now?

Once you have the goal figure out what possible things could make that goal fail and then convert them into questions.


Build a map that outlines the problem. No matter how complicated the issue you can merge it down to some boxes and arrows.

The map should include the major steps required for customers from beginning to completion

Each map needs to be customer-centric. Think deeply about each user in the process. These are the key actors. The healthcare example includes patients, doctors, and coordinators. These key actors are outlined in the left side of the map.

Creating a map follows these steps:

  1. Lost the actors (on the left)
  2. Write the ending (on the right)
  3. Words and arrows in between
  4. Keep it simple
  5. Ask for help

Ask the Experts

Why do we need to talk to outsiders?

The Deciders should know the most about the project, right? Well, as it turns out, they don’t know everything — even when they think they do.

Use the following steps to interview the experts:

  1. Introduce the sprint
  2. Review the whiteboards
  3. Open the door
  4. Ask the questions
  5. Fix the whiteboards

Ask the questions focuses on asking the experts to fill in the areas of their expertise. Ask them to retell what they think you already know. Ask them what you’ve got wrong. Can they find holes in your map? Useful phrases include “Why?” and “tell me more about that?”

The chapter then goes into the How Might We method. Rather than traditional note taking during these interviews, the team write notes in question form, on post-it notes, “How might we…”

Writing notes this way focuses on opportunities and challenges instead of focusing on problems or solutions.

These notes are then organized into themes, then voted upon using the dot-voting method.

The notes with the most votes are then moved to the map.


Now that you have the map, find one piece of it that you want to solve.


Remix and Improve

Humans find inspiration everywhere. Have everyone present ideas and inspiration from other products which can be used during this Sprint.

Look outside your competitors site. The best ideas come from unlikely places.

Have the person who found the idea give a three minute demo as to what it is and why it’s so cool.

When an idea is presented. Write down a high level title and make a little sketch to remind your team what it is. Put all of these notes on a board.


Each person will individually will sketch solutions to the part of the map the whole team is working on. Even if you don’t think you can draw, the authors created a way that allows everyone to convey their ideas easily.

Notes (20 Minutes)

First copy down the long-term goal. Then using all the notes that have been written down write down some notes.

After 20 minutes. Sit back down and circle the notes that clearly stand out to you.

Ideas (20 Minutes)

Give form to your thoughts. Write down your ideas and start using doodles, headlines, sample diagrams, whatever helps you convey the note into a little bit more than a note.

Crazy 8s

Crazy 8’s Ideation Example

Focus on good ideas. Take a piece of paper and fold it into 8-parts. You will have 60 seconds to create a drawing in each square that is an variation on that idea. Keep going until you can’t think of any other variations for that idea. If you run out, go back to your ideas page and get a new idea to start creating variations with.

Note: Sometimes this ideation leads to a revelation. Other times it doesn’t. It is a great warmup exercise for the main event.

Solution Sketch

Each person will be responsible for creating a single sketch of their proposed solution.

Keep these rules in mind when sketching your solution:

  1. Make it self-explanatory — The sketch needs to speak for itself.
  2. Keep it anonymous — No Names. Everyone uses the same colored paper and pens.
  3. Ugly is okay — You don’t need to be an artist.
  4. Words matter — Strong writing is important regardless of industry. Don’t use squiggles or Lorem Ipsum. Words matter.
  5. Give it a catchy title — Since your name won’t be on the sketch gove it a title that people can refer to it as.



The first part of the day will be spent deciding which solution to prototype. This is done using a script.

The structure [of the script] is socially awkward, but logical — if you feel like Spock from Star Trek, you’re doing it right.
  1. Art Museum — Put the solution sketches on the wall.
  2. Heat Map — individuals Look at all the solutions in silence, and use dot stickers to mark interesting parts. No one will be able to explain their ideas due to the downsides of explanations. Everyone gets unlimited dots. Write questions on sticky notes and put them below the solutions. In the real world no one gets to pitch how the product or idea works- It needs to stand on its own.
  3. Sipped critique — Discuss the highlights of each solution and uses sticky notes to capture big ideas. Move quickly by any solutions that were bad. Allow the creator to reveal themselves at the end to address anything missed.
  4. Straw Poll — each person secretly writes down their favorite solution and then reveals it as a group. This vote is non-bonding and gauges where everyone is. Then each person puts a Big Dot sticker next to the solution they like best. The dot sticker does not have to be the same thing the individual selected in the straw poll.
  5. Supervote — The Decider is given three big stickers with their initials and puts those three dots on the features they want to do. The decoder should be reminded of the objective of the sprint AND can use the straw poll to inform their decision or do something else. It is completely up to them. The solutions without these stickers are moved to a ‘maybe later’ bucket where the team could do those in later sprints, and the solutions with dots stay around to be executed on.


If the solutions with the Supervotes can be combined into one prototype or only one solution sketch was selected you can skip this section. This section is when you have competing solutions that in no way can be merged together.

When this happens both will be created using Fake brand names. These brand names have to sound like real companies. The authors outline a strategy called Note-and-Vote to do this.


Create a 5x3 grid and draw out the experience you will be prototyping. The first panel should be a few steps back from what your testing. An online article, Print Ad, Web search, or Twitter feed at good places to start. Think about how your customers would discover your product.

The rest of the panels will break down the Sprint project into usable components. Use the stickies you’ve created when you can.

Keep these things in mind:

  • Work with what you have, don’t create new things.
  • Don’t write copy as a group.
  • Include just enough detail.
  • Don’t succumb to group think. Let the Decider decide.
  • Take Risks. The point of Sprinting is to discover new solutions.
  • Each panel should be about a minute of time. Don’t make the test be more than 15 minutes.


Fake It

You want the prototype to appear real and you don’t want to spend a ton of time on it. The Sprint is built for learning.

After one day [of work] you’re receptive to feedback. After three months, you’re committed.

The author’s use the term prototype mindset to describe the philosophy the team should have. It is comprised of thinking about prototypes in a certain way. A prototype mindset knows:

  1. Anything can be prototyped.
  2. Prototypes are disposable.
  3. Optimize the learning. Don’t build more than necessary.
  4. The prototype must appear real.

The whole purpose of the prototype is to allow “Friday’s customers” to react normally and give honest feedback through illusion. If you use wireframes, the customers will give suggestions. Reactions are valuable. Feedback is not.


Build the thing for Friday’s test. This will be unique to each situation but the authors remind us to :

Pick the right tools: 90% of prototypes can be built using Keynote. Fight the urge to build using actual tools. We just need to fake it.

Divide and conquer: The team should be comprised of Makers (2 or more), a Stitcher, a Dedicated Writer, an Asset Collector, and an Interviewer.

Stitch it together: The Stitcher’s job is to connect the components together so it appears real. The Stitcher keeps the macro view in mind.

Do a trial run: At 3pm a test run should be conducted. This helps identify issues in the prototype. The Stitcher narrates the entire process from start to finish.


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.

Small Data

According to A Mathematical Model of the Finding of Usability Problems, you only need to interview five customers to identify 85% of the problems.

Schedule one-hour interviews with a 30 minute break between interviews. The interviews allow you to determine why things work or don’t work.


The five-act interview is a structured conversation broken down into the following steps:

  1. Welcome the Interviewee — This puts the person at ease and informs them there are no wrong answers. If they don’t know something it’s because the Sprint team failed.
  2. Context Questions — Ask open-ended context questions about the customer. These questions are not about your prototype. The questions build camaraderie and give contextual understand about how your product fits into a customer’s life and routine.
  3. Introduce the prototype — The book suggests multiple things that should be set to set the customer at ease. Humans have natural ways we respond in situations. This section explains how to short-circuit people’s natural responses which can bias the results and allow the user to give honest feedback.
  4. Tasks & Nudges — The user should be given tasks to complete through nudging them in the right direction. Don’t instruct them. Ask them to complete a task that has multiple steps.
  5. Quick Debrief — This section gives sample questions which can be asked to help identify the big learnings and key takeaways.


Watch the interviews together as a team. Take notes as a group. Draw a 3 x 5 grid on a white board, give sticky notes to people and different colored pens for comments — Black for neutral, green for positive, and red for negative.

The room should be quiet and only careful note-taking and listening should be happening.

After all interviews have been conducted gather together to identify patterns. A pattern is where three or more customers agree on something. Then share what you’ve found.

Review the question you wanted to answer from Monday. You should now have a better answer to that question. If you don’t, you will be closer to answering it. The Decider then chooses the next step.

When you get into a regular rhythm of listening to customers, it can remind you why you’re working so hard in the first place. Every interview draws you and your team closer to the people you’re trying to help with your product or service.

Note: I originally obtained Sprint from the library. When I was half way through, I purchased a copy. If you attempt to do a Sprint you will want a physical copy of the book.

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