How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just 5 Days

Jake Knapp

Jake teaches us the concept of design sprint initially developed at Google Ventures. It's all about dissecting and solving complex challenges within a limited timebox. He walks us through a 5 day process - from problem framing to testing an actual prototype, and shares valuable insights on facilitating workshops along the way.

Key Learning #1: Understand 'the decider'

The decider is a must-have. There’s no point running a design sprint without one, as they can easily overrule all findings. If the decider can’t be present, there are two options. One is to ensure that the decider participates at a minimum:

  1. In framing the problem on day 1.
  2. In choosing solutions on day 3.
  3. In seeing the results on day 5.

Another alternative is for the decider to transfer all their decision-making power to a proxy, but they must really mean it.

The decider is a decider for a reason; they can follow the results of team votes and opinions, but they don’t have to. Chosen solution must have full decider’s buy-in and conviction, or it won’t hold in the long run.

Key Learning #2: Nobody knows everything

Always invite experts. We might think we know everything, but we rarely do. Experts should include

  • Voice of customers.
  • Engineers
  • People who understand how money flow
  • People who are going to sell/distribute it.
  • People who worked on something similar in the past and failed.
  • Other SME.

Don’t skip inviting experts because ‘we don’t have questions to ask’. Explain the idea and ask them to spot if we missed something. If they are indeed experts, we wouldn’t even know what questions to ask anyway.

Key Learning #3: Monitor decision-making batteries

Workshops are exhausting - every decision we make drains our decision-making battery. Given how many decisions we take during workshops, we must preserve our decision-making power as much as possible.

When planning workshops, we should spread decision-making slots evenly and avoid situations when we need many decisions on day 2 and no decisions on day 3.
We should streamline the decision-making process. E.g. limiting the amount of ‘dot votes’ each participant has consumes more decision-making power than if there was no limit.
Lastly, make non-critical decisions quick by pushing them post workshops or calling out the decider to make the call and move on.

Key Learning #4: Invest in framing the problem and understanding workshop questions

There’s a reason Jake Knapp dedicated a whole day to understanding the problem to focus on.

Always start with the long-term goal, and preferably write it in a visible place - it should be a team’s bacon.

Before proceeding with the workshop, make sure we understand what questions need to be answered.

Another tactic is to do a pre-mortem. What can go wrong? What potential problems we can encounter when trying to achieve our solution?

Our goal is to have a clear problem we want to tackle, with clear questions we need to answer during the workshop and a clear end goal we strive to achieve.

Additional Insights
  • Best work happens when we have a challenge and limited time. Short deadlines enforce focus and creativity; plus, they require us to focus on the most pressing questions.
  • The phrase ‘remind us...’ comes in handy, even if we already [think we] know the answer. The answer might differ or reveal something new in a different context.
  • Always be capturing. When in doubt, ask for confirmation. ‘Does it look OK? How can we capture that?’
  • When facilitating, ask for permission to build better dynamics. ‘I’ll track time and remind us if we go off track. Is that OK with you?’.
  • If we want sketches to be anonymous, everyone should use the same pen and paper. Plus, we should give each drawing a ‘name’ to reference them easily.
  • Prototypes must appear real. We care about people’s reactions more than their comments, and to get genuine reactions, we need a realistic prototype.
  • Prepare storyboards before prototyping, so later we can focus on execution and avoid the trap of stopping work every now and then with a doubt ‘what should happen now?’, ‘what to build next?’.
  • Crazy 8s’ can also be used for copywriting, not only visuals. We can experiment with taglines, communication, etc.
  • If we intend to test multiple prototypes with one customer, it’s wise to use fake brands. There’s a difference between evaluating ‘Blue Orca shop vs Red Rabbit shop’ and ‘A or B...?’.
  • When in doubt about what to prototype, focus on the riskiest assumptions. There’s no point focusing on something we are confident about and plan to implement anyway.
  • Sometimes the most sensible next step after a design sprint is to plan another, more focused design sprint.
  • We get roughly 85% of insights after five tests with users.
  • Since an absolute ‘no devices’ rule is often hard to follow, we can try with ‘you have to leave the room to use the device’. This way, the team won’t feel like their freedom is limited, and leaving the room is somewhat disrespectful, so people won’t be motivated to do so without a compelling reason.
  • When presenting ideas, keep them anonymised until the very end. Don’t start a presentation with ‘author’s pitch’. It’s possible to pitch a mediocre idea as a great one, plus people's opinions might be skewed based on who is the author.
  • Consider queues for food when you plan to lunch outside during the workshop and ask people to eat light to avoid after-dinner energy drops.
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