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

I just finished the book Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days by Jake Knapp and I am struggling to clearly define my feelings on the Design Sprint process. First and foremost, I cannot disagree that wonderful ideas and products have come out of teams using the Sprint process. The idea that I am struggling with is if it is truly a design process or, rather, a reactive process to better focus/refine work that is already being done. Early on in the book, it is noted that the author draws from both Lean and Agile practices, which it clearly does, but I feel both of these practices are about starting from the beginning. The examples used in the book felt like they were all ideas or products already in the works, like the hotel robot and fitness app, but had not found the right next step – like specific functionality or a target market. I also felt like there were some contradictions, like stating a prototype is better than an MVP, but then they gave examples of building a website using simple presentation software – essentially an MVP.

Again, I love the idea of a Design Sprint. I am a process guy and really like how it is clearly laid out with well-defined objectives for each day. To me, it is the clearly defined process that is the Design Sprint’s greatest strength. To help me lay out my thoughts and maybe figure out how I would use a sprint, I have written out the pros and cons – as I see them – below:

Pros – Things that I really liked about the process:

  • As I said above, I think the level of detail provided for the five-day process is a massive benefit to help drive success. This helps make it easier for non-process people to simply follow the instructions. It also acts as an accountability measure as facilitators can easily point back to the process to stave off folks who are pushing against the process and/or an idea.
  • Making sure that all the key stakeholders are in the room is fantastic. Functional managers, decision-makers, etc. By having all of the relevant voices in the room, especially decision-makers, it helps to reduce the chances of hitting a roadblock down the line.
  • Sprints allow for quick repetitions to continue the learnings from the previous week. If the prototype completely fails with the five interviewees, the team will have at least learned why, and then be able to adapt and refine those items for the following week. Spending a week, two weeks, or even a month is likely far less time than some organizations are currently burning up on developing/refining new ideas.
  • The Design Sprint process pulls some of the best elements from the Lean and Agile processes to quickly find solutions that will lead to a satisfied customer and are therefore more likely to find scalable success.
  • An element that was addressed really well was dealing with potential conflict areas, possible groupthink, and avoiding bias. It really came through that these best practices were learned through trial and error – with the process continuously being improved with each iteration.

Cons – Things that stood out as not ideal:

  • The first thing that really stood out to me is that the book clearly draws from Lean principles, but does not address the most important idea of starting with customer discovery – identifying a customer’s hair on fire problem before developing a solution. Sprints seem like a reactive process to not finding initial success, and needing to find a small pivot, rather than a proactive approach.
  • Key assumptions are made from Monday to Thursday. That time is wasted if you only learn that on Friday – even if the interviews yield information for a small pivot.
  • Only five interviews make me feel nervous if there is not a clear next step to verify the information with additional potential customers.
  • Finally, I believe each example given in the book depended on a large amount of work having already been done before the Sprint came into the picture. None of the examples seemed to really be pure design. It seems more fine-tuning to get the right fit before launching.

As I look back at my notes, I feel the main issue I keep coming back to is the idea that a Sprint is meant for an idea that has already been started. It is not a design process that starts with a truly blank slate. There are a number of assumptions made on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, and this would be the case whether it was the very start of an idea or with a team that has already started building.

So, I started thinking about what I would do to address my concerns before conducting my own Sprint. Right now, the process is laid out like this:

As a firm believer in Lean principles, I think more preliminary analysis, understanding, and customer discovery in needed to increase the chances for success – faster. Below is the addition of an initial week to add in more customer discovery, but following the same timeline and processes set in place for the standard Sprint: (click to enlarge)

As I write this, I fully understand no one can control certain factors about getting interviews and even the interviews a team would get on those two days would not be able to fully validate anything. However, it would at least present a firmer foundation to launch the Sprint and could potentially involve fewer resources (people) throughout the week to reduce the impact. It should also be noted that if the first five interviews on the standard Sprint fail an extra week is going to be added anyway.

At the end of the day, I do really like the Design Sprint idea and approach. It has clearly been very successful for many different companies. I just look at it and think there are ways to make it an even more powerful tool for an organization to use.

What do you think? Are there other ideas for improving the Sprint approach?

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Put Down the Remote: Being Productive While Quarantined

We are in a unique time and life today seems a lot different than it did just a few short weeks or months ago. One of those changes is that the entire country – almost overnight – made a push for folks to work from home.

While I normally work from home throughout the week, also having my wife at home was a glimpse into what many are going through right now – trying to work from home for the first time. This can be a difficult transition and it is not made easier when people may also have to take care of kids or other factors that take up their time.

However, this ‘new normal’ will likely be here to stay throughout the rest of March, April, and likely May – at least. Since we all have to figure out how to make it work, I thought about what we can do to make the most of our time. There are alternatives to solely focusing on watching every video on the internet…

  • Education: There are a number of free resources for taking classes online – even more within the last week. This is a great opportunity to learn something new. Anyone want to go to Harvard?
  • Certifications: This could also be a way to look into something that will give you the edge. It could be a great opportunity to find the right certification for you.
  • Resume: Even if you are not currently looking for a job or think you will be in the near future, there is no downside to having an up-to-date resume. The same goes for making sure your LinkedIn profile is in top-notch shape.
  • Fitness: Take care of yourself! I will try not to get on a soapbox here, but nothing is stopping (most) anyone from taking a walk or run outside. Can’t get to the gym? You Are Your Own Gym is the way to go.
  • Spirituality: This will mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. However you view spirituality, take a moment to get centered, be thankful for what you have, and focus on what is most important.
  • Friends: We can all take the time to email, text, call, video call, FaceTime, group chat, online hangout, or whatever your flavor may be. This will be just as fulfilling to you as the person or people you connect with.

It is time to put down the remote and get some work done…

What are some ways you have tried to be productive during the quarantine?

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Mindset

I recently had several different conversations about Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset, and found that I never wrote a blog about it. The conversations led me to review my notes and it brought back all the reasons why I enjoyed the book. It also made me realize that I had forgotten several important concepts. For this post, I want to focus on the three items that stood out to me when I first read the book. I will save a full review for another post. I would absolutely recommend this book for anyone who is interested in the topics of leadership and change.

  • Low-Effort Syndrome: Out of all the topics and ideas covered in the book, this one stood out as the most specifically impactful one to me. I absolutely suffer from this syndrome. This is the concept that we tend to take care of the generally less important and easy actions first in order to avoid the hard stuff. As soon as I read this it hit me like a ton of bricks. While I know and am confident that I am a hard worker, I also know that – when I am lacking motivation for almost any reason – I will start working on the easy action items to prevent myself from having to address the tough ones. I am in what is probably the busiest time in my life and I regularly see myself caught in this situation. Since I reread my notes, I have made an effort to keep track of this and take a moment for a deep breath to refocus my efforts on what is most urgent and important.
  • Groupthink: In the book’s discussion of groupthink, I began thinking of it as a funnel where – simply based on ideas that may be mentioned first – dissent diminishes and the team stops thinking critically. I have always tried to take the “devil’s advocate” approach to make sure and always look at things from another side. More recently, I have also advocated for a “Red Team” type of approach to make sure every side is looked at.
  • Talent Mindset: From the book, a talent mindset is when talent is worshipped as a set skill. Enron is used as the example – they would select the best “talent” and fire whoever was at the bottom when it came time to review performance. While I do believe we have some natural strengths, talent is something that can be generated based on hard work. By assuming talent is static, we will likely overlook the excellent potential in those around us. As a leader, I always try to push the skills and abilities of those on my team, while also monitoring their own mindset to see if they believe they can improve.

While these were the three topics that stood out to me right now, the book is full of so many excellent ideas that I will likely end up writing another blog post with additional important topics.

What things do you do to avoid the low-effort syndrome?

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Building The Bridge As You Walk On It

QuinnI just finished reading the book Building The Bridge As You Walk On It by Robert E. Quinn for a class on change. Like most of the other books assigned by this professor, I walked away with new insights on an idea I had previously felt well-informed. There were so many revelatory ideas in the book, at least to me, that I found it difficult to limit myself to just describing a few. Below are the top concepts that came to mind, but I recommend checking out the book for yourself to find what speaks to you.

  • Fundamental State of Leadership: One of the main elements of the book is the idea of the fundamental state of leadership; the state of mind where individuals “enter into a creative personal state that gives rise to a creative collective state.” In order to enter this state, we much change the way we approach situations.
  • Change ourselves before others: The main theme of the book comes down to this simple idea; we must take charge in first changing ourselves before we can hope to change anyone or anything else. I view this idea in several lights; being that we have to show others we are willing to take the necessary steps and being seen as genuine in our efforts. When reading the book, I look back and see that I was truly only able to make change when I had allowed myself to put purpose as the priority and not myself.
  • Increased integrity: Something Quinn mentions is that integrity is the “alpha and omega of leadership.” I feel this is a powerful statement as I agree that integrity is a process, not a destination. In order to address and lead change, we must confront our own gaps in integrity; what we say we do vs what we actually do. We have to monitor our own integrity and address our own hypocrisy. This self-reflection allows us to focus on purpose, rather than ourselves. This allows change and Quinn describes his 8 leading change characteristics converge on integrity.
  • Addressing our own hypocrisy: An idea that really struck me was this idea of hypocrisy; first having to address the biggest hypocrite – the one we see in the mirror. We often go into situations and don’t like what we see, but try to change everyone else, but not ourselves. A major example of this idea is of a CEO going into an organization and telling everyone below them to change, without willing to change themselves first.
  • Group discussion: A specific idea that I have been involved with and hope to continue to refine is the idea of using a group of individuals to share ideas and provide feedback. Working with entrepreneurs, I see this a lot, but would like to see it more with groups of managers, owners, etc. In a closed environment, trust can be built, and real solutions and advice can be shared. Quinn refers to these groups as being in a “sacred place.”
  • Real-time learning: Change is not a matter of applying past actions to a present situation. It is about being able to learn in real-time and create the solutions that are needed for those particular set of circumstances. For me, this helped me to redefine how I approach situations requiring change. It is not about applying traits or actions, but adjusting to ask the right question(s).
  • Not being present for the initiation of change: The last element I will discuss here is the idea that change agents must accept that they are likely not going to be present for the change they work to implement. Most organizations and leaders are comfortable where they are and proposed change is fought against. Change agents are often fired for attempting to alter the status quo, but the lingering questions and seeds planted from their attempt remains. This requires leaders of change to be more centered on purpose than themselves.

These are just a few of the great ideas I took away from Quinn. I would encourage anyone looking to help enact personal or organizational change to read the book. It is just as important to read the words, as it is to reflect on your own past actions to come up with plans to improve your processes for the future.

Check the book out by clicking here.

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Make Their Day – FISH! Philosophy

make their day2Of the four elements of the FISH! Philosophy, I saved this topic to write about last – make their day. The reason is because it took me the most amount of time to truly wrap my head around the concept in terms of applying it to my everyday work life. As part of my personality, I tend to help others and take time to create a positive work environment. The concept of making their day, however, can come very close to working against a leader if they overdo it with the need for affiliation with coworkers (McClelland’s Need Theory). What I have found is that there is a happy medium.

Below are the things I try to do for those around me. These are not necessary over-the-top actions, but I find that it is often the smallest actions that have the greatest impact.

  • Take time to say hello to everyone in the morning and stop to ask how they are doing.
  • Reference an earlier conversation on an important subject to them.
  • Offer to help with tasks that are not my normal responsibilities.
  • Ask follow-up questions when someone is obviously having a noticeably good or bad day.
  • Noticing something new or different, such as a haircut.
  • Share positive feedback with them in front of the team.

What I have found is that making someone’s day has to be part of who and what you are. People have to understand that you are doing something nice with no expectation of a return. When that is not the case, people question the motives and usually will not accept the action as intended.

For many years I considered myself a “nice guy,” but that didn’t really evoke the right feeling. I now like to describe myself as a good person. That is what allows me to show kindness and make people’s day because they trust who I am and what I am about.

There are wonderful payoffs when making someone’s day. While that is not the objective, it can certainly be an outcome. Last November, I was walking to class and stopped to help a student who was having trouble carrying some boxes. We were headed in the same direction and struck up a conversation. It ended up that she was an intern in the office I was applying for a job (my current position). While she was not in a position to help get me the job, it was a coincidence that helped buy me credibility before I even started.

You never know who or what is around the corner, so it is always a good idea to be kind and choose to make their day.

What is the best example from your own professional career of someone making your day? Please share in a comment below.

Related Posts:

FISH! – Be Present

FISH! – Play

FISH! – Choose Your Attitude

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Be Present – FISH! Philosophy

Fish-Philosophy-Be-ThereThe third concept I will discuss from FISH! Philosophy is “be present.” It goes beyond the idea of physically being present when talking to a friend, customer, coworker, etc. It is about giving your full, undivided, attention – actively listening. This seems so simple, but I have found it takes a great deal of effort to do it – every time. When thinking about this blog post I came up with a list of situations I have found where being present is most important.

  • Teleconference calls: This can perhaps be the toughest situation to be present because you are not physically in the room with other people. It is all too easy to surf the web or check your email as other people talk. I have done it and found that I don’t actually take anything away from the that conversation had while I wasn’t present. This has taught me to just close my eyes and take in the entire conversation, only stopping to write down notes.
  • Business meetings: Sitting in a room full of people I have found two ways to not be present; daydreaming and using my computer. I write all of my notes via computer, so it is easy to switch over to check my email. That one moment takes me out of the room and then it takes more time to get back into the conversation. Daydreaming is tough because, honestly, many meetings are irrelevant. However, it is important to be present because you never know when someone will ask you a question or reference a conversation from the meeting.
  • Customer conversations: Perhaps the most important time to be present is when you are talking to a customer. It doesn’t matter if it is on the phone or in person, being present in these situations can be directly connected to revenue. It is easy to tell when someone is present during conversation and when they are not. I start with making sure to say the other person’s name and then try to reference something said, both so they know I was engaged and for me to better understand and remember the conversation.

I have clear memories of times where I was not present and it caught up with me. Those moments are embarrassing because it truly is so easy to just be present and pay attention. I, like everyone else, am very busy and have my attention constantly being pulled in different directions. This is why being present is even more important because hearing something the first time and being able to take action, as well as creating and continuing positive relationships, is a clear path to success.

The next time you are talking to someone and find yourself not being present, refocus and find your own system for keeping your mind on what is at hand.

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Related Posts:

Play – FISH! Philosophy

Choose Your Attitude – FISH! Philosophy

Born to Blog

BornToBlogAs a new blogger, I am constantly looking for ways to make improvements and reach a larger audience. I have reviewed a number of resources and my goal is to take away at least one new element from each. I recently read Born to Blog, by Mark W. Schaefer and Stanford A. Smith. Written for those who are just getting started, this book provides excellent information to help newcomers find success. My greatest takeaways are laid out below.

  • Blogs are a noninvasive, trust-building, relationship booster: This stood out to me because, when done right, I have seen how powerful a blog can be.
  • There are five elements to writing a successful post: 1. Create a captivating headline. 2. Give a unique personal viewpoint. 3. Take a personal risk. 4. Create an entertaining spin. 5. Use words that sing.
  • Blogs offer the most potential value for businesses. The benefits include brand awareness, direct and indirect sales, sales support, R&D, PR, crisis management and expanding search engine traffic.
  • There are specific traits of a successful blogger; tenacity, focus on passion, flexibility, consistency and courage.
    • Tenacity in blogging comes down to working for years to start to build something; there is almost never instant success.
    • Without passion, failure is likely just a short time away. The true passion has to shine through in each post. It can’t be “all business.” People want to find out what you have to say.
    • Consistency in blogging means new posts at least once a month; there are many reasons for this and daily can become even easier over time. Every post doesn’t have to be profound, but does have to give some value.
    • Courage is likely the single most important element; sometimes just to hit the publish button.
  • There are three areas where blogging goes wrong; the wrong purpose, the wrong content and the wrong people.
    • Blogging must be done to tell you or your company’s story and share the core values.
    • The content must be real and connected to what you or your company are all about.
    • The people must be authentic and likely working for the company itself; not outsiders.
  • There are eight ways listed to develop readership for your blog. 1. Give away your best. 2. Add your blog to your current marketing efforts. 3. Contribute to other publications. 4. Get active on your reader’s social channels. 5. Use savvy, simple SEO; research keywords, optimize blog titles and post content. 6. Use guest bloggers. 7. Join and sponsor conversations, such as Twitter chats and discussion forums. 8. Reward your readers.
  • Bloggers for a company should come from every level, ranging from entry to C-suite, and training and support should be given to ensure quality and consistency.

These few items are just a portion of the pages of notes I wrote down, but were the ones I felt most applied to what I am doing with my own blog.

If you are looking to start blogging or would like to get a fresh perspective to improve your current blog, I would encourage you to check out the book.

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