Need to solve a problem quickly - Sprint!

Humans are social animals, and when our natural impulses to discuss and debate take over, time disappears.
— Jake Knapp, Sprint, p139.

Many executives wish they could get their organisations to make decisions faster and get things done faster. Wishing they could get people to work together and make critical decisions to get projects completed. In many organisations, it is hard to get teams to move faster, but there are ways to get teams to decide faster and act faster.

We have a one day process called Solve Your Impossible Problems (SYIP), so I was fascinated to read this book: Sprint, how to solve big problems and test new ideas in just five days by Jake Knapp. What’s different and when should we use the Sprint process?

First, Jake Knapp developed the Sprint process in Google. In the introduction, Jake reveals some secrets of success, and we have discovered these same secrets too. 

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...when we debate one idea for too long, we get worn out - like a judge at a baking contest who fills up on apple pie before tasting anything else.
— Jake Knapp, Sprint, p128

What's Different?

The Sprint method encourages individuals to create detailed solutions; The SYIP method encourages individuals to create headline solutions, leaving details to work on after the workshop. This table compares how long to get to a solution.

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Often in business, once you put a diverse group in a room, they can identify the best existing solution and identify how to make that solution work in their organisation.  That’s what SYIP does well.  The brains in the room can plan, and from the process, they are committed to the chosen solution. So, they will work together to make it happen.

So when would you choose to invest three times as much time?  When you can’t describe or understand the possible solution. Either because you have never combined existing and new elements before, or because the solution is risky. You may have never done something like this before.

Examples in the book help make this clearer.  Take Blue Bottle Coffee ( ), who has built a business selling coffee direct and in cafés. Then with no experience of selling online, they wanted to build an online store. Not just any online store. A store that simulates the experience: a friendly barista is helping you choose your coffee beans. Or how about creating a robot with a personality that could deliver to your hotel room the toothbrush or razor you forgot. For a more complex challenge: how to identify cancer patients who might suit one of the dozens of clinical trials.  With dozens of criteria to evaluate across dozens of possible trials, how can the clinic do this fast because this can be a life or death decision?

From these examples, to solve these problems, you can see there is no single off-the-shelf solution. For a solution, many pieces need to fit together. And as a good friend, an Engineering Director, was fond of saying: “In complex designs, it’s the details that kill you”. 

So, Sprint suits problems that need complex, unique solutions.  And the business world is filled with projects like this. Projects that are running for months or years that are over time and over budget to produce products that underwhelm customers. 

So, what does Sprint look like?

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And what's interesting?

Democracy is a fine system for governing nations, but it has no place in a sprint.
— Jake Knapp, Sprint, p135

Most methods including SYIP let the group choose.  Some managers are scared because it might take a long time or can be deadlocked. But, it only takes a long time and results in a deadlock if you have no method. If you have a method and a deadline like SYIP or Sprint, then you will get a decision. 

What’s especially interesting in Sprint is they use effective methods to identify which solution to choose, but they regularly turn over a decision to a Decider. The Decider can choose to accept the group recommendation or can pick a different option.  Sprint does this for good and unsurprising reasons: politics and priorities.  Without a Decider committing, politics or other priorities will mean when the Sprint finishes, work will not continue on the project.  I enjoyed their examples when the process didn’t work and what they changed to make it better.

Of course, that means talking aloud, something we’ve mostly avoided since Tuesday morning. Hopefully you haven’t forgotten how to do it.
— Jake Knapp, Sprint, p135

Another thing that’s interesting is how little talking there is in some parts of the process. Much working is on your own, in the same room but on your own, creating a good diversity of ideas.  It allows focusing of resources, and it gets the best from expertise. For example, the customer expert will create something different to the finance expert. So, ideas aren’t weakened or diluted.

In Friday’s test customer reactions are solid gold, but their feedback is worth pennies on the dollar.
— Jake Knapp, Sprint, p169

One more interesting element is the power of the test with the customer.  With the robot for hotels, Savioke, the key question is: how customers react to a robot with personality? See for yourself a customer’s response, in a 36s video:


The book oozes experience. From our experience, we can see how some methods avoid the landmines that can destroy, divert or delay effective working teams. It’s not a theoretical or academic book.  It’s a practical book, polished with experience from running many workshops, filled with details including timings and checklists.  All that’s missing is the facilitator’s skill to keep to these times.  The website has short videos from each day

If you are an executive who wants to move faster, the book is filled with examples and is an easy read. What are you waiting for? Sprint