What Is a Sprint—and How Can It Work for Your Business Challenges?

Jake Knapp created the Google Ventures sprint process and has run more than a hundred sprints with startups such as 23andme, Slack, Nest, and Foundation Medicine. Previously, Jake worked at Google, leading sprints for everything from Gmail to Google X. He is currently among the world’s tallest designers. John Zeratsky has designed mobile apps, medical reports, and a daily newspaper (among other things). Before joining Google Ventures, he was a design lead at YouTube and an early employee of FeedBurner, which Google acquired in 2007. Braden Kowitz founded the Google Ventures design team in 2009 and pioneered the role of “design partner” at a venture capital firm. He has advised close to two hundred startups on product design, hiring, and team culture.

Sprint, Jake Knapp, problem-solving in business, What is a Sprint, Jake KnappSolving big business problems traditionally consumes both time and manpower, but Jake Knapp found a way to cut down on both. He invented The Sprint, a condensed five-day method of solving tough problems posing a challenge to your business. Knapp explains in his book Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days.

Good ideas are hard to find. And even the best ideas face an uncertain path to real-world success. That’s true whether you’re running a startup, teaching a class, or working inside a large organization.

Execution can be difficult. What’s the most important place to focus your effort, and how do you start? What will your idea look like in real life? Should you assign one smart person to figure it out or have the whole team brainstorm? And how do you know when you’ve got the right solution? How many meetings and discussions does it take before you can be sure? And, once it’s done, will anybody care?

Sprint

Sprint

by Jake Knapp, John Zeratsky and Braden Kowitz

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As partners at GV, it’s our mission to help our startups answer these giant questions. We’re not consultants paid by the hour. We’re investors, and we succeed when our companies succeed. To help them solve problems quickly and be self-sufficient, we’ve optimized our sprint process to deliver the best results in the least time. Best of all, the process relies on the people, knowledge, and tools that every team already has.

Working together with our startups in a sprint, we shortcut the endless-debate cycle and compress months of time into a single week.

Instead of waiting to launch a minimal product to understand if an idea is any good, our companies get clear data from a realistic prototype.

The sprint gives our startups a superpower: They can fast-forward into the future to see their finished product and customer reactions, before making any expensive commitments. When a risky idea succeeds in a sprint, the payoff is fantastic. But it’s the failures that, while painful, provide the greatest return on investment. Identifying critical flaws after just five days of work is the height of efficiency. It’s learning the hard way, without the “hard way.”

At GV, we’ve run sprints with companies like Foundation Medicine (makers of advanced cancer diagnostics), Nest (makers of smart home appliances), and Blue Bottle Coffee (makers of, well, coffee). We’ve used sprints to assess the viability of new businesses, to make the first version of new mobile apps, to improve products with millions of users, to define marketing strategies, and to design reports for medical tests. Sprints have been run by investment bankers looking for their next strategy, by the team at Google building the self-driving car, and by high school students working on a big math assignment.

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