Monday, February 18, 2019

Use a 5-Day Design Sprint For Your Next Project (Book Review)

We live in an amazing time. And it's not just because of the internet, flowing water, and plentiful food (If you're reading this. I recognize this isn't true for everyone in the world... yet).

It's amazing because we're living through an age transformation. There's been a lot of them during human history. I bet the transition from the Stone Age to the Bronze Age was tectonic! We know the Roman Period was amazing (of which I'm certain I'm an ancestor). Columbus helped set up the Industrial Age with the cotton gin being the first big example of machines taking over work. Here's what it's looked like on the left (based on this).

And here we are. In the midst of the beginning of the Information Age, predicted to last about 500 years, and we're only 50 years in. It's hard to imagine the full impact in 450 years or what'll be next (a Space Age seems possible), but we're living through the transition right now.

It's exciting because of new technologies that enable new ways of living (do you work remotely now?), and how we see the world is rapidly changing.

One of the impacts of the Information Age is the changing nature of work. I'm specifically focusing on project management and product development. Typically during the Industrial Age, a waterfall style method was used. It was very linear. Everything was completely thought through first. Then construction started. Then it was tested and deployed as a finished product. This was often because physical machines were being created. Here's what it looks like:

Concept -> Requirements -> Design -> Construction -> Testing -> Deployment

Today, the thinking on project management has changed to favor an agile method implemented using Scrum. The general difference is how much you do at once. Instead of thinking through everything, plan 2-3 weeks of work which finish with testing and deploying what's done. The big benefit is that it allows the requirements to be flexible further down as you learn more. The Information age has made the cost of incremental changes low enough that everyone can afford to do it.

This is also part of the idea behind the Minimal Viable Product (MVP). Instead of working a long time to make something perfect, create the absolute minimum features, get feedback and then focus on improving based on the feedback. The big benefit is you don't waste a lot of time working on something nobody likes.

Finally, the concept of Scrum is a derivative of the Information Age. Instead of deploying hundreds of people to tackle a project, break into groups of 5-7 people with different skills. That small group focuses on building/testing/deploying a product over 2-3 weeks. They generally meet for 15 minutes each day to check-in and help each other out.

What do you get when you combine Agile + Scrum + MVP in the Information Age?

"Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days" by Jake Knapp, John Zeratsky and Branden Kowitz.

In the book, a design sprint is a 5-day method to help you focus on a question and then learn from the surface of a finished product.

The basic idea is that you don't need to build a full-featured product (not even an MVP) before finding out if your idea will work. Instead, treat your idea like a movie: just create the "look" of a product and get that in front of people. If they like the "surface" - the GUI, the part they see - then you can feel confident in spending the time to make the real thing.

The book is a how-to manual which details what to do on each day and explains why you're doing it. If you're looking for prescribed actions to take, you'll love this book.

Who Should Read "Sprint"?

It's amazing how poor we are at guessing what other people will like. Have you ever spent a lot of time on something to only find it doesn't quite hit the mark? I have and it's no fun. The best way to overcome this problem is by getting feedback sooner and more often. A sprint helps you do that.

If you're involved in any sort of project that's building something new for someone other than yourself and has open questions, a sprint could help. If you're repeating a previous project/process (like running another forecast, building another house, or training for a marathon) then you don't need a sprint.

What do you do during those five days?

Here's a short video the authors put together which describes the five days pretty well.

They also have a website with more information and resources. If you're on the fence on reading the book, I recommend checking out the website first (and won't repeat it here).

Finally, it's a fast read. It took me two weeks and I only average 10-20 minutes of reading a day. Also, given that their website has all the checklists easily available, you could easily listen to it as an audiobook and then reference the checklists later.

If you're engaged in any project where you're building something new, it's worth reading.

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