How to run a Google sprint
By Nick Butler in Agile on August 23, 2017
Boost recently ran our first Google sprint and this post is one of three sharing what we learned. Today we’ll look at how to run a sprint.
Last week we looked at what the Google design sprint is and when you might want to run one. Next week we’ll go through a case study on Boost’s inaugural Google sprint.
This post is not meant as a substitute for reading the Sprint book. It’s designed to give you an idea of what’s involved to help you decide whether to give it a try. If you do, it gives you a summary to follow as you go.
Preparing for a Google sprint
First of all, check our first post to see if your business challenge might benefit from a Google sprint.
Next, make sure you’ve got the supplies you need. Here’s Sprint author Jake Knapp’s list of sprint supplies.
Who to invite to the Google sprint
- a mix of perspectives
- seven people or fewer
- people who are keen to be there.
Here are the key roles:
Because the Google sprint is tightly structured, fast moving and highly collaborative the facilitation can make all the difference. Agile coaches or Scrum Masters are obvious candidates.
Deciders (one or more)
These should know the business question and have the authority to well, decide. There’s no point in investing in the sprint if the results won’t get any traction.
Is there someone in your organisation who is smart, opinionated and tends to look at things in a different way? Get them along, especially if you’ll need them to be on board with the outcomes.
You’ll want experts in:
- your customers
- tech/logistics, a.k.a. how things work.
You’ll also be getting in some visiting experts, so you’ll need to organise these in advance.
Time and tools for a Google sprint
The Google sprint makes use of the ways our brains work best.
Sprint avoids distracting interruptions by concentrating on one big challenge for five days. With a couple of exceptions, the whole team stays together for the full five days.
Our brains also get quickly bored so sprint breaks these days up into a variety of short activities.
To limit interruptions, the sprint is largely device-free: apart from during a couple of the activities, you can’t use your phone, laptop or tablet. However, you can leave the room at any time to check your messages.
The sprint runs 10.00–5.00 Mon–Thu, 9.00–5.00 Friday, with a one-hour break for lunch. Starting at 10.00 gives people the chance to catch up on emails.
To back up our brains’ shoddy short term memory, sprint uses Big Visible Charts to show the team’s working. Two or more big, mobile whiteboards will be invaluable. Back them up by photographing your work in progress.
Here’s a full list of the equipment you’ll need and the prep you should do.
The five days at a glance
Each morning, explain the day’s activities, write the checklist on a whiteboard and tick off the activities as you go.
Monday: Understand the problem, map it out and choose a target
Start by explaining the process for the Google sprint as a whole. You can play the team the Sprint in 90 seconds video for a quick intro.
Explain the roles of the Facilitator and Decider and run through introductions if everyone doesn’t know each other.
On day one you want to nail down the objective for the sprint. You’ll suck as much relevant information out of the team and guest experts as possible. And you’ll focus on the key parts of the big question.
Start at the end
First of all, agree to a long-term goal.
Secondly, list the sprint questions: what needs to be true for the project to succeed, and what might cause the project to fail? Rephrase your assumptions into questions, making them easier to track and answer.
Map the challenge
Tell the story of a customer successfully using your product or service. Draw a 5–15 step flowchart running from the key actors on the left to the goal on the right.
Ask the experts
Get more detail and fill any information gaps by interviewing sprint members and others in your organisation (and perhaps beyond).
Use the ‘How Might We’ note-taking approach to convert problems into opportunities. Write down ideas prompted by what the experts say in the form “How Might We…”. Organise all the HMW notes into themes. Then prioritise the most useful HMWs by voting on them — in silence — with sticky dots. You get two dots each except for the Decider who gets four. Stick the top HMW questions on the parts of the Map they apply to.
Pick a target
The Decider now picks one target customer and one target event.
Start recruiting test subjects
Now you’ve got your target customer you can kick off recruiting for the user testing on Friday.
If you know people that match the target profile, use them. If not, advertise then use a screener questionnaire to get matches (they recommend Google Forms for the questionnaire).
Tuesday: Sketch competing solutions
Day 2 is all about solutions. First you’ll identify solutions other people have found to similar problems. Then you’ll split up and sketch your own solutions.
Each sprinter has three minutes to present one or two inspiring solutions they’ve found, from inside or outside your field. Earlier unfinished attempts can be useful here. The Facilitator names each idea and illustrates it with a simple sketch to jog the team’s memories later. You can unleash your devices here.
Before sketching solutions you have a decision to make: Do you divide or swarm? If you’re tackling all or most of the Map you might want to divide it into elements and assign sprinters to tackle each element. If you’ve tackling a narrower section then the whole team can tackle those same few elements.
The creators of the Google sprint have found that sketching is the quickest and easiest way to transform abstract ideas into concrete solutions, and that doing so separately — in silence — avoids groupthink.
They run a four-step sketch process designed to help people evolve their ideas:
- Gather key info: Take notes based on the goal, map, and HMW questions, check reference material and reexamine old ideas.
- Doodle rough solutions: Quickly get your ideas down on paper.
- Try rapid variations: Complete the Crazy 8s exercise by drawing 8 variations of your idea in 8 minutes.
- Figure out the details: Create your solution sketch. This will be a detailed, thought-out, easy-to-understand picture.
Your solution sketch should:
- be self-explanatory (add notes if needed but you won’t be pitching your idea)
- be anonymous
- only be as neat as comes naturally (ugly is OK)
- use the right words
- have a catchy title.
Wednesday: Decide on the best
On Wednesday you select the strongest approaches from the sketches and combine them into a storyboard to guide the way your prototype will work.
Tape the solution sketches to the wall, leaving plenty of room between them.
Look at all the solutions in silence, and put sticky dots beside the interesting parts. Use multiple dots if you really like them. You can use as many dots as you want and you can put them on your own sketch. Write any concerns or questions on post-its and place below the sketch.
The dots create a heat map, with clusters gathering around the most interesting elements.
Quickly discuss the highlights of each solution, using sticky notes to record the top ideas. The Facilitator works hard here and will need a Scribe to help them out. In three minutes:
- The Facilitator narrates the sketch (“Here it looks like …”), calling out the ideas with lots of dots. The team notes any the Facilitator missed. The Scribe writes the top ideas on post-its and sticks them above the sketch, giving each a simple name.
- Then you go over the concerns and questions stuck below the sketches.
- The creator of each sketch stays silent until the end, when they note anything that people missed in the design, and answer any questions.
Each person chooses one solution, and votes with one dot.
- Remind the team of the long-term goal and sprint questions.
- Remind them to err on the side of risky ideas with big potential.
- Set the timer for 10 minutes.
- Each person writes down their choice for a sketch or an element of a sketch.
- They stick their dots on the sketch or relevant element.
- Give each person one minute to explain their vote.
The Deciders get 3 super-stickers. They can put them anywhere, in line with the straw poll or not, all on one or scattered. Any idea with a super-sticker is a Winner, the rest are Maybe Laters.
Rumble or All in One
Decide whether you’ll test two prototypes against each other or combine the best of all the super-voted solutions into one.
Choose an “Artist” (no artistic talent needed) to draw the storyboard that you’ll use to plan your prototype. Think of it as a comic strip that describes the process step by step.
Draw a grid of about 15 panels on a whiteboard. To find your a starting point, imagine the opening scene when the customer meets the product.
To keep things moving:
- work with what you’ve got by reusing post-its from earlier activities
- only write rough headlines and important phrases
- include just enough detail to show what happens at each point
- if things bog down get the Decider to make the call.
When in doubt, take the risks that could offer big rewards. Make sure the whole prototype can be tested in about 15 minutes.
Thursday: Build a realistic prototype
Prototyping lets you test before you’ve put in so much effort that it’s hard to change your product. You can build a prototype in a day because all you’re doing is creating a realistic customer-facing surface based on the storyboard you’ve already drawn.
Pick the right tools
The authors of Sprint luuuuuurve Keynote for prototyping. Other options include things like Powerpoint and Invision.
Divide and conquer
Here’s who does what:
- Makers: Two or more Makers create individual components (screens, pages etc).
- Stitcher: Melds components into a seamless, consistent whole.
- Writer: Makes the text realistic.
- Asset Collector: Gathers photos, icons, sample content etc.
- Interviewer: Runs the user testing, and is usually not involved in building prototype.
Stitch it together
The Stitcher pulls it together, making sure things like dates, names and fonts are consistent and coherent.
Do a trial run
The Stitcher talks the team through each part of the prototype. The team double-checks the prototype against the storyboard and sprint questions.
Friday: Test with target customers
The best way to find out how your customers will react to your product or service is to watch them in action. Today your Interviewer will run through the prototype with the five test subjects you recruited earlier.
You want two rooms, one for the interviews, and a bigger one for the rest of the team.
Set up a webcam to film the customers’ reactions. If your prototype(s) will be used on devices that easily allow screen capture then use video conferencing software to share this and the webcam footage with the team. If not, or if it’s a physical object, use another webcam to record the customers using the prototype.
Research shows that five participants gives you maximum insights for the minimum investment.
The Sprint book breaks the interview into five acts.
- Friendly welcome: Greet the subjects with a smile, make them feel welcome and check it’s OK to record the session.
- Context questions: These open-ended questions about the customer’s background and experience build rapport, get the subject talking, and help you understand their reactions.
- Introduction to the prototype: Ask their permission to look at the prototype, which puts them in charge. Let them know that it’s not the full product so parts might not work. Assure them they can’t do anything wrong as it’s product being tested not them. Ask them to think aloud as they go.
- Tasks and nudges: Ask them to imagine the scenario in which they’re using the product. Give them tasks to complete, continue to prompt them to think aloud, and ask open-ended questions to dig further into their reactions.
- Quick debrief: Ask a few questions to gauge their overall reaction.
Watch together, learn together
The sprint team watch the interviews together, writing observations silently on post-its, using colours or symbols to show whether they’re positive, negative or neutral. At the end, put the post-its up on a whiteboard that you’ve divided into a table with test subjects along the top and prototypes or parts of the prototype down the side.
Look for patterns
Each of you will then silently review the collected notes, writing down patterns across three or more customers, or when customers had very strong reactions.
You’ll then read the patterns you’ve noted aloud. The Facilitator writes each of them down on another whiteboard, noting if they’re positive, negative or neutral.
Decide the resulting actions
Go back to your long-term goal and your sprint questions. What do the patterns you saw in the interviews tell you about the prototypes and the way they could achieve the goal and answer the questions. Decide and record the actions you’ll take as a result.
These might include deciding you have a winning prototype or you want to combine elements from a couple of prototypes. You might want to make changes to the prototype or to build a more complete prototype before doing another round of testing.
Keen to try a Google sprint?
If you have any questions about running a sprint, give James a call on +64 4 939 0062 or email [email protected].
The Sprint book website — provides tools including checklists, a sprint supplies shopping list, and an introductory slide deck
Google’s sprint resources — includes different activity options
Agile kick-off meeting toolkit — an alternative set of project discovery tools
The official Sprint Stories website