Getting started with product sprints

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We got stuck in to our first product sprint today following the process set out by Google Ventures and adopted by many startups. This isn’t something we’ve used before, but with limited time and a lot we want to achieve for the next Slidecraft release it felt like a good time to test it out.

We’re following the process as they recommend in the book but adapting it to suit our team and the project we’re working on. Leo recently read the book and introduced us to it and he’s created a stripped back version for us to follow. For a start we’ve condensed it to a three day sprint rather than the recommended 5 however, we won’t be prototyping at the end and constraints are always good. There’s also only three of us whereas there are usually teams of around 7 or 8. I can already see how valuable this process must be for diverse teams in big businesses.

We’re not working on a new feature so I expected some parts to be less relevant for us but so far (and we’re only 1 day in), I’d definitely say it’s been worth sticking to the process and we’ve gotten a lot out of it. As a designer, developer and marketer it’s funny how we often have the same thought but approach things from different angles. And although we had some very different perspectives when we started to create ‘How Might We…” statements, when it came to prioritising and picking the ones we needed to focus on we were all very much aligned. It’s given us a really solid focus for the next stage in the process.

As it’s been a really useful process I thought it might be good to outline what we covered today, as much for our own reference looking back as anything.

Product Sprint – Day 1

Items we found particularly useful:

  • large roll of backing paper (we opted for this rather than a whiteboard – easy to roll up and store)
  • marker pens
  • post it notes
  • timer
  • Sprint Book (constant source of reference)
  • Sprint checklist

We started off with setting our long term goal. This wasn’t too hard as this isn’t a new feature and we were all fairly clear why it is important and what it’s role in Slidecraft is.

Setting sprint questions is a little harder as you have to jump into a more pessimistic mind-set identifying ways this could fail. This was however really important and uncovered some things we hadn’t thought of before and gave us a set of clear questions we needed to answer through the process.

Mapping the key customers and their journey through this feature was straightforward enough but id uncover useful dynamics between the two. It also provided a clear visual tool for the work that followed.

Normally at this stage it’s ‘Ask the experts’ which is a kind of research phase however as the feature is not currently live and there is just the three of us in the team this was more of a discussion around the key areas of the process and the two key customer groups identified.

We moved on creating our ‘How Might we…” notes, scribbling down opportunities based on all the work we’d done to this point. We had a good number and we were able to pull these all together into some very logical groupings. Again, this was really useful as it created connections between ideas and groups we hadn’t seen until this point.

One of the hardest bits was picking which ones to focus on. we gave ourselves three votes each (the book recommends two but for a bigger team). This took a good bit of thought but the final result was that four opportunities stood out as things we collectively felt we needed to prioritise.

Moving these on to the map made everything fall in to place, just as the book says it should. It clearly showed on stage of the journey and one customer group that required most focus or priority focus.

Normally that would be the end of day 1 however we still had time so moved on to lightening demos. We all pooled examples of sites and apps that we’d seen or used that had solved the problems we were focussing on in some way. We quickly evaluated these and created a sketch sheet of the ideas that jumped out at us. There is definitely things on here we wouldn’t have had before and also a clear direction for some elements of the feature.

Tomorrow will be interesting as we get into the sketching. This will create a lot more detail and I think again will show some of the differences in how we approach the product. I’m sure it will uncover more problems we need to solve and solutions we haven’t thought of yet.

I still find it too easy to slip into what I think the outcome should be rather than viewing this for what the user is hiring the feature to do. I think that’s because this is an existing feature so I’m bringing pre-conceived ideas to what I’m doing. I think it would be useful to include a section on what users hire the product to do and so we may build this into our process for future sprints. The group discussions have been a great way of keeping things on track though and referring to the book throughout has helped make sure we’ve understood the task we’re undertaking fully.

So far pleased we’ve followed this and I feel it’s moved us further on in a far more structured way than if we’d just jumped into the feature and brain-dumped solutions.

About the author

James Qualtrough

I live on the small but beautiful Isle of Man with my wife, Donna and our twin girls Ella & Erin. I'm Head of Digital Media at Home Strategic and Co-Founder of Slidecraft.

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James Qualtrough

I live on the small but beautiful Isle of Man with my wife, Donna and our twin girls Ella & Erin. I'm Head of Digital Media at Home Strategic and Co-Founder of Slidecraft.

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