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It might seem like this episode is about friendship, but I wanted it to be about honesty!
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Did she always use the same suitcase?
- Jake’s 100th Day of School.
- Archived Material (grammar).
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- Jake and the Never Land Pirates.
The desk phone interrupted her. Back at headquarters, the sprint team members were gathered around a set of video displays, watching her reaction. Inside was the toothbrush. The robot made a series of chimes and beeps as the woman confirmed delivery on its touch screen. When she gave the experience a five-star review, the little machine danced for joy by twisting back and forth. It was the smile of delight that we saw over the video stream.
Watching the live video, we were nervous throughout that first interview. By the second and third, we were laughing and even cheering. Guest after guest responded the same way. They were enthusiastic when they first saw the robot. They had no trouble receiving their toothbrushes, confirming delivery on the touch screen, and sending the robot on its way. People wanted to call the robot back to make a second delivery, just so they could see it again.
They even took selfies with the robot. But no one, not one person, tried to engage the robot in any conversation. At the end of the day, green check marks filled our whiteboard. Now they realized that giving the robot a winsome character might be the secret to boosting guest satisfaction. Not every detail was perfect, of course. The touch screen was sluggish. The timing was off on some of the sound effects. These flaws meant reprioritizing some engineering work, but there was still time.
And the Relay was a hit. Stories about the charming robot appeared in the New York Times and the Washington Post, and Savioke racked up more than 1 billion media impressions in the first month. But, most important, guests loved it. By the end of the summer, Savioke had so many orders for new robots that they could hardly keep up with production.
Savioke gambled by giving their robot a personality. But they were only confident in that gamble because the sprint let them test risky ideas quickly. And even the best ideas face an uncertain path to real-world success.
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Execution can be difficult. 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? How many meetings and discussions does it take before you can be sure? 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. Identifying critical flaws after just five days of work is the height of efficiency. 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.
This book is a DIY guide for running your own sprint to answer your pressing business questions. Instead of giving high-level advice, we dig into the details. This is a book for experts and beginners alike, for anyone who has a big opportunity, problem, or idea and needs to get started. James was obsessed with freshly roasted coffee. In those days in the San Francisco area, it was nearly impossible to find coffee beans with a roast date printed on the bag. So James decided to do it himself.
His manner was polite and accommodating, and the coffee was delicious. Soon James and his cart, called Blue Bottle Coffee, developed a following. It was a business that many would have considered perfect. The coffee was ranked among the best nationwide. The baristas were friendly and knowledgeable. He was still just as passionate about coffee and hospitality, and he wanted to bring the Blue Bottle experience to even more coffee lovers.
If that coffee cart had been Sputnik, the next phase would be more like a moon shot. James had many plans for that money, but one of the most obvious was building a better online store for selling fresh coffee beans. They sat around a counter, drank coffee, and discussed the challenge. The online store was important to the company. It would take time and money to get it right, and it was difficult to know where to start. In other words, it sounded like a perfect candidate for a sprint. James agreed. They talked about who should be in the sprint. He included the customer service lead who handled questions and complaints.
And, of course, James himself would be in the room. The online store was essentially a software project—something our team at GV was very familiar with. But this group looked almost nothing like a traditional software team. These were busy people, who would be missing a full week of important work. Would the sprint be worth their time? We made a diagram on the whiteboard showing how coffee buyers might move through the online store. The Blue Bottle team targeted a new customer purchasing coffee beans.
James wanted to focus the sprint on this scenario because it was so difficult. We ran into a big question: How should we organize the coffee? The shopper in this scenario would be choosing between a dozen or so varieties of bean, each in a nearly identical bag. At first, the answer seemed obvious. From boutique coffee roasters to mainstream giants like Starbucks, retailers tend to organize coffee by the geographic region where it was grown.
Africa, Latin America, the Pacific. Honduran coffee vs. Ethiopian coffee. It would be logical for Blue Bottle to categorize their beans the same way. Everyone turned. I have a scale at home and everything. Owning a scale meant Braden weighed the water and coffee beans so that he could experiment and adjust ratios as he brewed.
Coffee scales are accurate to a fraction of a gram.
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Braden smiled and held his hands palm up. We avoided looking at James. The floodgate opened. We drank coffee together constantly, but none of us had ever admitted to our lack of sophistication. James is a slow and thoughtful speaker. He paused for a moment before he answered. Coffee, or whatever, the baristas could recommend a bean to match. Everyone jotted notes. It felt as if we were onto something. The team spent the following day sketching ideas for the store.
On Wednesday morning we had fifteen different solutions. Then James, the decision-maker, made the final pick of three sketches to test. The second sketch included lots of text, to mirror the conversations baristas often have with customers. James had chosen three competing ideas. So which one should we prototype and test? But those other solutions were also really intriguing.
So we decided to prototype all three. To appear real in our test, each fake online store only required a few key screens. Working together with the Blue Bottle team, we used Keynote presentation software to make a series of slides that looked like three real websites. With a little ingenuity, and without any computer programming at all, we stitched those screens into a prototype that our test customers could use.
On Friday, the team watched the customer interviews. To avoid tipping off the customers, we gave each prototype a fake name. Patterns emerged. The store with wooden shelves, which everyone had such high hopes for? They were much closer to defining how their online store would work.
They believed the online store could be an authentic Blue Bottle experience. A few months later, Blue Bottle launched their new website, and their online sales growth doubled. The next year, they acquired a coffee subscription company. With a bigger team and new technology, they expanded the web store and began experimenting with new offerings. They knew it would take years to get the online store right—but in the sprint, they started on their path. A sprint is your chance to check the navigation charts and steer in the right direction before going full steam ahead.
You need good solutions, fast. As the name suggests, a sprint is built for speed. Just Plain Stuck Some important projects are hard to start. Others lose momentum along the way. When we talk to startups about sprints, we encourage them to go after their most important problem. Running a sprint requires a lot of energy and focus. So how big is too big? Sure, sprints work great for websites and other software challenges. But what about really large, complicated problems? Not long ago, Jake visited his friend David Lowe, a vice president of a company called Graco that manufactures pumps and sprayers.
Graco is not a small startup. The company was developing a new kind of industrial pump—a machine used in assembly lines. David, the VP, wondered if a sprint might help lower the risk of the project. How could he be sure they were on the right track? That kind of test could answer questions about marketability. But what about the pump itself? The engineers had ideas for that, too. To test ease-of-use, they could 3D print new nozzles and attach them to existing pumps.
To test installation, they could bring cables and hoses to nearby manufacturing plants and get reactions from assembly line workers. But they would answer big questions, before the pump even existed. Jake was wrong. The team of engineers accepted the five-day constraint and used their domain expertise to think creatively. They sliced the challenge into important questions, and shortcuts started to appear. The lesson? No problem is too large for a sprint. First, the sprint forces your team to focus on the most pressing questions.
Second, the sprint allows you to learn from just the surface of a finished product. Blue Bottle could use a slide show to prototype the surface of a website—before they built the software and inventory processes to make it really work. Graco could use a brochure to prototype the surface of a sales conversation—before they engineered and built the product they were selling. Get that surface right, and you can work backward to figure out the underlying systems or technology. Focusing on the surface allows you to move fast and answer big questions before you commit to execution, which is why any challenge, no matter how large, can benefit from a sprint.
In the film, Danny Ocean, an ex-con played by Clooney, organizes a band of career criminals for a once-in-a-lifetime heist. The odds are against them, the clock is ticking, and it takes an intricate strategy and every special skill the team possesses to pull it off. A sprint resembles that perfectly orchestrated heist. You and your team put your talents, time, and energy to their best use, taking on an overwhelming challenge and using your wits and a little trickery to overcome every obstacle that crosses your path.
To pull it off, you need the right team. That person is the Decider, a role so important we went ahead and capitalized it. The Decider is the official decision-maker for the project. At bigger companies, it might be a VP, a product manager, or another team leader. These Deciders generally understand the problem in depth, and they often have strong opinions and criteria to help find the right solution. He chose the sketches that best aligned with that vision. And he knew how the baristas were trained, a detail that unlocked a surprising solution.
See, one of the early sprints we tried was a big flop. We screwed up. Sam was going to be traveling, but the week worked for everybody else. So we helped SquidCo run a sprint. They made a prototype and tested it. The prototype did well with their customers, and the team was ready to start building. But when Sam returned, the project ended. What happened? There were other, more important priorities for the team.
The SquidCo sprint failure was our fault. The Decider should have been in the room. If you, dear reader, are the Decider, clear your schedule and get in the room. Some Deciders are not excited about customer tests at least, until they see one firsthand , but almost everyone loves fast results.
Explain the Tradeoffs Show the Decider a list of big meetings and work items you and your team will miss during the sprint week. Tell her which items you will skip and which you will postpone, and why. On Monday, she can share her perspective on the problem. On Wednesday, she can help choose the right idea to test.
And on Friday, she should stop by to see how customers react to the prototype. Hold up! You might have the wrong project. Take your time, talk with the Decider, and figure out which big challenge would be better. These are the people who will be in the room with you, all day, every day during the sprint.
With seven or fewer, everything is easier. It was just a movie! So who should you include? Sprints are most successful with a mix of people: the core people who work on execution along with a few extra experts with specialized knowledge. But one of the most important contributors turned out to be Izumi Yaskawa. The common traits they all shared? They had deep expertise and they were excited about the challenge. Those are people you want in your sprint. And for some roles, you might choose two or three.
Just remember that a mix is good. Decider Who makes decisions for your team? Examples: CEO, founder, product manager, head of design Finance expert Who can explain where the money comes from and where it goes? We mean that smart person who has strong, contrary opinions, and whom you might be slightly uncomfortable with including in your sprint. This advice is partially defensive.
If the troublemaker is in the room, even just for a guest appearance, he or she will feel included and invested in the project. Troublemakers see problems differently from everyone else. Their crazy idea about solving the problem might just be right. Often, when we list out all of the people we want in a sprint, we have more than seven.
During their visit, they can tell the rest of the team what they know and share their opinions. A half an hour should be plenty of time for each expert. Your team is all set. He keeps the heist running. You need someone to be the Rusty Ryan of your sprint. Sprints are the same way. But with the right team in place, unexpected solutions will appear. Or Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, if you prefer the original.
After a lot of deliberation, we decided to use fake names for the companies and people involved. The anonymity allows us to be honest about what went wrong, without embarrassing our friends. We hope you understand. If your team has decided to run a sprint without the official Decider in the room, proceed with care. Every meeting, email, and phone call fragments attention and prevents real work from getting done. There are stacks of studies about the cost of interruption. Researchers at George Mason University found that people wrote shorter, lower-quality essays when interrupted in the middle of their work.
Researchers at the University of California, Irvine, reported that it takes on average twenty-three minutes for distracted workers to return to their tasks. We plan to read more of these studies, right after we answer this text message. No doubt about it: Fragmentation hurts productivity. Of course, nobody wants to work this way. We all want to get important work done. And we know that meaningful work, especially the kind of creative effort needed to solve big problems, requires long, uninterrupted blocks of time.
There are no context switches between different projects, and no random interruptions. By starting at 10 a. By ending before people get too tired, we ensure the energy level stays high throughout the week. The sprint team must be in the same room Monday through Thursday from 10 a. Why five days? We never accomplished significantly more than we did in a week. Weekends caused a loss of continuity. Distractions and procrastination crept in. And more time to work made us more attached to our ideas and, in turn, less willing to learn from our colleagues or our customers.
Five days provide enough urgency to sharpen focus and cut out useless debate, but enough breathing room to build and test a prototype without working to exhaustion. Your team will take a short morning break around a. The entire team must shut their laptops and put away their phones. So we have a simple rule: No laptops, phones, or iPads allowed.
No virtual- reality headsets. These devices can suck the momentum out of a sprint. To make sure nobody misses anything important, there are two exceptions to the no-device rule: 1. At any time. No judgment.
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Take a call, check an email, tweet a Tweet, whatever—just take it outside. We also use devices for some specific purposes: when we need to show something to the whole team, and on Thursday for prototyping. Let people know ahead of time that the sprint will be device-free, and also let them know that they can step out of the room at any time. That escape hatch allows busy people to participate in the sprint without losing track of their regular jobs. The combination of a clear schedule and no devices gives your team a huge supply of raw attention.
To make the best use of that time and attention, you need a good workspace. A prime location in the SoMa neighborhood, a remodeled building with exposed wood beams, polished concrete, and lots and lots of glass. But there was one problem: the whiteboard. For starters, it was tiny. Three feet wide at the most. The surface was grayish pink from being written on and erased so many times, and that dingy haze would not come off, no matter what we sprayed on it. BadgerCo also suffered from a common workplace ailment: worn-out whiteboard markers.
The result was gray ink on a gray background. The plan structure was important stuff, so Braden did his best to capture it on what was left of the whiteboard. For a few minutes, Braden tried to MacGyver his way out of it, writing cramped words in the margins and even taping notebook paper to the wall.
Finally, we called time-out and walked to Office Depot to buy some of those giant poster-size Post-it notes. It cost us about an hour and a half and taught us an important lesson: Check the whiteboards before the sprint starts. As humans, our short-term memory is not all that good, but our spatial memory is awesome.
A sprint room, plastered with notes, diagrams, printouts, and more, takes advantage of that spatial memory. The room itself becomes a sort of shared brain for the team. The small ones have a lot of unusable space down by the floor, and they shake when you draw on them. IdeaPaint IdeaPaint is paint that turns regular walls into whiteboards. It works great on smooth walls, and less great on rough walls. One word of advice: If you use IdeaPaint, be sure to paint all the walls. Those poster-size Post-it notes are pricey but easy to arrange and swap when you make mistakes.
Butcher paper provides serious surface area, but sticking it to the wall requires serious ingenuity. Ideally, you should run your sprint in the same room all day, every day. If you have to share your sprint room, try to get rolling whiteboards that you can take with you. Tape stuff to walls, move around furniture—do what you have to do to create a good workspace. Her four-year- old daughter, Loran, was unusually curious about time. So Jan went searching for a better clock. She tried digital clocks and analog clocks. She tried egg timers and alarms.
But none of them worked. That evening, Jan sat down at the kitchen table with scissors and a pile of paper and cardboard and started experimenting. It was all manual, so I had to actually move the plates as time elapsed. And Jan realized she was onto something. Slowly but steadily, Jan Rogers turned the Time Timer into an enterprise. Today, Jan is CEO of a multimillion-dollar business, and you can find Time Timers in classrooms around the world, from kindergartens in Amsterdam to Stanford University.
The Time Timer itself is an object of simple beauty. It makes the abstract passage of time vivid and concrete. And it was. We use Time Timers in our sprints to mark small chunks of time, anywhere from three minutes to one hour. These tiny deadlines give everyone an added sense of focus and urgency. And unlike with a traditional clock, no math or memory is required to figure out how much time is remaining. Second, although most would never admit it, people like having a tight schedule. It builds confidence in the sprint process, and in you as a Facilitator. Jake likes to introduce the Time Timer with a bit of narrative, because timing people while they talk can be socially awkward.
But give it a chance. Gene Kranz, the flight director, wears a white vest, a flattop haircut, and a grim expression. He grabs a piece of chalk and draws a simple diagram on the blackboard. The goal is clear: To get the astronauts home safely, Mission Control has to keep them alive and on the right course for every minute of that journey.
Throughout the film, Kranz returns to that goal on the blackboard. In the chaos of Mission Control, the simple diagram helps keep the team focused on the right problems. Next, they replace a failing air filter so the astronauts can breathe. And only then do they turn their attention to a safe landing. If Mission Control had worried about the air filter first, they would have missed their window to fix the trajectory, and the Apollo 13 spaceship might have careened off toward Pluto. Monday begins with an exercise we call Start at the End: a look ahead—to the end of the sprint week and beyond.
Like Gene Kranz and his diagram of the return to planet earth, you and your team will lay out the basics: your long-term goal and the difficult questions that must be answered. Starting at the end is like being handed the keys to a time machine. If you could jump ahead to the end of your sprint, what questions would be answered?
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If you went six months or a year further into the future, what would have improved about your business as a result of this project? Where do we want to be six months, a year, or even five years from now? But do have a discussion and figure it out. Slowing down might be frustrating for a moment, but the satisfaction and confidence of a clear goal will last all week. Sometimes, setting the long-term goal is easy. Blue Bottle Coffee knew where they were headed in the long term: Bring great coffee to new customers online. They wrote a long-term goal that reflected that ambition.
In some sprints, setting the long-term goal requires a short discussion. Savioke wanted to accomplish a lot with the Relay delivery robot. Was the goal about improving the efficiency of the front desk staff? Was it about getting as many robots in as many hotels as possible? Savioke wanted to focus on customers, and use the same goal as the hotels: better guest experience.
The sprint process will help you find a good place to start and make real progress toward even the biggest goal. While writing your long-term goal, you were optimistic. You imagined a perfect future. What caused it to fail? How did your goal go wrong? Lurking beneath every goal are dangerous assumptions. The longer those assumptions remain unexamined, the greater the risk. In your sprint, you have a golden opportunity to ferret out assumptions, turn them into questions, and find some answers.
Savioke assumed their Relay robot would create a better guest experience. But they were smart enough to imagine a future where they were wrong, and the robot was awkward or confusing. They had three big questions: Can we make a smooth delivery? Will guests find the robot awkward? And the long shot: Will guests come to the hotel just for the robot? Just like the goal, these questions guide the solutions and decisions throughout the sprint. What might have caused that?
An important part of this exercise is rephrasing assumptions and obstacles into questions. A: They have to trust our expertise. Q: How can we phrase that as a question? A: Will customers trust our expertise? This rephrasing conversation might feel a little weird. But turning these potential problems into questions makes them easier to track— and easier to answer with sketches, prototypes, and tests. It also creates a subtle shift from uncertainty which is uncomfortable to curiosity which is exciting. You might end up with only one or two sprint questions.
You might come up with a dozen or more. Also, just fine. There are invented languages, histories, backstories, and subplots galore. At the beginning of the book is a map. Instead of elves and wizards moving through Middle Earth, your map will show customers moving through your service or product. Not quite as thrilling, but every bit as useful. The map is a big deal throughout the week. Later in the week, the map will provide structure for your solution sketches and prototype. No matter how complicated the business challenge, it can be mapped with a few words and a few arrows.
The company was founded by a couple of friends, Nat Turner and Zach Weinberg. In the s, Nat and Zach had built an advertising technology company called Invite Media and sold it to Google. A few years later, the two started thinking about their next startup, and the topic of health care kept coming up. Both had seen friends and family struggling with cancer, and had witnessed, firsthand, the complexities of treatment. Nat and Zach got inspired. Large-scale data analysis, they believed, could sift through piles of medical records and test results and help doctors choose the right treatment at the right time.
They left Google and started Flatiron Health. The startup had tremendous momentum. The pieces were in place to begin a project they believed could have a profound effect on cancer outcomes: improving clinical trial enrollment. Clinical trials provide access to the latest treatments. For some patients, that means drugs which might save their lives. The data from every trial is collected and organized, helping researchers learn about the efficacy of new and existing therapies.
But in the United States, only 4 percent of all cancer patients are in clinical trials. The other 96 percent of cancer treatment data is unavailable to doctors and researchers who might use it to better understand the disease and better treat future patients. Flatiron wanted to make trials available to anyone who was eligible. They hoped to build a software tool to help cancer clinics match patients to trials— a painstaking job to do manually, and perhaps the biggest hurdle to trial enrollment. Patients with common forms of cancer might qualify for trials reexamining the efficacy of standard treatment.
There were so many unique patients and so many trials that it was too much for any human to track. The company decided to start with a sprint and had assembled a great team. The Decider was Dr. Nat, the CEO, was there for a few hours to give us background. There were oncologists and computer engineers, and Alex Ingram, a product manager. II In the morning, we completed our Start at the End exercises.
We turned our attention to identifying the big sprint questions. She has an unusual accent: equal parts Australia where she earned her PhD in medicine and North Carolina where she spent years running cancer research at Duke University. Then he wrote on the whiteboard for everyone to see, Can we find matches fast enough? With the sprint questions listed, we started on the map. Michael Margolis and Alex Ingram had interviewed staff at cancer clinics, and with help from Amy, they told us how trial enrollment worked. To match patients with trials, doctors and research coordinators look at long lists of trial requirements: treatment history, blood count, DNA mutations in the cancer cells, and much more.
As cancer care has become more sophisticated and targeted, those requirements have gotten more specific. It was an intricate and messy system. Behind those few simple steps were all kinds of difficulties with the enrollment process: overworked staff, missing data, and communication gaps. In the afternoon, we would have time to go through all of the problems and opportunities. But for now, with this map, we had enough to start. Your map should be simple, too.
For bonus points, see if you can spot the common elements in every map. On Monday of their sprint, Savioke had to organize information about robotics, navigation, hotel operations, and guest habits. The common elements? Each map is customer-centric, with a list of key actors on the left. Each map is a story, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. And, no matter the business, each map is simple. The diagrams are composed of nothing more than words, arrows, and a few boxes.
Use the same whiteboard you wrote your goal on and dive in. Sometimes, people other than customers—say, your sales team or a government regulator—are important actors and should be listed as well. Words and arrows in between The map should be functional, not a work of art. Words and arrows and the occasional box should be enough. No drawing expertise required. Keep it simple Your map should have from five to around fifteen steps.
By keeping the map simple, the team can agree on the structure of the problem without getting tied up in competing solutions. We never get ours right the first time, but you have to start somewhere. At this point, you will have reached an important milestone. You have a rough draft of your long-term goal, sprint questions, and map. The long- term goal is your motivation and your measuring stick. But that knowledge is distributed. Somebody knows the most about your customers; somebody knows the most about the technology, the marketing, the business, and so on.
Most of Monday afternoon is devoted to an exercise we call Ask the Experts: a series of one-at-a-time interviews with people from your sprint team, from around your company, and possibly even an outsider or two with special knowledge. As you go, each member of your team will take notes individually. Why go to all this trouble? As with many of the steps we do in sprints, we learned to do this one after making a big mistake. When we first started running sprints, we thought we could learn everything just by talking to the people in charge: usually the CEOs and managers.
It makes sense. The Deciders should know the most about the project, right? We were running a sprint with WalrusCo again, names and identifying details changed to protect the innocent. She was full of energy. Her shirtsleeves were rolled up to her elbows, and she rubbed her hands together and paced as she talked. And what she understood better than anyone was how customers reacted at different steps in the sales process.
Why should I trust you suckers with my account number? Nobody has that memorized. Look, thanks for having me. But Wendy changed almost every part of our map. It was just more accurate afterward. Nobody knows everything, not even the CEO. Instead, the information is distributed asymmetrically across the team and across the company.
Deciding who to talk to is a bit of an art. For your own team, you probably have a hunch about the right people already. If the Decider is not going to be in the sprint the whole time, be sure she joins you on Monday afternoon. Who can explain the world from their perspective? Wendy is a prime example of a customer expert. Whether this person is in sales, customer support, research, or whatever, his or her insights will likely be crucial.
How Things Work Who understands the mechanics of your product? Savioke interviewed roboticists, Blue Bottle interviewed baristas, and Flatiron interviewed oncologists. Previous Efforts Often, someone on the team has already thought about the problem in detail. That person might have an idea about the solution, a failed experiment, or maybe even some work in progress. You should examine those preexisting solutions. Talking to these experts reminds the team of things they knew but may have forgotten.
It always yields a few surprising insights. And the process has another nice, long-term benefit. By asking people for their input early in the process, you help them feel invested in the outcome. Later, when you begin executing your successful solutions, the experts you brought in will probably be among your biggest supporters. Once the expert is ready, we follow a simple script to keep things moving. Review the whiteboards Give the expert a two-minute tour of the long-term goal, sprint questions, and map. Open the door Ask the expert to tell you everything she knows about the challenge at hand.
Ask questions The sprint team should act like a bunch of reporters digging for a story. Ask the expert to fill in areas where she has extra expertise. Ask her to retell you what she thinks you already know. Would she add any sprint questions to your list? What opportunities does she see? Fix the whiteboards Add sprint questions. Change your map. If necessary, update your long-term goal. This need for improvisation is a little unnerving, but it works.
Your experts will provide a ton of information. So how are you going to keep track of it all? By tomorrow, when the team sketches solutions, a lot of the interesting details will have faded from your short-term memory. Imagine that every person on the team took his or her own notes. Now imagine that you are a wizard. You wave your magic wand. Then the pages tear themselves into scraps. Then—remember, this is magic—the most interesting scraps separate from the rest and stick themselves onto the wall for all to see.
Nice job, wizard! But we do have a technique that results in organized, prioritized notes from the entire team. The method is called How Might We. It works this way: Each person writes his or her own notes, one at a time, on sticky notes. We had the same concerns ourselves when we first learned about the How Might We method. When we tried it, we came to appreciate how the open-ended, optimistic phrasing forced us to look for opportunities and challenges, rather than getting bogged down by problems or, almost worse, jumping to solutions too soon.
II Using thick markers on a small surface forces everyone to write succinct, easy-to-read headlines. To take notes, follow these steps: 1. When you hear something interesting, convert it into a question quietly. Write the question on your sticky note. Peel off the note and set it aside.
Bobby Green, their VP of clinical strategy. This is roughly the first two minutes of his fifteen-minute interview. But the point was clear: It was a long list. It was obvious that she already knew the answer, but she also knew the rest of us would benefit from hearing it. At the end of the day, the oncologist might have to make a judgment call. Now multiply that by the number of new patients every week, and the number of trials at each clinic. Then we all wrote furiously on our sticky notes. Next, the team asked a lot of questions.
But the entire time Bobby was talking, the Flatiron team was turning those problems into How Might We opportunities. Here are some of the notes they took: Reading the How Might We list feels a lot better than reading the problem list. Each How Might We note captured a problem and converted it into an opportunity. On Tuesday, they would provide the perfect inspiration for our sketches. By the time you finish your interviews, your team will have generated a pile of notes.
Once you turn your attention to sketching, it will be too many opportunities for the poor human brain to track. Just put them up in any haphazard fashion, like this: First, put up the How Might We notes without any organization. Wow, what a mess! Working together, find How Might We questions with similar themes and physically group them together on the wall. Instead, the themes will emerge as you go. For example, imagine you were working with Flatiron Health. You might look at the wall and notice a few notes about electronic medical records.
Just write a title on a fresh sticky note and put it above the group. Those misfit notes often end up being some of the best ones. Organize into groups, and give each group a label. After ten minutes, the notes will be sorted enough to move on to prioritization. Dot voting works pretty much the way it sounds: 1. Give two large dot stickers to each person. Give four large dot stickers to the Decider because her opinion counts a little more. Ask everyone to review the goal and sprint questions. Ask everyone to vote in silence for the most useful How Might We questions. Use dots to vote for the most promising questions.
When the voting is over, take the How Might We notes with multiple votes, remove them from the wall, and find a place to stick them on your map. Most notes will probably correspond with a specific step in the story. Tharp plotted thousands of sonar soundings with painstaking precision. Where there were gaps between data points, she used her expertise in geology and math to figure out what was missing.
As Tharp inked her map, she discovered something surprising. What had appeared to be isolated undersea mountains were in fact one long, interconnected chain of volcanic ranges and deep valleys. It jumped right out of her map: a thick, unbroken band stretching for thousands of miles.