Product Marty Cagan

Discovery Sprints

I find that many teams, especially those new to modern product techniques, are looking for a structured introduction to modern product discovery.  In this article, I’d like to describe the concept of a discovery sprint, and also introduce you to a new book that goes into depth on this technique.

A discovery sprint is a one week time-box of product discovery work, designed to tackle at least one substantial problem or risk in your product’s definition.

Some people use the term design sprint for this, but as the purpose of the work, when done well, goes significantly beyond design, I prefer the more general term.  This is also a good example of a product team working in what’s known as Dual-Track Agile, or Continuous Discovery and Delivery.  Further, if your company has been struggling with the concept of MVP, this is a very good way to start getting the value from this key technique.

I first met the Google Ventures team many years ago when they were getting started.  They are part of Google’s investment arm, but even more valuable to the startup than their money, GV created a small team to actually go in and help the companies they invest in to get their product efforts off to a good start.  Their model is that they typically spend a week with the startup, rolling their sleeves up, and showing them how to do product discovery by doing it with them side-by-side.

I also know several other proven product people that are known as discovery coaches, that do essentially the same thing for the teams they are helping.

In any case, during this week of intense discovery work, you and your team will likely explore dozens of different product ideas, but you’re always trying to solve some substantial business problem, and you’re always ending your week by validating your potential solution with real users and customers.  And in my experience, the result is consistently big learning and insights.  The type of learning that can change the course of your product or your company.

Within this general framework, different discovery coaches have different specific methods they advocate for helping the team though the process to get big learning in just these five days.

After working with more than 100 startups, and refining their methods as they learned what worked well and what didn’t, the GV team decided to share their learnings in a new book, Sprint: How To Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas In Just Five Days by Jake Knapp, John Zeratsky and Braden Kowitz.  I was invited to review the upcoming book and I found it one of the best new books on product I’ve seen in a long time.

The authors lay out a week that begins by mapping the problem space, picking the problem to be solved and the target customer, and then progresses into pursuing several different approaches to the solution, and then narrowing down and fleshing out the different potential solutions, then creating a high-fidelity (realistic looking and feeling) prototype, and finally putting that prototype in front of actual target users and observing their reactions.  And yes, you can absolutely do this all in a week.

The book spells out the GV team’s favorite techniques to do each of these steps.  If you’ve been reading these articles, you’ll recognize most of the individual techniques, but what I like so much about this book is that when teams are getting started they often crave the structure of a proven, step-by-step recipe, and this book spells this out over nearly 300 pages, with dozens of examples from great products and teams you’ll recognize.

There are several situations where I recommend a discovery sprint.  One is when the team is struggling to learn how to do product discovery.  Another is when they have something big and critically important and/or difficult to tackle.  Another is when things are just moving too slow.  If your team is experiencing any of these, I hope you’ll get the book and give the method a try.