AMA: Jake Knapp, Design Partner at GV/Author of SPRINT

6 years ago from , Writer, designer, person. Author of SPRINT.

Hey everyone! I'm Jake, and I'm a designer, writer, dad, and time efficiency nerd who wants to spend every hour of my all-too-short life as well as possible.

Over the past 12 years, I've been on a nerdy quest to make good use of my time at work, and find better ways for teams to use design to solve big problems. Eventually I created the GV design sprint process and, together with my colleagues, wrote the book Sprint. Not to brag (okay this is pure bragging) but Sprint made the NYT bestseller list!

In previous lives, I was a designer at Google, Microsoft, and Oakley, and in my current job as Design Partner at GV, I've worked with startups like Slack, Medium, Nest, and 23andMe.

Ask me anything about the book, sprints, startups, or whatever. I'm on Thursday 5/26 at 9:30AM Pacific.


  • Lee Nelson, almost 6 years ago

    Hi Jake, thanks for taking the time out of your schedule to do an AMA. I've participated in a couple sprints now and struggle with one aspect of the process which is why I've decided to ask the pro ;)

    My question has to do with the scope of proposed solutions throughout the design sprint process. Having stakeholders present from different departments leads to many great ideas. Some ideas more feasible than others. Who is responsible for bringing the sprint back to reality? For instance, it is very easy to design something in Sketch or Keynote that would be extremely difficult to develop. Is it the engineers responsibility to chime in when they think something is impracticable? If so, how do you keep these people from impeding the progress of the sprint? If they keep shutting down ideas, it can be hard to get on a roll. Also, do you take into consideration team size, budget, etc before you begin the sprint or is it really about coming up with the "dreamy" solution?

    Thanks in advance Jake!

    1 point
    • Jake Knapp, almost 6 years ago

      Great question Lee. My answer is a bit simplistic, but hopefully helpful... you should rely on the Decider to make this decision. I usually encourage teams to be aggressive and risk-taking with their solutions, but at the same time to only propose solutions that they actually believe could be built and delivered.

      That might sound contradictory, but there's a difference between being aggressive and taking risks and being impractical, "dreamy", or "blue sky". When I'm facilitating I want the pragmatists to be uncomfortably aggressive—but still pragmatic. And I want the dreamers to be uncomfortably focused on feasibility—but still aggressive. Hopefully that makes sense.

      In the end though, as I mentioned above, it's up to the Decider to find the right balance. As facilitator, I can encourage her to think in this aggressive-and-feasible mode, but she's the only one with the expertise and authority to really decide what that looks like.

      Hope that helps!

      0 points
  • Stephen OlmsteadStephen Olmstead, 6 years ago

    Jake- so cool to have you doing this! Love your work at GV, love Sprint (the book and the methodology), love your passion for the design space in general. I'm not going to ask about any of those things though. :)

    I am going to ask time-management as a man with a family. As a dad of (soon-to-be) three young kids I find it a constant juggling act of priorities to make sure I'm giving my family my best time and not just my leftovers. This is increasingly a difficult balance when you adore what you do (great problem to have). I personally Have taken a number of steps to protect/redeem the time with my family but am always looking for advice from other busy folks in the space with how they manage it.

    Any tips you've found helpful as a designer/author/partner dad on this front? Any methodology within Sprint and/or from your time in the design space in general that you feel could be applied at a personal level in this regard as well? Thanks in advance for any thoughts you may have here!

    1 point
    • Jake Knapp, almost 6 years ago (edited almost 6 years ago )

      Stephen, what's up!

      Okay, this is a great question, and a really tough one. I don't have a perfect answer. But I think about this all the time, so here are some thoughts.

      • One of the most frustrating feelings for me is being with my kids but being mentally at work, like my mind is stressed or consumed with some work problem. Sprints actually have helped me with that a lot, because if I know I'm working on the most important thing at work, and I know there's a method to solve the problem, it's easier for me to put it down and be present at other times.

      • I try to batch work as much as possible. Sprints are an obvious example, but another thing is just doing wall-to-wall meetings on one day, and then having work from home days when I can focus on design, writing, something quiet and focused.

      • Working from home with kids there got easier for me with practice. At first it was very distracting and the days were often not-so-productive. But when I worked on the book last year, I had the chance to do a lot of WFH days. I figured out where to go in my home, how to be clear with younger son about what to expect, when to play, etc. If you're lucky enough to be able to WFH but you've found it difficult with kids, keep trying.

      • Work is sometimes going to happen at home. When it does, I try to leave the room where my kids are. Being on the laptop or on my phone when they're around sends a signal that I'm not part of what's going on, and I've noticed that's really aggravating for them and frustrating for me. It's temporarily more difficult to say "I've got to do some work for 10/30/60 minutes/1/2/x hours but afterward I'll be back and I'll be here" than to try to be with the kids and responding to little things or paying attention to work at the same time.

      • With my younger son, I sometimes set a Time Timer and say "Okay, we are playing for x minutes and you have my undivided attention. Let's go." This is weird and felt like I was being a bad parent at first, but I think it's good for both of us. If it's a work day, and I know I'll have to get back to work, I can make an intentional plan instead of just trying to do both at once which, again, is quite frustrating.

      • When possible (and it's only occasionally possible) I try to bring my family or part of my family on work trips.

      • Work and family are two parts of my life. It's not work vs. life. I have to make the most of them. So I want to always push myself to find ways of working and ways of being with my family that feel really authentic, where I can be present and enjoy them. Enjoying work and enjoying sprints with my teammates is part of the big picture, too. So is showing my kids what my work is like and letting them into that world whenever possible, and letting my co-workers know my kids. That's very hand wavy and touchy feely, but the more it feels like one whole life, the better I feel about it.

      • Also, this has helped.


      1 point
  • Chris DonerChris Doner, 6 years ago

    Hey Jake! Big fan of the design sprint process - we even did a mini-sprint ourselves and it was great! We want to utilize this more, but the biggest issue is just being able to schedule and allocate this much time (5days) to one sprint. It is nearly impossible to get that much time from some of our executive/directors let alone from our design / PM team. We are in the midst of launching a huge product this fall so maybe time will open up some in the future but I believe this will always be a challenge for us.

    I'm curious if you have any advice for us. We would love to have this level of focus but it is just so difficult to pull people away for this much time. Could a smaller group suffice? Maybe one designer, dev, PM, etc. Instead of a large group? Let me know what you recommend for us and thanks again for doing this :)

    -Chris Doner

    1 point
    • Jake Knapp, 6 years ago

      Hey Chris! A few thoughts:

      1. If you're in the middle of launching, a smaller sprint of 3ish people could be quite useful to make sure everything's on track. And with fewer people and an already-established map and target, you might be able to do it just 3-4 days.

      2. You can always have execs/directors/whoever just make cameo appearances, provided the core team is there for the whole sprint.

      3. A larger sprint (by which I mean 5-7 people) usually makes the most sense early in a project, before things are well-defined. Often there's a feeling of "we need to figure out a lot of stuff, how should we do it?" in the beginning. At that time, 5 days may actually seem super fast to the team.

      Let me know if that helps!

      1 point
  • Abhisek Mishra, almost 6 years ago

    Hi Jake! Sorry for being late but this is the time when internet is fast enough in my dorm. I am a student from India studying physics but interested in pursuing UX design as a career. How should I proceed? My college doesn't have any student app developers, so is it fine if I just create app concepts & prototypes? Thanx :) - Abhisek

    0 points
  • Charles Warren, almost 6 years ago

    Am I too late to ask you something? In the book you omit a formal brainstorm step, which, up until now, has been an article of faith in sprint-style design processes. What is your beef with brainstorming? Haven't some of the best product ideas been borne of a brainstorm?

    0 points
    • Jake Knapp, almost 6 years ago

      Hello Charles! :)

      Here are my thoughts on brainstorming. That might answer most of your question, but for the other part, let me turn it around. Which great product ideas came from group brainstorms? I don't know of any (which doesn't mean there aren't any...)

      0 points
  • Nate vNate v, almost 6 years ago

    Hey Jake,

    Is a design sprint only effective with other designers, or how would one adopt the process while rolling solo?

    Thanks for taking time to do this.

    • Nate
    0 points
    • Jake Knapp, almost 6 years ago

      Check out this awesome post about a 1 person design sprint. So it's totally doable on your own, but it's harder (at least it would be for me) because there's no peer pressure to keep you going.

      Sprints could totally be effective just with other designers—we've done this while working on gv.com—but just be sure you're involving anyone who will actually be working on/building the site (when we did it, Braden and John and Daniel were actually writing the code as well, so we actually were the whole team even though we were all designers)

      0 points
  • Henry MoranHenry Moran, almost 6 years ago

    Hey Jake

    What do you think of Jake from State Farm?

    0 points
  • Pat DryburghPat Dryburgh, almost 6 years ago (edited almost 6 years ago )

    Hey Jake,

    Thanks so much for doing this! Your new Sprint book is on my to-read list, however I have read Design Sprint by by Richard Banfield, C. Todd Lombardo, and Trace Wax. My company has now run three design sprints—one for an internal product and two for clients—and have found them to be immensely valuable.

    I have a few questions I've been chomping at the bit to ask, so here goes:

    1. Have you had any experience running design sprints remotely? What advice would you give someone considering this approach?
    2. As our primary focus is on client work, we're struggling at the moment with our proposal process. Traditionally, we spent about a week creating a rough estimate based on a list of project milestones, with the understanding that more time may be necessary as we uncover new information and learn what is and isn't working. Since we've introduced the design sprint to our process, what we've tried is only committing to that 5-day sprint to start, and then use the next week to create a proposal based on the outcome of the sprint. However, this leaves a great deal of uncertainty with regards to our schedule. What would you recommend as an ideal process for those of us doing client work?
    3. When the prototype you've spent a week designing is found to be invalid, what is the next step and how do you communicate that to the product owner who is looking for results asap?
    4. How do you explain to developers what their role in a design sprint is? How do you sell developers on the value of not only the design sprint, but of their direct participation in the sprint?

    Thanks in advance for taking the time to do this, Jake! Next time you're in Vancouver, BC, I owe you a coffee :)


    0 points
    • Jake Knapp, almost 6 years ago (edited almost 6 years ago )
      1. Running sprints remotely is tough, so if you come up with a great method, please share it. :) The best bet is to only involve remote participants for "ask the experts". If you're going to have remote participants as core team members, you might try Mural, which I've heard good things about. Also try having a multi-person video call where one web cam is just trained on the whiteboards in the main sprint room.

      2. I'll be honest, I don't have a great answer. I've never worked at an agency before, so it's not an area of expertise. You might find this article interesting though.

      3. That's a tough situation. You'll find it easiest if you can continually remind the team and Decider before the sprint and during the sprint that the point is to learn, not to spec out the solution—and that the sprint might end in failure, and that will be a really valuable learning. When that framing is there, the disappointment won't disappear, but it'll be easier to manage.

      4. Give em a copy of our book! :) Seriously though, some arguments that engineers often appreciate are:

      • It's an efficient way to define a solution
      • It's a way for them to be involved in the design and product definition
      • You won't be at each others' throats later on in the product development cycle :)
      1. And cool, I love Vancouver!! (I'm from Orcas Island in Washington State)
      0 points
  • Jonathan CourtneyJonathan Courtney, almost 6 years ago

    Hey Jake!

    I might be a bit late as i'm on Europe time but let's see! Ok, let me get this out of the way: The book is amazing! My agency has started kicking all our recent projects off with a 1-week sprint (Lufthansa is the most recent) which has really helped align clients and make projects more tangible!

    Ok, all my questions are going to be design agency related...:

    1. Have you heard or experienced any examples of design agencies using Sprints with their clients? If so could you give some examples?

    2. From my experience, the 1-Week Sprint is an easy sell as it's low commitment and high return, but keeping the momentum up and blocking the days is impossible for every client; if you were running an agency, how would you deal with sprints for clients?

    3. When will you be in Berlin next?!

    Cheers, Jonathan

    0 points
    • Jake Knapp, almost 6 years ago

      Thanks Jonathan, so glad you like the book!

      1&2. I'll wrap the agency answer into one, because while many agencies (like Dynamo, Wieden+Kennedy, and frog design) have used sprints, I am not an expert on agencies. So instead I'll share this post about sprints at design agencies written by my colleague Daniel Burka.

      1. I hope it's in the next few months! I've only been to Berlin for a couple of days, and I loved it and can't wait to return. Sprint is being published in German, so I'm sure I'll get there for that if not before. :)
      1 point
  • xxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxx, 6 years ago (edited 6 years ago )

    Hi Jake, thanks for being here.

    • The ‘Sprint’ book has proved super useful to my team so far, what would you say are the most critical parts of the 5-day process; where there is the most potential for things to derail?

    • The 4th day of the 5 day sprint process is designated for building out a prototype. How important is the fidelity of that prototype to getting successful feedback? Should we be prioritising speed of implementation or quality of fidelity? (i.e. Wireframes vs a perfectly polished interactive prototype).

    • What is one interesting/useful nugget of information about the design process inside Google Ventures?

    • How design driven is GV? How much is the organisation and decisions driven by design?

    • How tall are you?


    0 points
    • Jake Knapp, 6 years ago

      Hey Tim! Alright, let me give these a shot...

      • Monday is a tricky day, because a) it can feel uncomfortable to spend a day NOT solving the problem yet, and b) it can feel uncomfortable to make fast decisions instead of perfect decisions. If you're working on a big challenge, sometimes the team wants to get everything perfect, and in a sprint, the whole idea is you move uncomfortably fast so you can learn. As a facilitator, you've got to remind the team that decisions don't have to be perfect yet, since the goal of the sprint is to learn.

      • It's important that the prototype looks realistic, but it doesn't have to be perfectly polished or truly interactive. Don't show people wireframes, because they'll know it isn't real. But you can take your visual design, your interaction design, etc, to just 90%. That's close enough that customers will react instead of giving feedback.

      • One potentially useful thing: We run sprints about 2x a month, and on the other weeks, we batch up all our meetings on 2 days so we have about 3 days of dedicated work time (for design work, writing, whatever). Meeting days are wall-to-wall meetings, work days are wall-to-wall work. It's a lot more efficient and fun, I think.

      • 6 foot 7 and a half. :)

      0 points
  • Rob Hunter, 6 years ago

    Hey Jake, thanks for doing this.

    I was curious how you balance design sprints with "scrum" or development sprints.

    I've always tried to include designers into product development teams, and the way I've broken it down is based on how clear the potential solution is. Do you have a pretty good idea what the potential solution(s) is? Great, then work with the product dev team during a sprint to design / test / build. If it's not super clear what the solution is, then do a design sprint before it's ready for the backlog.


    0 points
    • Jake Knapp, 6 years ago

      You approach sounds excellent—so excellent, in fact, I think I might steal it and tell people to do that who ask in the future! :)

      The strength of agile/scrum is that they make engineering really efficient at building stuff. The weakness of those methods is that they make engineering really efficient at building stuff. :) Sometimes that means teams are champing at the bit to build something before they know what to build, and without a clear path to designing it. Sprints are a great way to get that clarity, so your distinction makes a ton of sense.

      1 point
  • Max LindMax Lind, 6 years ago

    Hey Jake, thanks for joining us!

    1. What were your general thoughts on the literal book making process? Any complicated or convoluted steps you didn't see coming?
    2. Seems like the Sprint process could be a companies sole focus, do you ever see or recommend a team conducting a Sprint and then passing off the results to another party to execute the idea?
    3. The book has a nice batch of candid FAQs in the back, "Do sprints work at _____". Are there any industries in particular or types of businesses you've seen take on the Sprint process that surprised you?
    4. The GV portfolio is very broad, what's your favorite type of project to work on?
    5. What's the most interesting thing on the internet as of late that you keep coming back to? (for any number of reasons, but more so: design inspiration, work/life balance, etc)
    0 points
    • Jake Knapp, 6 years ago

      Hey Max, thanks for having me!

      1. Writing the book was fun. I think we were all surprised by how much better we understood sprints after writing the book than before. Also, it is really surprising how many rounds of editing, copyediting, and review there are. It's good, because people kept catching mistakes!

      2. I don't know... It's so important for the real team to be involved in sprint, so they deeply understand and agree with what they're building afterward.

      3. Honestly in the beginning I only thought of it working for consumer software, because that's what I knew well, and I knew we could solve those problems and build those prototypes fast. So everything else that's happened—medical products, hardware, services, enterprise products, offices, etc. has been a surprise. Two stories that really delighted me were a sprint used to design a card game and a sprint used by high school English students studying Hamlet.

      4. Life science/health care. It's obviously important, and it's also exceptionally challenging because there's so much knowledge to boot up. That's really fun.

      5. Wait But Why!

      0 points
  • Ricky SynnotRicky Synnot, 6 years ago

    Hey Jake! Thanks for putting yourself forward for an AMA!

    1. Congrats on the new book, I'm waiting for it to arrive. How do you hope it will help in-house design teams grow? How can new, young design teams best utilise your book?

    2. Being a dad is tough work (I have a newborn). How do you manage a stellar career, global speaking / appearances with family life? Do you feel you get enough family time?

    3. So you've worked at a ton of leading companies. Hat tip. What are your career aspirations from here? Where do you want to be in 5-10 years work wise?

    Cheers :)

    0 points
    • Jake Knapp, almost 6 years ago

      Hey Ricky! I just wrote you the longest reply and my browser crashed. So here's the pithy-ish version:

      1. Thanks man! I think it's useful for a young design team to have a recipe for working with the rest of the company—with non-designers. I also think the techniques for critique, sketching, mapping, interviewing can be helpful for young designers.

      2. Congratulations! I wouldn't describe anything I do as stellar. But I do feel like I get really good time with my kids. Sprints and batching my meetings helps—I can feel satisfied after a full day, I can put work down more easily and be attentive to my kids if I know I focused on the right stuff and made progress. Saying no is important too, but that's really difficult... kind of a lifelong struggle, I think.

      3. Honestly I've only ever thought in about a 1-2 year time frame, and for me, that's the way to go. It might bite me of course! But it also has helped me avoid longer term goals that might be brittle and might (I'm afraid) not be truly satisfying when I finally get there. Instead I try to regularly evaluate what's going on right now, how the environment and opportunities have changed, and figure out what work I should make for myself.

      0 points