Review: Design Sprint Bootcamp w/ AJ & Smart + Jake Knapp

In June I had the pleasure of attending a 2-day bootcamp run by AJ & Smart with Jake Knapp on the 'Design Sprint' process described in Jake's book Sprint. It was the kind of training that deserves a review, so I thought I would invest some time in sharing my experience in Berlin.

I'll start off with a high-level overview and then go into deeper detail for each of the two days for those who want to learn more. This is not a sponsored post, just something I wanted to do to say 'thank you' and reflect upon what I learned.

view from the rooftop terrace

Overview

High-quality training with high-quality people and great food. Fun environment and lovely atmosphere. Learned a lot and received materials and resources of immense value. They even gave us free access to their online Design Sprint Masterclass

Critique

Participants took place in a design sprint but they didn't actually practice facilitating any of the sessions. This was a bit of a disappointment, but I also understand how it would have been impossible to have each participant practice facilitation within a 2-day bootcamp. Still, there should have been some practice facilitating. As the Feynman technique has shown, it's a highly effective way to learn.

Conclusion

Was the 3,000 EUR investment worth it? You bet ya. Several times over. (If you check out the Product Breakfast Club podcast they'll give promo discounts for the events!)

What are you waiting for? Buy Sprint and sign up to get notified about the next bootcamp.

Deep Dive Review

The following is a more detailed review of my time in Berlin. If you're thinking of taking the plunge and buying a ticket to an upcoming bootcamp, this will help you gauage whether its a good fit for you.

Day I

Arrival

I arrived to a tall building on the edge of a river and was greeted by a lovely member of the AJ & Smart team along with a few other bootcampers. As soon as we walked out of the elevator there was a sense of energy pouring out of the room beyond.

lovely aj and smart staff with a warm welcome

All the AJ & Smart staff were dressed in black t-shirts with yellow lanyards and black felt slippers, beaming with smiles and welcoming each of us to the room with genuine conversation. As someone who lives in rural Norfolk, this was an incredibly refreshing change of scene for me.

I wish every event I attended had this kind of vibe. I'd go to a lot more events if they did. We also got free slippers which was cool.

Tea & Coffee

After having a great conversation with a guy named Danny about the market for design sprints (which was something I came here to learn and already acquired knowledge upon in the first 15 minutes), I walked over to the area with tea, coffee and most importantly FOOD. This place was stacked.

Fresh nuts, fruit, chocolate, smoothies, juice, green tea, ginger tea, pourover coffee, yogurt—you name it. It was beautiful. I even stopped to take a photo to send to my wife to show how well they were taking care of us.

Getting Started

Jonathan Courtney kicked us off with a warm welcome to the bootcamp, introducing us to Jake Knapp and the table facilitators. Jonathan has a great energy about him and participant's excitement was palpable throughout the room. He is dedicated to providing the highest amount of value he can possibly afford in every way he can.

jonathan and jake intro

Jonathan has invested a lot into building the AJ & Smart brand over the past couple of years to back their investment in design sprints and you can feel his passion and courage when he speaks.

Structure & Content

We performed each of the methods within the design sprint in little modules that were introduced by Jonathan and Jake and then executed by the table facilitator. Each of the bootcamp participants acted as design sprint participants and got to experience the first two days of the sprint for a made-up transportation app.

AJ & Smart has evolved the design sprint methods described in Jake's book in several key ways:

  • It's 4 days long, not 5
  • Stakeholders only need to be present for two days
  • Key methods are revised and modified to suit larger corporate clients and the agency model

Seeing how Jonathan and his team has evolved the sprint methods over time was fascinating as they've run more sprints than anyone else in the world, probably more than even Jake at this stage...

Q&A + World Cup Wrap-Up

world cup wrap up after the first day We wrapped up the day with some Q&A and drinks up on the balcony. The venue has a lovely view of Berlin.

Some of us couched in front of a big screen in a private room on the rooftop to watch Germany lose to South Korea. That was quite a spectacle!

After the game, I headed out with a couple of guys from Big Motive and a few other workshop particpants to grab burgers at the local Burgermeister which was definitely a solid spot.

burgers with the Big Motive guys and friends

We took an early night to rest up and get ready for the second and final day.

Day II

The second day was very much like the first, with the exception that Jake led the introduction of the methods and provided some inside stories about how the design sprint evolved out of his experiences designing products at Microsoft and Google.

sticky notes idea generation

We continued to execute each of the methods in the 'AJ & Smart Style' Design Sprint for our transportation app. People got pretty into it and we were able to see each of the sticking points in the process (the map, choosing designs to test, etc.).

our team won the thing

I won't go play-by-play into each of the methods as I think its best to do that within the bootcamp setting, but I will share my concluding high-level reflections below.

Reflections

I was fascinated to learn that both Microsoft and Google fell prey to the long-winded product development process for so many years. It sounds like some teams there still do.

Secret Sauce

Understanding the problem space from which design sprints arose gave it much more context and perspective. When you examine the individual methods more specifically, you realize how powerful they are. Sure, they are just a bunch of design thinking methods put together in a repeatable recipe, but therein lies the beauty.

It's a repeatable process for starting any new project—software or otherwise. I think the success of the design sprint is largely due to the fact that teams clear their calendars, and focus collectively on one problem while shutting out distractions (phones, computers) and narrowing in on a end of the week test with customers.

Those kind of pressures are bound to produce good results, even if the methods aren't perfect. When you time box something, it forces people into a different mode of thinking. When you have an indefinite timeframe to work to, teams tend to flounder.

For people who are critical about design sprints, I think they all concede that these factors are incredibly powerful and rare within modern organizations, especially large ones. People don't focus anymore! People don't work together in a concentrated, cross-disciplinary manner with a shared objective in mind.

There's lots of shearing back and forth with organizational and political pressure.

Design sprints are a breath of fresh air for people looking for a better way to build products that make a difference.

The Dart Analogy

Jonathan introduced his favorite analogy he uses to describe design sprints. He compared a design sprint to throwing a dart at a dartboard in the dark. You throw the dart (sprint) and then turn on the lights (test).

When you turn on the lights you see how far away you were to the dart board and then have a chance to re-adjust.

Two-Sprints

From a market perpsective, I found it fascinating that AJ & Smart tries to only sell two sprints together, rather than one sprint in isolation. Following the dart analogy, it's because you can't deliver value if you're not able to throw the dart twice. The sprint fast and learn shit method is great at getting something out the door quickly and testing with customers. But it's almost always bound to be wrong in the beginning.

You need a second sprint to apply what you've learned and validate a new hypothesis before investing engineering resources in bringing the product to market.

This 'pitfall' is actually what makes sprints so incredibly valuable. You learn from your biggest mistakes and riskiest assumptions before investing engineering resources. Engineering is what takes the most time and money.

A designer can fake a product and put it in front of a customer in four days. An engineer will take several months to produce a high-quality user experience in code that uses real data to form the same experience.

The cost of learning late in a project is incredibly high.

Takeaways

I'll be looking to guide new clients through two consecutive design sprints to kick off every new product. It is such a well-tested and proven process for starting any new project that it doesn't make sense to do anything else.

I've run design sprints before and seen them achieve great results. I now have the market insights and insider understanding about how to sell and execute world-class sprints.

Was the 3,000 EUR investment worth it? You bet ya. Several times over.

party at the end

What are you waiting for? Buy Sprint and sign up for the bootcamp.