Arguably the biggest challenge of product management is the tension between building something valuable and wonderfully designed, at speed. The temptation to make assumptions about the value being built or the usability are undeniable as teams hustle to bring something to market. But this way of thinking often costs more time in the long run as the product discovery happens after the very long and expensive process of building something and shipping it to production. But if “speed to truth” is the metric that matters, then how can this be accomplished quickly?
In 1683, Yuriy Kulchytsky became a hero to Vienna in their battle against the Turks. He had spent time in Arab countries and spoke many languages which made him the perfect spy to carry out a daring mission. He had to disguise himself as a Turk, and travel across enemy lines to negotiate a deal that would invigorate Vienna’s besieged troops and ultimately lead them to succeed. For his efforts, he was awarded a financial prize and he used that money to buy, ironically, Turkish coffee. Although there is some debate, he’s widely considered to be the first person to open a coffee house in Europe.
Over 300 years later, a coffee fanatic named James Freeman would start a coffee business in Northern Californian and in honor of Kulchytsky, he used the same name for his business: Blue Bottle Coffee. James started small but was passionate and determined to bring his craft of bean roasting to a broad audience. Eventually he opened a café but had a vision of being able to deliver coffee as a way to reach more people. In 2012, he secured a major investment from Google Ventures and they set out to build an online experience for coffee buyers.
He wanted to build a website that would be unique, somehow capture the experience of being in his café but the clock was ticking. The question was, how could they build something fast but still create something unique? Google Ventures introduced him to a process called a design sprint. The design sprint is a 5 day process that combines collaboration and intense focus to ideate and validate a solution to a complex problem. As the creators note:
“Working together in a sprint, you can 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, you’ll get clear data from a realistic prototype. The sprint gives you a superpower: You can fast-forward into the future to see your finished product and customer reactions, before making any expensive commitments.
The best product teams fail ideas quickly and validate the most innovative prototypes so that the best combination of speed and precision is achieved. Much more to write about design sprints and what has worked (and not worked) in my experience with them but this is an invaluable tool I’m looking forward to using more next year.
Happy New Year!