How to solve any problem fast

Google Ventures design partner Jake Knapp explains how to break problems into manageable chunks so you can power through to a solution

Jake Knapp, design partner at Google Ventures

Jake Knapp, design partner at Google Ventures. (Graham Hancock/Simon and Schuster)

Jake Knapp is design partner at Google Ventures and the co-author of Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days. He explains how his team breaks down complex design problems so they can be tackled quickly:

“The solutions to big problems are out there, but it can be hard to know which steps to take in solving them. The ‘sprint’ process we’ve developed eliminates the question of how to proceed and lets you just focus on solving the problem itself. Rather than facing a big, amorphous cloud of a challenge, the sprint makes it very concrete, by focusing on a single problem. In five days, you’ll have a solution to that problem. It may not be the right solution, but you’ll have made progress, which is a huge deal.”

Choose your mark

“On the first day, we share information, map out the whole problem and pick a specific target. We find if we try to solve a big problem at once, we’re very unlikely to succeed.

Hash out several ideas

“On the second day, we consider multiple solutions to the problem at the same time. Instead of group brainstorming, where everybody shouts out ideas, each individual involved sketches out his or her own competing solution in detail.

Pick the top prospects

“On the third day, we choose the one to three strongest solutions. Instead of debating which idea is best, we use a structured process to quickly get everyone’s input and then have one decision-maker make an informed, unilateral call.

Build something

“On the fourth day, we make a prototype of the finished solution. It’s easy to mock up a website or software in a day. For hardware, modify something that already exists; for a service, act things out.

Let people try it

“On the last day, we bring customers in, show them the product and interview them about it. To see real people reacting is very powerful.”