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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Lerner

Growth Sprints vs. Product Sprints

Updated: Mar 28, 2023

After years of mentoring 5-10 companies a week, one thing still boggles my mind every time: I cannot fathom why companies don’t run an agile process for growth.

If you’ve been following me long enough, you know I’m all about finding the “big growth levers.” That’s because, if you study any great startup, you’ll see that 90% of their growth came from 10% of the stuff they tried. That means it’s a search, a process of discovery. So how do you find those big levers faster?

In a search, your chance of success depends, above all, on the pace and quality of your learning.

That's why product teams run agile sprints with carefully groomed backlogs, stories, acceptance criteria, etc. They’re fast, deliberate and reflective — work is prioritised meticulously.

But marketing? It just feels like trial-and-error: Should we rebrand? Try Facebook ads? Cold outreach? Tik Tok? Influencers? Anyone know a good SEO agency?

Given the entire success of your company will come down to customer acquisition, can we do better than trial-and-error? So what’s the right process?

Goals of the growth sprint process

  1. Prioritise the most impactful work

  2. Learn what works, including our best messages and channels, and isolating our ideal target customers

  3. Accelerate the pace and quality of learning across the company

How to run growth sprints (in 5 steps)

In our Coaching Programme, we teach companies to run growth sprints. It’s a simple, five-step mix of agile + the scientific method:

  1. Prioritise the most impactful work: Don’t spend too long building complicated I.C.E. frameworks. Just ask yourself “if this works, how big could it be?”

  2. Start with a well-formed hypothesis: “We believe ____. Therefore, we predict that if we do ____, then ____ metric will move from ____ to ____ in ____ amount of time. If we are right, then going forward we will do ____.” Take 10 minutes up-front to clarify your thinking with your team.

  3. Move quickly: We normally have companies run 1-2 week sprints so they learn quickly. If an idea takes more than 2 weeks to test, then identify the riskiest assumptions, and find a way to isolate and test only those pieces of the idea. (Gagan Biyani explains that process here)

  4. Don’t miss the lesson: Most marketing experiments will fail. (If not, try bolder stuff). Win or lose, always take time to learn from the outcome and document your learnings! Schedule 30 minutes to understand what happened. (Here’s my short video on how to “debug” a failed growth experiment).

  5. Repeat: Once you’ve documented the learning, use that new information to update your mental model and decide what to do next.

Two final thoughts

  1. Unlike product sprints, most growth experiments fail, and your primary outcome is learning, so always take the time to review the results and debrief with the team.

  2. This process is easy to understand but hard to master. Turning ideas into hypotheses takes a bit of mental gymnastics, as do designing minimum viable tests, and debugging a failed experiments. If you have any scientists or engineers on your team, ask them to help.

The process is easy to understand but hard to master. Turning ideas into hypotheses takes a bit of mental gymnastics, as does designing a minimum viable test, and debugging a failed experiment.

If you want to work directly with us to master this process, find your big growth levers, and pull them, our next cohort starts in May. If you have other questions about the programme, just reply to this email.

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