How (and why) to run Growth sprints

Tim Parsons
April 27, 2023

Growth sprints have become a key part of the way we work at Move78. For better or worse our projects tend to be complex and multifaceted. Planning activity in sprints helps us to stay focused on the highest value initiatives, while fostering a sense of collaboration and transparency among team members. They are also a useful platform for experimentation, supporting the culture of continuous learning and improvement that we believe is key to success.

Evangelism aside however, we also want to warn you about some of the potential pitfalls. Without proper planning and discipline, chaos and burnout await.

In this post, we'll explore some of the benefits and challenges of working in growth sprints, and provide practical tips for success, based on our own (hard won) experience.

First of all - what is a growth sprint?

A growth sprint is a focused period of time (typically two weeks) where a team works towards achieving specific goals linked to a particular metric, such as boosting revenue or user engagement.

Sprints are constructed around rituals, the key ones being:

  • Planning (what are we going to do?)
  • Review (what did we actually do?)
  • Retrospective (what went well, and what could have gone better?)

Tasks are tracked in a backlog, where they are sized up and prioritised during planning. Breakout teams will set up daily standups, while a task board is often used to track collective progress.

So why would you want to do this?

Strategy is mostly prioritisation

Businesses (and especially startups) are resource constrained. Deciding where to allocate their people, time, and capital requires making tough calls about which initiatives to pursue and which to deprioritise. These decisions can ultimately be the difference between success and failure (so no pressure…).

Sprint planning forces teams to engage in this process on a regular basis, but that’s still only half the battle. Prioritising effectively is still a massive challenge. First off, it’s important to ensure you have the right inputs in place:

1. Start with the goal

Every sprint should have an objective attached to it; one that stacks up to the overall business strategy. Examples:

  • Improve customer retention by implementing a loyalty program that rewards users for their continued use of the product
  • Increase revenue by optimising the checkout process and reducing cart abandonment rates
  • Improve search engine rankings by conducting keyword research and optimising the website's content and metadata for relevant keywords.
  • Increase product adoption by creating tutorials and guides that demonstrate the product's features and benefits.
  • Increase the number of referrals by implementing a referral program that incentivises current customers to refer new users to the product.

Your choice should reflect the most pressing needs of the business at that time. Use that goal to inform and rank your tasks, prioritising the most impactful items. It’s also important to formulate it as a SMART goal.

2. Review your roadmap

Even if it’s out of date, it is useful to track what’s changed. (roadmaps are best treated as a statement of intent, rather than concrete plans).

3. Groom your backlog

Pressing tasks will probably already be hovering somewhere near the top. Try to build these out ahead of planning, mapping out the key phases, projected impact, and resources required to complete. This will make it easier to understand the value vs effort involved, and help you plan more effectively.

4. Business intelligence

Make sure any business intelligence you rely on is up to date and accurate (meaning accurate enough to make informed decisions, not infallible).

5. Establish a framework for ranking tasks

Things can get very subjective without a pre-agreed framework in place, which is one of the most common causes of conflict. There are a bunch of useful prioritisation methods out there. We tend to use a time/ value matrix for simpler decisions, and RICE when that hits its natural limit.

Powering the Laboratory

Growth sprints are a great platform to test and iterate ideas quickly. A/B tests typically run over a period of 2 weeks (give or take), and by running these tests in sprint cycles, teams can get real-time feedback on what's working and use that information to inform planning. The structure itself encourages discipline and accountability.

Similarly, growth sprints can focus on spinning up an MVP to test a hypothesis. For example, a product-led initiative might focus on upgrading the onboarding experience, spinning up a new prototype and putting it into testing. Depending on the results, the team may choose to prepare the changes for deployment during the next sprint, or iterate the prototype further. A fixed time period forces teams to be disciplined and focused, which again encourages teams to be efficient with their time and effort, not over-investing in unvalidated solutions.

Underpinning all of this is the idea of a strong hypothesis, which has four key elements:

1. What you believe (making X change will achieve this result)

2. How you will validate it (what experiment you will run)

3. What you will measure (what are the success/ failure conditions)

4. What you will do in either case…

The often overlooked fourth element is vital for informing sprint cycles, and links strongly with the SMART goal structure mentioned above. By building hypotheses that aligns with the sprint goal, teams can ensure that their experiments are focused and effective.

Maintaining Velocity

We’ve all been part of projects that got stuck in the mud; the prototype that bounced between testing cycles for months, that bit of analysis that never quite made it to the top of the to-do list, the Christmas campaign that launched in February...

Growth sprints are useful for avoiding and remedying these kinds of situations:


Without establishing accountability, shared tasks can easily get stuck in limbo. During sprint planning, tasks should be assigned to individuals. There may be dependencies on other team members, but the owner is responsible for proactively managing these. Standups provide a forum for highlighting any unmet dependencies, and for finding a resolution.


Some tasks can get bogged down due to their sheer enormity. The reality is that many projects will not fit neatly into one or two sprints, which is why milestones are so important. This is the process of setting meaningful goals along the way to completion. The key to effective milestoning is specificity, measurability, and achievability. Each milestone should represent a significant and quantifiable step towards completing the task, accompanied by a deadline to ensure that steady progress is being made towards the larger goal.

Relative importance

If a task is regularly failing to be addressed, that may be a sign it’s not actually that important. Revisit the business case to understand why it exists in the first place, and deprioritise it if no longer relevant. (Don’t be afraid to be brutal!)

Pulling in the same direction

If you’re unfamiliar with the kind of conflicts that can arise around competing inter-departmental priorities, I truly envy you…

Here’s a typical scenario:

The Problem

  • Marketing are desperate to fix an onboarding issue that’s been negatively affecting their conversion rates
  • Sales want to focus on designing a new feature that prospective customers have been requesting
  • Engineering want to deal with the technical debt they’ve accrued developing the most recent feature to an aggressive deadline

Everyone is convinced that their priority should be everyone else’s. Tensions rise as the debate continues, and more likely than not everyone ends up feeling like their point of view is not being fully understood or valued.

The Resolution

Sprint planning can either be the arena for, or the antidote to these kinds of conflicts. This is why establishing an objective goal up front is vitally important. It forces the teams to come together and identify what is most important for the company as a whole, and what will have the most significant impact on achieving the desired outcomes.

Once some agreement is reached around objective realities, it’s easier to find agreement on what comes next. Whoever is leading the session should encourage everyone to share their perspectives and actively listen to each other.

Taking a step back, marketing may be able to live with the conversion rate issue, so long as it’s understood and acknowledged (anxiety can drive a lot of these conflicts). Sales can probably accept that the new feature won’t be particularly effective if the product’s stability is compromised, or some pressing usability issue remains unsolved. Engineering teams can probably accept a degree of inefficiency in the face of pressing commercial realities.

Good sprint planning should be an objective platform for establishing shared goals. If you’re still struggling to get everyone aligned, it may be a good time to revisit your roadmap.

The Process

Lastly it’s important to get the whole team bought into the process, including the upper echelons of senior management. Many C-cuite residents don’t tend to be too involved with the day-to-day operations, but expect their occasional edicts to be prioritised when made. These situations can be difficult to handle. My two pieces of advice would be to stay flexible (that is the point of sprints after all), and to get them involved early. You don’t want to end up explaining how sprints work as a point of opposition to whatever they want to do.

From Burnout to Breakthrough

Done right, growth sprints can energise your team. We’ve discussed the importance of shared goals and clear responsibilities, however the retrospective view is also vital to maintaining a healthy team dynamic.

Sprint retrospectives allow teams to reflect on what went well, and identify areas for improvement. Team members should be encouraged to share their honest feedback on the sprint, without fear of reprisals. A structured framework, such as the "What Went Well/What Didn't Go Well" (WWW/WDGW) approach can be helpful here, as it ensures everyone can express themselves, rather than a handful of more forthright individuals dominating proceedings.

By categorising feedback in this way, it's easier to identify patterns. This links into the idea of Kaizen; the Japanese term for continuous improvement. Encourage team members to think about the small, incremental changes that could improve outcomes, then try to hone in on one of them that the whole team can focus on during the next sprint. Getting into a good routine around this can improve outcomes dramatically over time.

Finally, it's essential to celebrate achievements and acknowledge team members who went above and beyond during the sprint to maintain motivation and engagement. Celebrating achievements can take many forms, such as showcasing work during team meetings or adopting an MVP award for each sprint. Whatever you go with, the key is to show team members that their efforts are appreciated and valued.

In conclusion

Growth sprints can be a highly effective approach for small teams looking to prioritise their work efficiently, while generating actionable insights. However, as you may have gleaned from the above, running sprints effectively requires a lot of planning, discipline, and collaboration.

If your team is struggling with the process or bogged down in conflict, it may be worth considering alternative approaches such as Kanban. Ultimately, the key is to find an approach that works best for your team and business goals.

Experiment with different approaches, and be open to adjusting or adapting as needed.

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