Working life, as we used to know it, has been reworked by Covid-19. Whether it is for the good or bad, the post-Covid world means remote work is here to stay. And that means altering the way we do business and run things.
As an advocate and facilitator of design sprints, I’m fairly sure that remote sprints will be an alternative, if not the norm, for years to come. In my opinion, face-to-face workshops will always give more value because you get more from real-life social interaction. It’s easier to facilitate, collaborate, and get everyone on the same vibe when we’re all in the same room.
But running remote design sprints can still help you achieve your goals. You just have to make adjustments, especially with more and more people opting to work from home permanently. And there’s more prep work to be done. If you’re not familiar with design sprints, read my previous articles on what a design sprint is and tips for first-timers.
Before the remote design sprint
1. Find the right tools
You can use the tools that your team is already comfortable using or find a better one. Try to use as few tools as possible because it saves time when people have fewer things to switch to as you’re discussing. You’ll need:
- Conferencing and messaging: Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Team, or Slack. We use Zoom because it’s mainstream and gives us most of what we need, while Slack is great for chatting.
- Virtual whiteboard: Mural, Miro, Google Jamboard, or Invision Freehand. We use Mural, and it’s been good at discussions and voting.
- Prototyping tool: Figma, Invision, Webflow, XD. We use Figma and Invision.
- User testing and interviews: Whereby, Google Meet, User Testing or Zoom. It all depends on how you conduct the test and your prototype format.
- Documentation and management: Confluence, Trello, Basecamp, Asana for tasks and follow-ups. We are on Confluence because we have the Atlassian suite running.
2. Find a good design sprint template
You can create your own template for the sessions, or you can use pre-made ones. These templates have clear instructions for each activity, group, and individual workspaces. Just edit according to what you need and how you run your activities.
3. Trim your schedule
Keep the agenda as simple as possible for your participants. You can start with a condensed sprint or a “lite” remote sprint if you’re not confident running it for the first time. And on prototyping day, you can have a small group to build it, while the rest carries on with other work, updating them of the progress.
Schedule breaks, even if it’s just for 5 minutes. It gets tiring when you’re sitting on a chair and staring at a screen for hours straight. The 5-minute break will allow for people to get up and do some light stretching.
Lastly, do send out the agenda at least one week before the remote sprint. Tell them exactly what to expect, what to do, and what to prepare. This gives them an opportunity to familiarise themselves with the sprint and ask questions beforehand.
4. Do more beforehand
Prepare more data, research, questions, and summary than you would in a normal sprint. Have everything documented and share it around for people to read. It’s easier if people are as clued up as possible on day 1. It saves the hassle of explaining and going back and forth between people on group calls.
5. Prepare for technical errors
You’ll probably run into IT problems during the sprint, such as video, audio, screen sharing and internet issues. Have a set of instructions ready, or someone with IT expertise in the session to help. You may also hand out the set of instructions to participants, with a list of solutions for common problems, so they can troubleshoot themselves if they encounter such problems.
6. Run a practice session
If possible, try running a practice session for your participants, especially for those who has never done a design sprint or done it remotely. This is doable if everyone is in the same company, and the group is small. Give everyone access to the tools you will be using, make sure they create an account, and let them try it out in a practice session where you will be guiding.
Furthermore, get people to stress test their internet bandwidth before the sprint. A lot of drop-out issues can be down to limited bandwidth or poor connection. There’s nothing more distracting than having people disconnected every so often on a group call.
7. Have marker and paper ready
You may be doing some sketching or writing for some activities. At the very least, remind people to have a marker and paper ready before you start each day. You don’t want to spend time waiting for people scrambling to find stationeries to start the activity.
During the remote design sprint
8. Video on, mute as needed
Most design sprint activities are group work, so you want people to turn on their cameras throughout. It just fosters better collaboration, making sure no one is left behind. You can spot if someone is disinterested, confused, or needs a break.
Microphones should be muted as needed, when taking turns expressing ideas, voting and individual activities. Otherwise, leave it on, so people can discuss. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, for people who simply don’t have a quiet environment. You need to be flexible too.
9. Use 2 screens, if possible
Using two monitors makes following the sessions much easier. One for the activity and the other for the video conference call and chatting. If not possible, you can divide your screens or learn the shortcut to switch between apps, opening only what’s needed and closing other applications. Oh, and obviously, no phones allowed unless it is urgent.
10. Let people sketch on paper
Most people are uncomfortable drawing with a mouse. You wouldn’t get the best results either. Get people to sketch on paper, which is why a paper and marker is handy to have. They can take a picture and upload it or send it to someone who can upload their artwork.
11. Overcommunicate everything
We tend to lose focus more easily when on video calls, unlike face-to-face interactions. After all, the eyes do get tired staring at the screen for a whole day. It’s perfectly okay to re-iterate the agenda, repeat points, and ask around the room if everyone understands something or needs a 2-minute break. Make it relaxing and comfortable for them, so you can easily get the creative juices flowing.
12. Go easy on user testing
User testing can be trickier, because you don’t know how comfortable the users are with the remote process, or how proficient they are with gadgets and apps. If you’re not confident doing it for the first time, you can spread it out over a few sessions or days.
Try to have backup user testers in case the ones scheduled couldn’t turn up or have issues with their laptop or tablets. Have people on standby who can help troubleshoot IT issues when they occur.
Throw in extra incentives for them. In real life, you can provide snacks, coffee, and drinks. In the virtual world, you can hand out gifts and vouchers. Make sure they know what to do and what to set up before the session.
13. Make sure everything is saved
It’s easy to assume everything is stored automatically when you’re working online. But hey, shit happens sometimes. Check that all important decisions, solutions, test results, and recordings are saved properly at the end of each activity. At the end of the day, before logging off, check through everything you’ve captured and make sure they are all there.
After the remote design sprint
You made it! Whether it went smooth or rough, I’m sure you have many lessons to learn. You will get better the more you do it. Follow-ups are important after a design sprint, and it applies for remote ones.
Organise your notes, share them with people, create tasks and projects as needed. If there is significant progress, make sure you update everyone involved, to make them feel they achieved something instead of spending 5 days in a group call, doing nothing. I mean, nobody likes that, right?