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How to run a successful remote design sprint

Note: My following article presupposes that you know the Design Sprint process. If you don’t, please look them up first.

The GV’s design sprint recipe is a standard framework that can be used for answering critical business decisions; from defining an MVP of a product to rebrand an organisation . The 3-day or the 5-day recipe is very specific to a face-face audience but often times your design sprint team will be spread across the globe, even though the straightforward solution would be to assemble the sprint team in one place it isn’t achievable when you are expected to come up with fast-forward design solution. The need to run the design sprints with remote teams is a challenge often faced. Here is the process I follow and few tips on running a successful remote design sprint.

How to prepare as a facilitator

Step 1: Write a Sprint Brief
Step 2: Collect or Conduct User Research
Step 3: Recruit and schedule users for usability testing (this is for day 3 usability testing phase)
Step 4: Assemble your Sprint team
Step 5: Plan the Lightning Talks
Step 6: Create a Deck
Step 7: Identify a virtual collaboration tool (Mural, Realtimeboard etc), meeting tool(zoom)and online timer.
Step 8: Prepare and give the sprint team access to the virtual board.
Step 9: Choose a Good Ice Breaker
Step 10: Set the Stage at the beginning of the Sprint

Checklist for the sprint team

Here is the checklist that you can share with your sprint team before the actual sprint session

  • Laptop and charger  (it’s a 3-hour meeting and apps like real-time board drain the battery)
  • Access to the camera and microphone.
  • Paper and a pencil by their desk
  • Bottle of water
  • Quiet meeting room
  • A smartphone to click pictures of sketch and add to the virtual board.
  • Access to the virtual board

Sprint schedule

With remote participants the biggest challenge is the time difference, when the sprint team is distributed across different time zone it will be a challenge to identify a reasonable time that is suitable for all the team members. In my case, we had few sprint team members in office and most of them located remotely. So, it’s not purely a remote sprint but a mix of both. After many trial and error, I recommend sticking to a 3 hour sprint per day. The image below shows the schedule I follow for each day. Since we utilize only 3 hours out of the entire day recommended by GV there will a bit of homework for the team members to do offline before we assemble for the next day. They also need to get access to the virtual boards a few days ahead of the first day of the sprint so each member is aware of what to expect.

Design Sprint Schedule

Preparing the whiteboards

Preparing the white board is very important because it helps us effectively utilise the 3hr spent during the sprint day. Use a virtual collaboration tool to prepare these whiteboards( I recommend using real-time board).  For topics that fall into lightening talks the team members are expected to add all the information to the board prior to the actual sprint, this helps us keep information in one place and easier for other team members to refer back and add their comments. For example, the image below shows the competitor analysis that was presented during one of our sprints. It had feature comparison across products and before the sprint began, people added some links to articles and product snapshots that they wanted to discuss during the sprint.

Sample virtual whiteboard

Gathering inputs and sketches

When it comes to writing down the how might we’s, we need to guide the team where exactly to place the stickies on the board. The image below shows bounding boxes for the team to place the sticky. During this phase, it is also common to expect questions and comments from the team like “What is how might we?”, “ I don’t see a value in writing this..” etc. hence it’s a good idea to mention a sample how might we and add few articles that explain “what is how might we”etc, this gives people an opportunity to gain some understanding before they attend the sprint.

Make voting easier

How do people vote virtually? Real-time board do have a voting feature within stick notes but when trying to do voting on sketches we had to do it slightly differently. For my sprints I created different stickers and left them in a corner for people to drag and vote, we can also include colors to indicate priority and if we would like to know who voted for what we can also try stickers with initials. The image below shows the brand sprint that we conducted with voting in it.

Virtual voting done for a brand sprint

Keep the team Engaged

This is the most challenging part of running a remote sprint, keeping the team focused isn’t easy and it really helps if you can make the whole process more interesting. It has to be done throughout the process. One of the things I tried was using some avatar stickers people can use to represent themselves virtually.  It turned out to be fun for people to be able to pick their avatar and use them in the boards.


Use of Avatar for the team members during the sprint

Validate Phase

Unlike the standard process from the design sprint kit, the validate phase from day 3 wasn’t feasible on the same day because our users are spread across different regions with different time zones, hence we had to allocate a week for open test sessions and do the testing remotely with users.

Going forward am looking forward conduct more remote design sprints that is more engaging for the team members also optimize my process to get a maximum benefit out of it. Let me know your thought and am very curious to hear your experience conducting remote design sprints.



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