Running design sprints and kickoffs remotely

While we prefer to do design sprints in- person, sometimes it’s necessary to do them remotely. It just so happens that in the coming weeks, we may need to do more of them as many of us will need to work remotely or work with others that are remote. While I have experience running a handful of sprints and kickoffs remotely, I would love to hear from others about their experience on Twitter.

Put more time into setup and planning

Figure out what tools you are going to use and make sure that all team-members have accounts ahead of time. Nothing worse than waiting for one person to figure out their Trello login. Have a schedule going into the sprint and stick as closely to the schedule as possible. Make sure that all of the team members will have consistent high-speed internet access or will be able to join through the phone and see the progress to contribute through other ways. Make sure that the whole team understands what supplies they need to have on hand and has had time to grab them before you run through a design sprint.

Make sure that everyone will be able to contribute in an equal way

This can be even more challenging on conference calls where it’s easier for people to cut off or interrupt. We don’t have the same queues to aide us in knowing when someone has finished a thought. As a facilitator, try to make sure everyone has an equal voice. If someone hasn’t spoken up or is getting cut off, make sure that they have space to speak by asking them if they have more to speak on the idea or topic.

Clear out distractions

When participating in a design sprint, try to treat it like you’re in the room together. Close down Slack and email. Don’t check Twitter. Leave your phone in another room. Remain focused on the people on the screen in front of you. To help me with the inevitable distraction, I’ll hook up to an external display and place my keyboard and mouse out of reach when they’re not needed. This also helps create some space for sketching supplies and handwritten notes.

Plan for longer days

During an in-person design sprint, I like to shorten days because they can be so grueling. When working remotely, I’ve found that we need the extra time because we’ll deal with the occasional hiccup with the internet, or it will take some additional time to post up a storyboard, or some new and unique challenge will pop up. It’s better to have planned for longer days and cut them short than need time and not have it.

Limit the team

We typically try to limit the sprint in-person, but that becomes more important when running a remote sprint. The more people that you have in a remote design sprint, the more potential connection issues, the more setup, the more distractions can take ahold. We should limit the number of people in the sprint to 8 or less.

Build in breaks

Just like in-person sprints, establishing regular breaks helps people focus in the time that you are in meetings. Have a few 10-15 minute breaks in the morning and afternoon and keep the hour break for lunch.

Make sure the team has supplies needed

Since we’re not in the room together, make sure the team has physical supplies that are needed for the design exercises. I’ll send everyone a list of things to make sure they have in their home, along with the software that is needed, well before the sprint, so they have time to get them if necessary.

The physical supplies that I as people to have on hand:

  • white printer paper
  • post-its
  • sharpie

Replicate the whiteboard online

You’ll first want to have an online tool to facilitate collaboration. I’ve used a combo of Google Docs / Slides on one sprint and MURAL on another to act as a whiteboard. Both work great as long as your team. It seems like Invision Freehand could also be a pretty cool solution to a shared whiteboard. We’ve also had teammates use Miro. I can imagine similarly using Figma, but I could see how it might push designers to refine too much during the sprint. Tools like MURAL and freehand have iPad/iPhone apps that could make for a pretty cool real-time emulation of a whiteboard. I’ll still document as much of the sprint in a Trello, and have used the Trello board to help facilitate parts of the sprint as well.

In practice changes

Understand

Make sure to have a shared online whiteboard. Use that space like you would the typical whiteboard. Document the problem statement or job story, critical path, and start both a backburner board and an assumptions board. While doing expert interviews, share your screen with the critical path on it. Allow teammates to add HMW directly to the whiteboard out of view.

Diverge

Make sure that everyone has white printer paper, sharpies, and post-its. If something happens where they don’t, try working around it with other drawing material. Have everyone work silently on the call or establish a time to all comeback together.

Converge

Ask everyone to post storyboards on the digital whiteboard or in Trello so that we can have a silent vote. Use hand-drawn dots or voting feature in Trello to collect votes. Assumptions/test table could be drawn out in a Google Sheet or drawn on the online whiteboard.

If struggling with the final storyboard with the whiteboard feel free to jump to something that will allow all teammates to view and contribute, like Figma. Since you’re already at a computer getting into too much detail is easier, make sure to avoid this as much as possible.

Prototype

Modern tools, like Figma, Slides, and Keynote, make remote prototyping easier. Make sure you’re using tools that everyone prototyping feels confident in.

Test

We’ve done several remote test days already, so the jump to a fully remote team shouldn’t be so large. Make sure to schedule time with the full team at the end of the day to digest and work on next steps.

Additional Resources

Keep Calm, Sprint On

There is a reason that we encourage in-person sprints; we move faster and are able to come together easier as a team. Being in the same location isn’t always possible, though, and as a team, we can mitigate some of those challenges to produce successful design sprints.