Remote Design Sprint 101

Filip Wilczek & Kasia Radziejewska
28 May 2020

Now more than ever, being able to work with clients remotely is essential. At Startup House, we are experienced in working with clients from all over the world, and we have conducted multiple remote Design Sprints even before the pandemic. In this article, we share with you how we kick-off our projects.

What is a Design Sprint?

A buzzword, that's for sure. What makes it so unique? It's a complete process designed to quickly validate business conceptions through ideation, prototyping, and user testing. It allows us to create and work on a shared understanding of a problem and its solution. Every Design Sprint (remote or onsite) is a team experience that incorporates brainstorming, innovative approach, design thinking methods, and elements of business strategy.

Design Sprint helps create and validate solutions, with the starting point being an issue that needs to be solved. The definition of the issue is crucial. If there isn't any, it's easy to spend a week playing on the basic level of creation with nothing specific to offer. On the other hand, it's possible to narrow down the initial problem too much, limit the possible solutions, and lose an opportunity for innovation.

What is the process of a Design Sprint?

Depending on the version, a typical Design Sprint lasts either five days (for the most usual versions) or four days (for Design Sprint 2.0 and Remote Design Sprint). It always goes through all of those phases:

1. Mapping the problem, narrowing down areas to focus on
2. Rough sketching of the solutions
3. Deciding on the solution and adjusting it
4. Prototyping the solution
5. Testing the solution with users and gathering feedback

In the Remote Design Sprint and Design Sprint 2.0, the first two phases are limited to one day to shorten the process and leave more time for user feedback. Have a look at this video to see how it's done in four days.

The benefits of doing a remote Design Sprint

When it comes to a Design Sprint, there are some unique advantages of doing it remotely. 

It's easier to schedule a meeting with the whole team

First of all, gathering all of the team can be a real pain. By doing it remotely, you can have everyone, no matter their location. Thanks to the Internet, you can collaborate with people from any part of the world in different timezones. No expensive, time-consuming travels, and a lot more flexibility. You can easily discuss your ideas with experts and schedule more interviews to get additional feedback.

No need to go on a quest for a suitable space

In most offices, suitable space for the workshop is a luxury, even more so if you need that space for four or five days in a row. Also, no post-workshop cleaning required!

Bring on efficiency...

No physical materials required and a lot of time saved after the workshop. Let's be honest, how often after the Design Sprint have you looked at the pictures of walls covered with sticky notes? How long did it take you to write down those notes to share them afterwards? Now you have them right away. And no more wasting paper.

And creativity!

Another advantage is that a more anonymous environment can generate more ideas. Other participants will be able to see your ideas, so you do not have to worry about presenting them if that's an issue. This kind of freedom will get the creative juices flowing, which is especially useful during brainstorming. Additionally, voting is entirely anonymous.

With the right approach, facilitation can be better: there are just more options to help guide the work. You can write down instructions. Everything is always visible for every participant, and you will be able to move from one person to the other to explain something quickly. As a facilitator, what more do you need?

The challenges of a remote Design Sprint

There are also some challenges related to remote workshops. All workshops are prone to distractions, and Design Sprints are no exception. Make a deal with all participants to keep the distractions to a minimum, such as not using phones and other non-essential devices outside of breaks.

All is a matter of balance...

The hardest part of a remote Design Sprint is striking a balance between getting into enough details and managing the energy levels of participants. Ultimately, it has to be a pleasant, but also productive experience. For most people spending so much time in front of a computer screen is exhausting, so plan short sessions. Shorter sessions mean a more focused team. Also, since the sessions are more concise, and you want to achieve as much as possible, you will feel the pressure to use every minute efficiently. 

… and of having the perfect facilitator!

In remote Design Sprints, it's very important to have a capable facilitator. This person has to be able to deal with a less personal atmosphere and lower engagement. To help the facilitator focus on their part, we usually have two people contributing to ensure a smooth flow.

  • Every design sprint is a messy process, and its digital version is no exception. To streamline the process, we always have a co-facilitator who is responsible for keeping the canvas in order. It enables the facilitator to move forward with the exercises, without losing precious time and thus the participants' attention.

  • Let's also not forget that timing is king in the Design Sprint. That's why we have a separate person do the timekeeping. This person also checks if the participants need a bit more time whenever required.

The right tools for a successful Design Sprint

Finally, pay a lot of attention when researching the tools during your workshop's preparation. Remember to test them before the actual workshop: technical problems can interfere with group dynamics. If possible, it's always a good idea to introduce the participant to the tools you will be using. Here are some tools we use to work remotely:

  • Miro, a digital whiteboard for real-time cooperation, with great templates for many workshop exercises. It also has additional features that can be helpful, like an embedded timer or a voting solution. Alternatively, you can try Mural or even Google Slides.

  • Zoom or Google Hangouts, a battle-tested video conferencing tool, is essential.

  • For remote User Testing, try Lookback. It's an elegant solution that enables you to perform remote user research, in real-time, as well as unmoderated testing, activated with a simple link.

Preparation is key

Proper and thorough preparation is crucial. It's always a good idea to start preparing early and gather info from participants through surveys or interviews. Your own research is also essential. It enables you to partially fill out the canvas for the exercises like "How-might-we" that take place during the first day. This way, the participants don't feel intimidated by an empty board and understand what's expected of them. 

Of course, the art of conducting a successful remote Design Sprint is a bit more complicated, and this article is just an introduction to this subject. If you want to know more about Design Sprint, get in touch or drop us a line at hello@start-up.house

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