What our participants thought of the Global Virtual Design Sprint

… and where we’re going with this crazy thing.

A pretty good metaphor for how I was interpreting feedback from the Global Virtual Design Sprint.

The Global Virtual Design Sprint (GVDS) generates a lot of feedback.

And by a lot, I mean like a buffet of different opinions from all over the globe. An international palette of perspective. A cacophony of murmurs and whispers.

You get the idea.

Last week, I took a few days to analyze, sort and organize 14 different retrospective sessions and 40+ feedback survey submittals. These totaled over 460+ individual statements, describing reactions to the prototype, the virtual sprints we conducted and the Global Virtual Design Sprint itself.

The following is a comprehensive summary of what I heard, learned and highlighted from that collected feedback. I’ll cover a few things that will undoubtedly make their way into the next GVDS, as well as some interesting data points that provided some unique perspective. I’ll even throw in some rumors to keep it interesting during the boring parts.

As you go through these lists, you’ll notice a number in parenthesis to the left of every answer. This indicates the frequency of the response and how I’ll accordingly rank the answers.

All set? Let’s begin!

“(The GVDS) … was an excellent example of how different people from different places can converge and successfully complete tasks together in a short amount of time.”

Doing the Prototype

Every virtual design sprint team developed some sort of prototype in the Global Virtual Design Sprint. These prototypes came in the form of multimedia presentations, clickable mobile applications, slide presentations or physical cards.

Likewise, every challenge produced a different outcome. While a prototype was considered default to the virtual design sprint process, a lot of what was produced depended on the skills, preferences and overall approach to problem solving the team had.

Question #1: What did you like about doing the virtual design sprint prototype? (c/o Ian Thorne on Mural)

Question #1:
What did you like about doing the virtual design sprint prototype?

(9) Validation, testimonials and interest through user testing
(6) Good/Great UI and UX/look and feel
(5) Very collaborative effort
(5) Prototype was created very quickly
(4) Tangible / Real / Looks like a real product

It makes sense… you want to know if the time and effort your team put in for 3–4 days amounted to something meaningful, usable, useful and desirable. Ultimately, did you meet the expectations of your intended audiences?

An arguably stronger ‘like’ was the ability to create a really good user experience/interface. Many of the lesser voted items alluded to this, with the desire to create a ‘real product’ being an undercurrent throughout.

Question #2: What did you wish about the prototype you worked on? (c/o Ian Thorne on Mural)

Question #2:
What did you wish about the prototype you worked on?

(5) Working with real data, additional inputs, pilot test
(5) Become a real product, put on the market
(4) More time to work on content, design, storyboarding, messaging and/or copy/text
(4) More rounds of testing (earlier in the sprint, with stakeholders, prototype refinement)
(4) More clarity/consistency with design alignment, text, navigation

This question seemed to be a continuation of the ‘create something real, with real data and real people’ responses we saw from the first question. As we continue with the rest of the retrospective, you’ll see this narrative of bringing a prototype towards reality mentioned throughout.

The other noteworthy theme was having more time to get their work done. Based on the feedback I had received in April, I increased the amount of time our virtual sprint teams were given to research and problem frame their challenges. Apparently there was more time needed for other activities within the virtual design sprint itself.

Question #3: What did you wonder about the prototyping process? (c/o Ian Thorne on Mural)

Question #3:
What did you wonder about the prototyping process?

(10) Can we make a real product from the prototype? Would people buy it? Is it feasible? Would it work?

(4) What if we added more to the prototype? (features, resources, details, value)
(4) How would a more diverse set of people (age, gender) react/use the prototype/product?
(4) Could we continue iterating/working on our prototype?

I think all of this feedback so far points to a potential contrarian approach towards getting feedback within the design sprint methodology; Prototype testing through individual user interviews (recorded or live) might be fundamentally flawed.


Because the existing process for gathering feedback from users overvalues other people’s opinions that have no skin in the game. It’s second hand data. Unless you’re asking for an email address (a real one) or money (real currency), anyone can give you an opinion that you may or may not want to hear.

I think Anthony Savoli’s pretotyping process and Robert Mesa’s work with a ‘minimal viable concept’ are going to creep into future versions of the GVDS. Both this and April’s event represent an audience that’s getting louder about their work getting to the next level… which is real commitment by the target markets these prototypes are meant to address.

“I thought the GVDS was great. From the organization and transparency between all teams to the great collaboration of my specific team. I’m grateful that I got real world experience facilitating a design sprint.”

Experiencing a Virtual Design Sprint

Participating in a global virtual design sprint has a lot of upside.

Whether it’s collaborating with professionals you’ve never met, in parts of the world you’ve never traveled to… or getting perspective from disciplines you don’t normally work with, the experience goes way beyond the challenge our participants sign up for.

What did you like about doing a virtual design sprint? (c/o Ian Thorne on Mural)

Question #4:
What did you like about doing a virtual design sprint?

(15) Amazing, excellent, super team to work with (chemistry, engaged, spirit, dynamics, engagement)

(14) Collaborating with a heterogeneous (diverse) set of people (geographies, skills, cultures)

(10) Learning from a new subject, teammates, the process

(6) Very good participation, focus, commitment, alignment, proactivity from the team

(6) Fun and friendly/good vibes (outcomes 🎉, pictures)

The first two responses are likely the main attraction for most Global Virtual Design Sprint participants. Historically, there’s almost always a strong vibe of team camaraderie and collaboration amongst team members by the time the week is done.

And more often than not, these teams that get along so well are fairly diverse in professional background, geography and social culture. Yes, there is disagreement and argument over both approach, design direction and other group dynamics. Yet, it works nearly every time.

One thing I should point out… this sentiment towards team spirit, chemistry, collaboration and engagement in the November GVDS event was MUCH more pronounced than the April event. One can argue that I have more data to work with this time around, but the frequency of the first two answers above was very interesting to see.

What do you wish could have happened in your virtual design sprint? (c/o Ian Thorne on Mural)

Question #5:
What do you wish could have happened in your virtual design sprint?

(14) I wish I had more time to…
(be active, be more hands on, bond with and get to know team members, deeper discussion of methodology and/or ideas, interview more people, profile each individual, spend on offline activities, dedicate to the Sprint, reflect).

(7) The team would/will continue to collaborate on the idea, do an iteration sprint, test with more people

(7) The roles, process, schedule and time commitments (both online and offline) were better known, understood.

(5) We better understood the practical value of the Sprint Challenge and how the result/outcome would benefit people

(5) The communications methods and tools used (Slack, Calendar invites and links) were more streamlined/supported by multiple devices.

… and another top answer where participants are asking for more time to get things done. I thought Design Sprints were about doing more in less time? 😁 Really interesting.

The third answer listed above (roles, process, schedule and time commitments (both online and offline) were better known, understood) will be something I work on for GVDS 4. Specifically, I’ll be defining estimated time for both online and offline activities for each virtual sprint.

Previously, I asked teams to define their own offline commitments in the GVDS, thinking that it would be more schedule friendly for everyone. But it’s clear between the top answer here and other data points that I need to be way more specific about dedicated vs optional activities for teams to consider.

Author’s Note: The suggestion for having a centralized, streamlined communications plan of action was probably the loudest and most direct out of all the feedback I had gotten on how to improve the event, even though it’s not reflected in the amount of times it was mentioned above.

What do you wonder about in the virtual sprint you participated in? (c/o Ian Thorne on Mural)

Question #6:
What do you wonder about in the virtual sprint you participated in?

(11) How could we optimize the Virtual Sprint process for efficiency, momentum, participation and impact?
(time-boxing sessions, pre-schedule all 5 days, shorter sessions, finishing in one week instead of 2, finding balance between speed and quality, better storyboarding, better feedback on the prototype, have a ‘real’ owner)

(8) Will my Sprint team continue to work together, collaborate, meet in person and/or keep in touch?

(5) How we would proceed if we could get funding, marketing for the effort and outcome of our idea/concept?

(5) How we could do an online, virtual sprint for a real client?
(4) Can we develop the idea/challenge into something tangible, real?

A high number of respondents wrote that they wanted to optimize or improve upon the existing model, which is great. I wholeheartedly agree that there’s a lot of room to recalibrate the event for better results, and will be working on that for GVDS4.

The second most popular response was a repeat from last April; nearly everyone wanted to keep in touch and/or continue to work together. While I secretly hope that I’m building a small community that previous participants can reconnect with, I wonder if pushing local meetups might be part of the equation.

And again, more evidence to suggest that teams want to see where their idea could go beyond the prototype.

“Great experience overall.

As expected, I learned a lot, but the team that I worked with this time felt especially close.

Despite some limitations, we were able to get through the sprint with great spirits.

The challenge that we worked with was also unfamiliar to me, so it was more memorable.”

Global Virtual Design Sprint Feedback

Most of the participant feedback I received was about the event itself. This particular data set combines both the end of event survey and the information taken from each teams’ retrospectives about the Global Virtual Design Sprint.

Let’s dive in and see what everyone had to say.

What did you like about the Global Virtual Design Sprint? (c/o Ian Thorne on Mural)

Question #7:
What did you like about the Global Virtual Design Sprint?

(17) Incredible, engaging, fun, interesting, well-organized, fulfilling, open, honest, mind-blowing, excellent, exciting, challenging, rewarding, motivating, energizing, diverse experiences

(15) Being part of an amazing, smart, fun, enthusiastic, helpful, diverse and collaborative group of professionals from around the world that step up and become a solid team

(11) Excellent, intensive, practical instructional framework with a lot of learning resources (webinars, tutorials, templates, videos)

(10) Hands-on, learn by doing of the virtual design sprint process and using Mural

If you take the above feedback at face value, it looks like a good number of participants really enjoyed both their experience and the team that they were on in November. Whoo hoo!

I also worried (a little) that I had assembled teams that were stacked with talent while others were not as balanced.

A seasoned facilitator in virtual sprinting had their work cut out for them with a lot of new people to the process. Likewise, putting a lot of Advisors together without professionals to produce the work didn’t work out either. It was a tricky balance to maintain from region to region.

Author’s Note: To ensure that teams have experienced facilitators on their team, I’d like to try out an ongoing virtual design sprint learning-by-doing program. Something where I and others can vouch for people who facilitate virtual design sprints based on demonstrable experience and references from others. (i.e. the Referral Network I’m working on)

What do you wish would have been better about the Global Virtual Design Sprint? (c/o Ian Thorne on Mural)

Question #8:
What do you wish would have been better about the Global Virtual Design Sprint?

(13) I wish I had more time to participate and/or observe in my Sprint, other sprints, iteration sprints, prototyping, teams and challenges

(13) A single source of truth (GVDS Portal) with links to all important resources, templates, videos, centralized calendars and schedules

(7) Time commitments, scheduling, roles and responsibilities should be clearer during registration/onboarding
(scope of engagement (week vs month), exact times before, during and after (+ time of the day for calls), avoiding work/family conflicts)

(6) That people were more committed
(arriving on time for online sessions, limited to a single Sprint in a week, spent more time collaborating with team)

(5) Better ways of communicating
(no repetitive messaging across multiple channels, strict channels for official communications in Slack, keep idea convos separate, create walkthroughs or resource links)

(4) There was a dedicated, experienced leader (Decider) per sprint team to plan the Sprint week, help during exercises

(4) Refine Long Term Goal, Sprint Questions, Map and Storyboard activities (alignment, proper scope, clarity)

(4) Not enough time to dive deep into the problem space and/or exercises (gathering early for pre-work scheduling, LDJ’s and problem framing, getting aligned)

There are so many good suggestions from this question that I couldn’t pair it down to a Top 5.

While there was a narrative around available time and having more to spend on the work, there was an equally strong message about communication and resource unification. A resource to find all relevant links, documents and templates in a single place. I’ll definitely keep that in mind for next time.

And although it was lower on the list, there was an undercurrent of interest in reforming or recalibrating different activities in the design sprint process.

There’s definitely some Design Sprint activities that are unsuited for virtual environments, and I’ll be writing about some proposed changes to these in future articles.

What do you wonder about the Global Virtual Design Sprint? (c/o Ian Thorne on Mural)

Question #9:
What do you wonder about the Global Virtual Design Sprint?

(6) What will the next GVDS will be like?
(5) When the next GVDS will be?
(4) What were the outcomes, learnings, commitments and process of the other teams?

(4) What’s next for those of us who took part? What activities/events will come from here/the community? (Offline get-togethers)

(3) Will we lose all the great discussions in Slack (unless a subscription is purchased)?

(3) How can we improve the structure and facilitation of the Sprint sessions? (“Why we are here” discussions, facilitation experts, different Sprint formats)

(3) If GVDS can partner with non-profits and can work with real world challenges that potentially is implemented

(3) If GVDS can partner with companies and participants can get paid for the outcomes

Beyond the curiosity of the next GVDS, this question produced a much broader array of responses than what’s being shown here.

Some of them were speculative about where the GVDS could go (a year long affair, hosting in-person meetups before the GVDS, etc.), while others were exploratory around the potential for partnerships and/or commercial opportunities.

All great feedback, and definitely food for thought.

“The learning, collaboration and output (from the GVDS) was exponential and beyond my imagination. It’s better than any online course I’ve ever taken!”

GVDS Survey Feedback

27 respondents posted their thoughts and opinions about the Global Virtual Design Sprint in our post-event survey. These responses mirrored the retrospectives covered earlier, addressing simple positive/challenging commentary about what participants experienced.

A simple word cloud containing all the one word reactions to the Global Virtual Design Sprint

If you had to sum up your GVDS experience in one word, what would it be?

(3) Amazing
(2) Educational
(2) Eye Opening
(2) Inspiring
(2) Super

Please use this area to describe, in detail, what you thought of the Global Virtual Design Sprint. 😊

“It was incredible to witness what a bunch of perfect strangers in 7 different time zones are able to achieve in such a short time.”

“It was a great way for me to get experience participating in and facilitating Design Sprints, in a safe environment and with people I can learn off. Having like-minded people participating was really helpful for this.”

“I’ve labelled this to my peers as the GAME-CHANGER. By going through this experience, I’ve certainly felt like I’m connected to a much larger group of diverse, like-minded professionals. The level of the work has been nothing but exceptional.”

What do you wish I would improve/add to the event that would make it better than this one? 🤔

Something other than/on top Slack to see it all. The combination of Slack, Doodle, Zoom invites, LinkedIn notifications etc. made it difficult to see everything at a glance and plan to catch something.”

“Make it clear that this isn’t a one week event! A lot of people haven’t been aware of this, they should also block time before and especially after … for polishing the prototype, user testing and wrapping up… it was quite hard to find teammates and set up meetings.”

“I think a lot more preparation before sprint week and a reminder on the commitment necessary right at the beginning… especially because my region is small and lacks participants (…)”

What does the future hold?

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking around how to improve the Global Virtual Design Sprint for 2020. It’s been a mix of ‘what would be really amazing to do’ and ‘what should I NOT do anymore that caused a lot of frustration or confusion for those who participated?

Let’s start with the improvements I’ll be spending the most time on:

  1. Streamlining communication
    I’ll be making each method of communication more purposeful and unique to avoid cross-contamination of messaging and overwhelm.
    - Teams will be encouraged to use a SaaS product (i.e. Basecamp, Notion, etc.) to manage their virtual sprints.
    - The Facebook group will be an outward-facing communication channel for event announcements.
    - Slack will be the ‘lobby’ of the GVDS, with channels set up for special interest groups outside of the event (social networking, LDJ, etc.)
    - Email will be weekly summaries that outline ‘all you need to know’ links for reference.
  2. Moving from prototypes to ‘pretotypes’
    I’m really interested in adopting Alberto Savoia’s approach to testing the market with any given virtual design sprint idea/solution. I have a lot to learn, study and share about the approach in the coming weeks, but I think this will properly address the feedback I saw about making team prototypes into viable, desirable products.
  3. Redesigning the design sprint process
    I think it’s time to present my own optimized version of the design sprint process that’s engineered to address real market realities. Whether it’s deploying ethnographic activities to truly understand context, or jettisoning the ‘Make a Map’, ‘Long Term Goal’ and ‘Crazy-8’s’ processes from the methodology… it’s time to try something new.
  4. A comprehensive schedule of virtual design sprint activities
    I screwed up by not being absolutely elaborate on the amount of online/offline time people needed to reserve for their virtual sprints. Expect a LOT of improvement on scheduling and setting proper time commitment expectations for 2020.
  5. Linking a ‘Decider’ to both the challenge and next steps
    Historically, the ‘Advisor’ on a virtual design sprint team was meant to guide and advise the team on both process and the chosen challenge. That approach turned out to be a bad idea, as most didn’t know much about the challenge or the design sprint methodology. In other words, they were at a loss on how to contribute.

    Going forward, I’m going to try and attempt to pair the ‘Decider’ (i.e. special guest, SME, influencer, etc.) with not only the idea/challenge, but the outcome/path forward if the prototype/pretotype has a high probability of achieving the expectations of both the ‘Decider’ and the Sprint Team.
  6. Doubling down on the Design Sprint Referral Network
    Rather than rely on something like Slack, Facebook or email to keep the sense of community going, I want to leverage the Design Sprint Referral Network to explore and experiment with different approaches to community building, service exchange and professional development.

    Some of these include:
    - Informational interviews for job opportunities, internships, podcast recordings, Q&A sessions and other related endeavors.
    - Gather members together for a commercial opportunity to do a virtual design sprint for a client.
    - Pairing members together with special guests for Table-4-Eight dinners and/or lunches to network and meet others in person.
    - Sessions to practice different types of activities and methods (Lightning Decision Jams, Brand Sprints, Pillar Content for Social Media, Using Figma, etc.)
    - Cross-promote new businesses, services and products Referral Network members work on over time (without being overly spammy).
  7. A single source of ‘truth’ for all Global Virtual Design Sprint resources
    Jeroen Frumau created an incredible resource with his GVDS ON AIR Mural board, linking to nearly every online session, Mural whiteboard and photo library that existed for the event. I’d love to take his example and have the GVDS website act as a comprehensive library for all of the information we create and use. It’ll certainly be better than what’s there now. :)

Whoa! That was a lot of information to cover, and I really appreciate you taking the time to read the entire lot.

But wait, there’s more!

The follow-up article to this one (tentatively titled “Design Sprint X”) will get into the proposed framework for the Global Virtual Design Sprint in May, 2020. You’ll see a bit more detail on how I’ll execute on the ideas for improvement mentioned above.

Until then, I hope everyone is enjoying their holiday break! Be sure to stop by LinkedIn and send an invite to network, discuss and explore virtual design sprints together.

Looking forward to hearing from you!



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