How To Do A Design Sprint Remotely Amidst Coronavirus Pandemic?

As we’re nearing the end of week 6 of company wide home-office because of the worldwide pandemic, the entire team has been looking for ways to keep “business as usual” during these unprecedented times. While the nature of our work allows us to be easily digital, we certainly learned a lot from this new situation when it comes to collaboration and in this case — of running a design sprint fully remotely for the first time in the history of the company.

Don’t get us wrong, we’ve ran multiple design sprints in the past, but this is the first time we did it through video conferencing alone. As you may anticipate, it was certainly different and less straight-forward than doing it in-person, sharing the same room, experiencing the same atmosphere. Before I share with you how we did ours remotely, let me introduce the concept of design sprints.

What is a design sprint?

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Photo by Gautam Lakum on Unsplash

Invented at Google by Jake Knapp, design sprint is a 5-day unique process to answer complex business questions through co-creation, rapid prototyping, and testing with targeted customers.

The 5 days of design sprint can be summarised as follow:

Day 1, we focus on understanding the big picture of the problem we are trying to solve.

Day 2, we get inspiration from existing ideas and start drafting our solution.

Day 3, we critique all the solutions and find the best one among them.

Day 4, we create a quick prototype with realistic façade, which doesn’t need to be usable/functional at this point.

Day 5, we interview our target customers and observe their reactions while going through our prototype.

Remote Design Sprint

We knew that this design sprint would have be done differently to adapt to our current situations. We understand the importance of staying true to the original version because it has been used and tested by hundreds of organisations. So while we created our own remote office version, we made sure our modification do not change the true flavour of a design sprint. Think of design sprint as a food recipe, some ingredients can be replaced by substitutes without changing the outcome of the meal. What we did was to change some procedures while ensuring the design sprint still able to answer our questions.

Nomoko Remote Office Design Sprint Edition​

Day 1: Understanding the problem​
10:00–11:30 Set long-term goal (optimistic) — what do we actually want to achieve?​
14:00–15:00 Put on the “pessimistic hat” — what do you think could go wrong? What are the potential challenges.
16:00–17:00 Turn problems into opportunities — sketching down quick solutions of how to tackle the challenges.​

Day 2: Solutions​
10:00–10:30 Vote on “How Might We?”
10:30–12:00 Look into existing tools and products, capture what’s good about them​ and present them to everyone.
14:00–16:00 Everyone sketches his/her own proposal for our solution​.

Day 3: Decision time​
10:00–11:30 Solutions’ presentations​
11:30–12:00 Voting for the best solutions
14:00–15:00 Go over the chosen solutions to see if there’s any gap.
15:30–17:30 Draw out the final flow.

Day 4: Let’s prototype​
9:30–10:00 Decide on tools and divide the tasks​
10:00–15:00 Prototyping​
15:00–17:00 Trial run through and quick fixes​

Day 5: Validation​
Customer interviews — depends on availability of the people we’re in contact with. ​Analyse the feedback, finding patterns and deciding next steps.

We faced several challenges while conducting design sprint remotely through video conferencing:

  1. The brainstorming session and discussion felt less engaging as we couldn’t see each other facial expression properly due to unstable internet connection.
  2. A big part of the design sprint was to draw and sketch ideas, doing it through an online collaboration tool was tricky.
  3. More time was spent on coordinating the prototyping process than building the prototyping itself.

To overcome these challenges, we set up several rules and practices:

  1. One person talked at one time. We muted our microphone while others were talking.
  2. To prevent overburdening our collaboration tool, our facilitator collected ideas and sketches from the team and uploaded them to our virtual whiteboard. He shared his screen during the video call so that everyone was on the same page.
  3. We split the Design Sprint into several sessions and each session was never more than 2 hours. We took at least half an hour break in between sessions.

Although the process came with several challenges, there were some advantages too:

  1. Our discussions were more efficient than we would in person as speaking up require extra effort, we tend to think carefully before we talk. As a result, casual chit chats were minimised.
  2. Only one person was allowed to speak at one time, this prompted us to listen to others carefully and organised our thoughts before replying to others.
  3. We recorded discussions, sketches and drawing digitally which saved us time from creating a digital copy of our process afterwards.
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Nomoko’s Online Whiteboard During the Design Sprint

Of course, despite all the efforts, our remote design sprint was not without any hiccups. The original plan was to spend only a day to create a minimally viable prototype (MVP) yet we spent almost 3 days to complete the task. We had to split ourselves into smaller teams to work on the prototype model. In the end, we spent a big chunk of our time in aligning and syncing up with different teams. This could have been avoided if we were all in the same room. Last but not least, the fifth day of our design sprint was Good Friday followed by Easter Monday. Our plan to interview customers was interrupted.

Remote VS In-person Design Sprint

After trying both versions, we have to say it is much easier to do the classic, in the same room design sprint. However, if you and your team need to start a design sprint remotely amidst the coronavirus pandemic now, don’t be afraid to do it. It is a matter of preparation!

Here are some takeaways from our experience:

  1. Test your tools beforehand. Be it video conference, drawing, collaboration or any tool that you might use during the design sprint. The idea is to simulate the actual usage of these tools to find out their limitations. Can your video conference tool accommodate all the participants smoothly? Do you have a flexible drawing tool that comes with sticky notes, highlighters and marker pens of different colours? Can you add as many texts, images or even videos to your online collaboration platform? Can all the participants collaborate on the platform simultaneously?
  2. Think about the agenda for the whole week and plan sufficient breaks in between session. It’s just human nature that we get exhausted quicker if we have to track and follow the conversation of a group of people over video. Our solution to this is never have any session longer than two hours. In fact, our average video call was around one to one and a half hour.
  3. Make the sprint work for you. Things that can be done individually without affecting the quality of a sprint are sketching solution, doing ‘How Might We’ notes, building prototype and then bring the group back online to review it. According to Jake Knapp, the inventor of Design Sprint, it is also possible to break a sprint over a couple of weeks (for instance, Day 1 & 2 happens on week 1, and the rest of the sprint happens on week 2) especially for a remote setting.

I hope you find Nomoko’s remote design sprint edition insightful, feel free to drop me a comment if you want to know more. Also, if you have experience in running a remote design sprint, share it with us in the comment too!

For more information about what we do, check out Nomoko’s website for updates, developments and ways to get in touch with us!

Nomoko

Natalie Cheau-Li Lo

Written by

Driven entrepreneur and marketing professional, passionate about sustainability and emerging techs.

Nomoko

Nomoko

Nomoko is unlocking the power of Digital Twins one industry at a time. We’re building an ecosystem that turns spatial data and analysis into real world solutions you can use to supercharge your business, whatever your industry.

Natalie Cheau-Li Lo

Written by

Driven entrepreneur and marketing professional, passionate about sustainability and emerging techs.

Nomoko

Nomoko

Nomoko is unlocking the power of Digital Twins one industry at a time. We’re building an ecosystem that turns spatial data and analysis into real world solutions you can use to supercharge your business, whatever your industry.

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