Remote Design Sprints in challenging times

Oscar Jonker, Sander Swierts - 31 March 2020

Lees dit artikel in het Nederlands

Remote is the new normal

The Covid-19 virus impacts all industries, and it generates lots of challenges opportunities for organizations. At Hike One we experienced a boost in remote work like never before, with our design work, classes, meetups and design sprints suddenly shifting to remote formats. 

In this article we share with you our insights on doing remote Design Sprints, focusing on what tools you can use plus some added tips and tricks from our team. Overall, we feel the value of a remote Design Sprint is very similar to a normal Design Sprint, but only if you prepare your sprints thoroughly and pick the right tools.

About the client & the challenge

Our client, HCS is part of NN (Nationale Nederlanden). They are specialized in HR related services including disability tracks and social Security insurance. In this sprint we were looking to design the dashboard of the future, a Northstar to work towards in the next years of design and development.

"The remote Design Sprint worked beyond our expectations. Thanks to Hike One's excellent preparation, we were very effective and may have achieved more through good focus, little distraction and online collaboration. I really recommend the remote Design Sprint as an equivalent replacement for the live version!"James van der Spek, Director HCS

So how to run a remote Design Sprint?

To anyone who ever facilitated one, this won’t be new: the success of the sprint depends largely on your preparations. Team composition, involving stakeholders and deciding on the right challenge are central in any design sprint preparation. We won’t discuss these in detail now, you can read about it here

In a remote Design Sprints additional preparations include setting up your tools and communication channels. Let’s zoom in on these next.

Tools: Miro

Miro is an incredibly versatile whiteboard tool, the centerpiece of our remote Design Sprints. This is where we work as a team, set our challenges, map our scope, vote, timebox, present and even sketch. At Hike One we use a template for the entire week, which looks exactly like what you would draw out on a whiteboard in the office. The big advantage here is that everyone has an overview of what the entire week will look like. And you never run out of whiteboard.

Tools: Figma

Currently Figma is definitely our go-to prototyping tool for Design Sprints. It especially shines when doing a Design Sprint remotely. After building the scaffolding of the prototype, our Interaction Designer worked on the content with the client, and the Visual Designer followed in their wake to make everything look 10 times better. That way prototyping becomes a collaborative group effort, instead of designers going off doing their thing in complicated design tools away from the team.

Working in Figma

Communication: Gotomeeting

We initially used Miro’s in app video calls, but soon found out these were not stable enough to run full days. We quickly decided to use our customer’s communication tools, in this case Gotomeeting, to make sure things ran smoothly for them. Their familiarity with it meant we didn’t lose time getting used to new tools. Do make sure you get familiar with the tool yourself though, since you’ll need to host the meetings. 

It is crucial for the facilitator to have all participants use their webcams, to be able to sense the mood of team members. Design Sprints are never discussion driven - but when deciding on sprint questions for example it really helps if the facilitator actively includes all team members, summarizes and pushes to keep moving forward.

Remote interviews: Lookback

Our preferred remote interview tool is Lookback. It provides three much needed roles: interviewer, interviewee, and observers. It records the sessions automatically, which is very convenient, and all observers can follow the interviews live and send messages to the interviewer. One big drawback; it only works on Chrome and interviewees need to install a browser extension (though they do not need an account).

Good preparation of the interview tools is essential, since you’ll be answering your sprint questions using these. Therefore do a 5 minute trial run with all the participants beforehand. You’ll thank yourself in the end.

Lookback lets you observe both the participant and their interactions with the prototype live.

Regular VS Remote Design Sprint

Remote Regular
+ Less travel time+ More fun to work together as a team
+ Quicker discussions+ Easier to judge the mood for the facilitator
+ Everyone can write on the whiteboard simultaneously+ A room full of drawings and post-its just looks more impressive!
- Heavy reliance on online tools- You’ll have to put on pants

Our tips and tricks

  • Try to keep the team small, 6 or 7 participants is perfect.
  • Prepare your Miro board in advance, with all the assignments ready to go.
  • Reading the mood of your team remotely is hard, so do regular check-ins, e.g. ask to share emoticons on paper every now and then.
  • Keep the energy going! Prepare energisers that work remotely (like the paper elephant) and make sure to take more breaks than usual.
  • Have all participants upload their Lightning Demo in advance to the Miro board, this way you make sure they really have access to the tool!
  • Send the interviewees instructions well ahead of the interview day. And if you have the time, do a trial run with each interviewee to make sure everything works.
  • Ask participants to check the internet speed at their home work spot. If their speed is low or unreliable, suggest they create workplace closer to their WiFi router or go for a wired connection.
  • Lastly, add in time to get to know each other, for example by having coffee breaks together, or by taking more time to run introductions (and ask to share their biggest lifetime achievement, or other personal things).

Ready, set, go!

Remote Design Sprints work well and are as effective as regular Design Sprints, assuming the facilitator is thoroughly prepared. With a Miro board, communication tools set up and a variety of check-ins and energisers prepared, you are ready to go!

What challenge needs remote-solving in your organization?

Contact us now

Oscar Jonker

Digital Strategist

Sander Swierts

Interaction Designer

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