I love anything that allows me and the team I am working with to break away from their normal day to day, ideate, design and refine. I also not-so-secretly love a bit of a process. Anything that is repeatable can be made into a framework to make your life easier, in my humble opinion.

A design sprint, therefore, ticks lots of nerdy product and organizational boxes for me.

A couple of months ago I facilitated a remote design sprint.

I was nervous — partly because I believe that if you’re not nervous, you don’t care enough about what you’re doing, but more specifically because I wasn’t sure how such a collaborative session would work remotely.

A year ago I’d have said you can’t possibly run such an intensive workshop with so many breakout tasks and discussions remotely, but a year is a mighty long time, as 2020 has proved.

But here we are — forced to realise that remote working can work, and a design sprint is no different — it just requires a bit more up-front effort.

I’ve created this post based on what I learnt from preparing, running and then reflecting on the remote sprint. I hope it helps you to run your own!

Here’s an overview of 5 prep activities to do, as the word prep would suggest, before the session.

Communicate set up needs

Most office workers are now pretty adept at joining a call, knowing how to share content and avoiding the dreaded ‘not-on-mute while you’re eating a packet of crisps’ issue. In fact, Zoom entered our lexicon almost overnight in the same way as Uber, Deliveroo and older examples like Hoover and Plaster.

That being said, don’t assume. It’s going to be important that you can all see and hear each other so ask everyone attending several days in advance to make sure they’ve got all the right digital and physical tools and equipment:

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You’ll need a Sharpie, a bunch of post-it notes and a few sheets of blank A4 paper.
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You will also need access to, and the software for, the chosen virtual whiteboard and video conferencing software, as well as at least one screen (ideally two).

Check dexterity

Just as you would in a face to face sprint workshop, you’ll need to get your sharpies and paper out for some sketching during this session. Make sure everyone is prepared for this.

Unique to the remote session is digital dexterity. How comfortable are people with inserting, dragging, dropping and amending on a collaborative whiteboard? It might sound easy and obvious, but not everyone has spent quite so much time formatting PowerPoint slides as some of us (thanks, consulting!).

Ask your participants to download your tool of choice and spend some time familiarising themself with it prior to the session.

Choose your collaboration tool

I know, from previous experience, that running a workshop remotely requires more effort from the facilitator in terms of fostering collaboration.

It can feel pretty unnatural brainstorming and ideating as a group when you’re not face to face. Even the individual breakout activities are a bit odd because all you, the facilitator, can see is the top of someone’s heads as they hunch over their desk to draw.

I knew I needed a tool to help with this, and it was a two-horse race from the beginning, between Mural and Miro.

They are pretty similar in terms of functionality, although both are regularly updated, and you can check out the article below from Robert Skrobe to determine which is best for you.

Mural and Miro – A Tale of Two whiteboardsFor this year’s Global Virtual Design Sprint, I’ll have an audience that’ll choose between one of two whiteboarding…www.linkedin.com

I have used Miro more than Mural, and this was also the tool that my client already used, so it was an easy decision.

Set the energy level

Ice-breakers are a bit awkward, I’ll admit, but they’re even more cringe-worthy when they’re over Zoom. As the facilitator, it’s your job to inject some energy into proceedings. Think nursery teacher on speed, and that’s the level of enthusiasm you’re going to need for the duration of the sprint.

Add a couple of basic icebreakers into the first day to familiarise the participants with your tool of choice and each other.

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How heavy is a polar bear? Heavy enough to break the ice! Photo by Hans-Jurgen Mager on Unsplash

Icebreaker 1: Find yourself

This is way, way less deep than it sounds. Ask each of the participants to search themselves on Google (other search engines are available…. or so I’m told) and paste the first image they find into a designated spot on the Miro/Mural board.

Tell your participants that If they have a common name (like, I don’t know ‘Chris Miles’) or share their name with someone famous (like my namesake in the cult British TV Show ‘Skins’), to add something after their name like their hometown, university or something related to their profession.

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A search for ‘Chris Miles’ shows the character from Skins and a semi-famous, baby-faced rapper, so I added ‘product’ to the end of my search.

Icebreaker 2: What you want to get out of the sprint

This one is less an icebreaker and more a task to get people in the right mindset for the design sprint.

Ask the participants to think about what they want to get out of the week. Then, have them add it next to their picture on the board.

Create a template (or use mine!)

You’ll need a template for your virtual whiteboard to successfully run the design sprint remotely.

I determined that reducing the amount of creating and amending both the group and myself would have to do would help the session run faster and smoother.

I checked out the remote sprint guide on the Sprint Book website (which was added earlier this year) but there wasn’t anything for a five-day sprint or with as much detail as I was after, so I set about creating my own.

I took JustMad’s 4-day design sprint template as a starting point. It had detail for just day 1, day 2 and the interviews.

I added more detail for each day, tweaking explanations, adding more descriptions and attempting to make it ‘flow’ more. Once I’d cracked that, I created day 3 and day 4 from scratch.

As I mentioned earlier, I tried to minimise the amount of ‘fiddly’ editing the participants would have to do during the session, as well as having an easy way to reference what was coming up, and recapping what we’d already covered.

You can check out a view-only version of my template below. If you’d like an editable version to use for your own design sprints, just get in touch and I’d be happy to share it with you — it just has to be shared directly as I don’t have the premium version of Miro.

5 Day Virtual Design Sprint TemplateA template for the full 5-day design sprint, including all the activities and required voting dots.miro.com

To run the sprint, simply follow the template, which includes a checklist for each day in the notes.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the template and any key factors I might have missed.

Originally published at https://chrismiles.co on October 26, 2020.


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