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The Remote Design Sprint Guide

How to handle video, whiteboards, voting, facilitation, interviews, and pretty much everything else in a remote Design Sprint

This is a guide for running remote Design Sprints: a realtime, online, video-based twist on the original recipe. This guide includes advice on tools, facilitation, and modified tactics, but it does not include a step by step explanation of the entire Design Sprint process. For that, we recommend the Sprint book!

Why you should (and shouldn’t!) trust us

We know a lot about Design Sprints. Jake created the Design Sprint in 2010, and together Jake and JZ ran hundreds of sprints, perfected the tactics and process, wrote the bestselling Sprint book, and trained thousands of people on running their own sprints.

However, we’re not experts on remote sprints—we’ve only been in a few sprints over video. We believe firsthand experience is critical, so we enlisted the worldwide Design Sprint community to help us create this guide. We knew this would be a giant project, so we asked expert Design Sprint facilitator Jackie Colburn to help us collect and synthesize their advice. With Jackie’s help, we’ve gathered input from more than 100 people around the world who have collectively run thousands of remote Design Sprints.

This is an opinionated “greatest hits” guide

To make this guide as useful as possible, we’ve applied our personal opinions on top of the results of those interviews. We’ve made a recommendation for every tool and tactic you’ll need to run a Design Sprint online. Like a “greatest hits” album, some of the tactics made it into this guide because they’re overwhelmingly popular among the experts we interviewed. When we heard competing advice, we relied on our own judgment to choose the tactics that match the principles we used to develop the Design Sprint.

An important note: Please consider this guide to be a beta version. Although it’s based on our experts’ real-world experience, the exact combination of tactics in this guide are not yet a proven recipe. We’d love to hear your feedback when you use it—please send us an email (remote@thesprintbook.com) and let us know how it goes.

Finally, although we’ve sorted and sifted through everything to give you an opinionated how-to guide, there is a lot more good stuff on remote sprints out there. If you want to go further, you can explore this spreadsheet featuring many of the primary sources we referred to while writing our guide. You’ll find AJ&Smart’s complete guide to remote sprints, Just Mad’s remote sprint video series, a bunch of case studies, and much more.

Alright, enough preamble. Let’s shut the door and get remote.

0. Set the stage - Tools  /  Whiteboard  /  Schedule  /  Team  /  Tips

1. Map - Introductions  /  Explain  /  Goal  /  Questions  /  Map  /  Experts  /  HMW  /  Target

2. Sketch - Research Kick Off  /  Lightning Demos  /  Divide or Swarm  /  Four-Step Sketch

3. Decide - Sticky Decision  /  Storyboard

4. Prototype - Tools  /  Divide and Conquer  /  Build the Prototype  /  Trial Run

5. Test - Customer Interviews  / Taking Notes / Wrap up

Thank Yous

0. Set the stage

Prep work is especially important for a remote Design Sprint, so this section of our guide is especially long 🤓 There’s a lot to do: you need to choose and build comfort with new software tools, and you need to prepare the people who will be in your sprint. Design Sprints always seem a little weird compared to regular work, but a remote sprint? It will seem extra weird, and it can go off the rails if you aren’t ready.

"Sweat the details in the beginning and automate your process as much as possible. It allows you to focus on building a connection with your remote peers, keeping up the energy levels and enthusiasm throughout the sprint, and empowering everyone to contribute to the best of their ability."  
Alesha Unpingco, Google
“The hardest week of a remote sprint is the week before because there is a lot more pre-work.”  
Jason Fund, IDEO

In this section, we’ll get you ready for your remote Design Sprint. But you might also want some practice. Kristen Brillantes, former head of design operations at Google Ventures and Stripe, recommends practicing on smaller work sessions to build your team's muscle and confidence in remote collaboration.

“If your team is less experienced with remote work in general, try to avoid jumping into a full remote Design Sprint right away. A sprint should not be the first time your teammates are using and learning key tools and software.”
Kristen Brillantes, The Sarap Shop

0.1 Choose the right tools

When we published Sprint in 2016, we recommended running Design Sprints in person. “Hopefully the technology for remote sprints is just around the corner,” we wrote, “but it’s not quite here yet.”

Two big things happened since 2016. First, the technology did improve. Virtual whiteboards, video chat, and iPads with pens all got better and became more widespread. We sorta predicted that, cool! Second, most of the world went under a stay-at-home order in 2020. Didn’t see that one coming, and it’s not cool at all. But the pandemic does mean we’re all more comfortable with doing business over video, whether we like it or not.

You’ll need three essential tools for your remote sprint. First, video conferencing to keep everyone in sync during group activities. Second, a virtual whiteboard app that will become your shared brain for the sprint. And third, a team discussion board for communication throughout the week.

Video Conferencing

Just like an in-person sprint, you’ll gather the whole team in one room for your remote Design Sprint. Although in this case, it’ll be a video conference room. For the best experience, ask everyone to turn on their cameras and join via video. It’s not the same as having your team together in a physical room, but it’s so much better than audio-only.

👉 Our pick for video conferencing: Zoom — There’s a reason Zoom has become synonymous with video calling in 2020: It just works. Nearly every facilitator we interviewed recommended Zoom. The ubiquity of Zoom also means that your sprinters are probably already comfortable with it. Zoom’s display options (including gallery view) are great, it has powerful screen sharing, and the goofy backdrop feature can be pretty fun when you’re spending all week staring at the same people. (Just take note of the privacy and security concerns with Zoom and make sure you’re comfortable asking your team to use it.)

“As a co-founder of Google Meet, I am annoyed to recommend Zoom, but damn it, everybody uses Zoom and it just works.”  
— Jake

If you plan on doing a lot of facilitation over video, you might consider upgrading your personal A/V setup. For a few ideas, check out JZ’s guide to better video and audio.

"The facilitator should have a sharp and brightly lit image. While not a must-have, a good external microphone and webcam is an investment that quickly pays off and there are many great options out there. If you want to get really fancy, you might also think about getting proper lighting so your face is evenly lit."
Amr Khalifeh, AJ&Smart
Virtual Whiteboard

In Sprint, we recommend using a room with at least two whiteboards. These whiteboards are essential, because they’re a shared visual record of everything that happens in your sprint. It’s impossible to have too much whiteboard space. Stopping the sprint to take photos, erase, and redraw the board is not a huge deal, but it’s best if you can just keep moving while preserving all the work you’ve done so far.

Online whiteboards are one feature that give remote Design Sprints an advantage over in-person sprints. When you’re whiteboarding in the cloud, you get infinite space and a forever record of your sprint. It’s pretty cool.

👉 Our pick for virtual whiteboards: Miro — When we first published this guide in 2020, we went with Mural based on a slight edge in community recommendations. After a year spent working online ourselves and a ton of firsthand experience, Miro gets the nod for better polish and responsiveness. Jake is also now an advisor at Miro, so he is biased! But he'll also be doing his best to make sure it continues to get even better in the future.

“We usually have to clean out the Design Sprint room at the end of the week. But when you do it virtually, you get to keep your sprint room forever in the cloud!”
Douglas Ferguson, Voltage Control
Team Discussion

Time zones don’t always line up, and video chat can be exhausting. So we recommend that you do some of the individual sprint activities, well, individually. (We’ll explain that a lot more below.)

To keep the team connected during these offline periods, you’ll need another tool for team discussion throughout the week.

👉 Our pick for team discussion: Basecamp — We like Basecamp because it’s purpose-built for project coordination. It’s easy to invite external participants, which is often necessary in a sprint. And unlike Slack or Microsoft Teams, it’s not designed to interrupt you with realtime updates.

Customer Testing

We suggest you follow Michael Margolis’s 4-Day Research Sprint process for recruiting customers, planning your interviews, and testing your prototype. Here’s something cool: Very few modifications are required to do this remotely! In fact, a majority of our customer tests with Michael (when we worked together at GV) were done online.

There are two essential tools for running remote customer tests: One for recruiting customers and one for conducting the interviews.

👉 Our pick for recruiting customers: UserInterviews.com — Michael Margolis says it’s his new favorite, and that’s good enough for us! UserInterviews.com is great for recruiting both easy-to-find and hard-to-find customers.

You may choose to run ads to find customers. We recommend Craigslist in the book, and AJ&Smart loves using Facebook Ads for their precise targeting. (No matter where you run ads, make sure you use a screener survey.)

“Craigslist works better for local participants who are easier to find, like scooter riders or parents. Not as good for specific professions or other, less common people. For example, I recently had to find people who have some specific serious diseases, and Craigslist won't work great for those. My new favorite is User Interviews. They've done a great job helping me source interviewees I thought would be very hard.”
Michael Margolis, GV

👉 Our pick for interviewing customers: Not Zoom — Whoa, okay, what? We like Zoom, but we think you need a different video conferencing tool for customer interviews.

Here’s why: Zoom is your remote Design Sprint war room. It’s your space. You wouldn’t invite customers into your war room during an in-person sprint, and you shouldn’t do it in a remote sprint either. Here are two recommendations:

  • Old school: GoToMeeting. This is what Michael Margolis uses and recommends. It’s time-tested and battle-hardened. “GoToMeeting has consistently worked well enough given all of my requirements. For example, making it easy for teams to observe is a top priority for me.”Michael Margolis, GV
  • New school: Whereby. AJ&Smart uses Whereby in their remote customer interviews. “It works great on Google Chrome and doesn’t require participants to create an account or install software—all they have to do is install a plug-in for screen sharing. You can set up a room with a dedicated, permanent URL so you don’t have to share confusing meeting IDs every time. You can also lock rooms to avoid people joining by accident in the middle of an interview.”Amr Khalifeh, AJ&Smart

Whatever software you pick, keep in mind this advice from Brie Anne Demkiw:

“Stick to video and screen sharing tools that require minimal setup for the participant. Since you are looking for validation beyond basic usability testing, avoid unmoderated tools like UserTesting.com for design sprints.”
Brie Ann Demkiw, Automattic
Stick with what works

If you already have tools that work for you and your team, don’t switch just because we said so. For example, if your company runs on G Suite, you probably want to use Google Meet for video conferencing. Or maybe your team already uses Slack instead of Basecamp—go ahead and use it for your sprint as well.

But if you’re not already using these essential tools, go with our picks. They’re backed up by a community of folks who have run thousands of remote Design Sprints. Choose with care, because new tools tend to stick around and become old tools. What you use in your Design Sprint today might become part of your team’s workflow for a long time.

0.2 Set up your virtual whiteboard

Make sure to set up your whiteboard in advance. Create a template in Miro, or use our recommended template (linked below). Here are a few things to keep in mind as you prepare your whiteboard:

  • Create a separate space for each day and each activity. Another advantage of remote sprints: With unlimited space, you can give each step in the process its own dedicated area on the whiteboard. This framework gives your team a visual roadmap at the beginning of the sprint, helping to explain the process to newbies. It also provides a sort of “progress bar” during the week: Each time you complete an activity and move to the next space, you’re visibly closer to your goal.
  • Prepare each space with examples and instructions. Use sample HMWs, Lightning Demos, etc to help your team make the most of each activity.
  • Set up individual spaces for individual work. For any activity where people work individually, give them a separate space on the whiteboard. Then you can move each person’s work into a shared area for voting and clustering.

👉 Our pick for virtual whiteboard setup: Use this Miro template — We asked Design Sprint Ltd facilitator Stéph Cruchon to expand his standard template for remote sprints and make it available for anyone to use. (He agreed!)

🎁 Bonus! We made a video to show you the template:

0.3 Plan your sprint schedule

Stick close to the proven Design Sprint schedule from the book and checklists. The standard schedule already includes a break every 90 minutes or so, but consider adding even more breaks to give folks a chance to step away from the computer and rest their eyes.

You may be tempted to shorten the Design Sprint process when you’re doing it remotely. But the community is unanimous in saying that it actually takes longer to run a remote sprint. Sorry about that!

“While technology can speed us up, it can also slow us down. [In a remote sprint,] it can be more difficult to tell if someone is falling behind. You might have to stop and catch them up. Often people get distracted so you have to wrangle the cats more.”
Douglas Ferguson, Voltage Control

Add in the extra prep time for you, and yeah—it’s a big time commitment. As always, it’s essential that you choose a big challenge for your sprint. People won’t be willing to spend five focused days on a project that’s unimportant or nice-to-have.

Of course, there is one tiiiny little detail that could disrupt your sprint schedule: Time zones. (Special thanks to Design Sprint facilitator Ross Chapman for helping us figure this out.)  

Scheduling across time zones

Since you’re running a remote sprint, there’s a good chance your team is not located in the same time zone. Here’s how to schedule your sprint across time zones.

If everyone’s in the same time zone (say, because you’re all WFH due to a global pandemic, just to choose a random example): Follow the schedule from the book.

If your team is spread across adjacent time zones (for example, you’re all on the same continent): Adjust the sprint schedule so it fits into the reasonable daytime hours shared by everyone. (Use World Time Buddy for this.)

If you’re all over the place but generally on the same side of the planet: You can’t do the entire sprint together, so you’ll need to figure out which activities you can do alone.

Start by putting all of your time zones into World Time Buddy and see where you have overlaps. Then, identify “together time” and “alone time” for each region, like this:

Finally, take the standard Design Sprint schedule and adjust it based on your team’s mix of together time and alone time. In the example above, that might look something like this:

SUNDAY

  • Alone: USA sprinters write down Long-Term Goal and Sprint Questions

MONDAY

  • Alone: Europe sprinters write down Long-Term Goal and Sprint Questions
  • Together: Choose Long-Term Goal and Sprint Questions
  • Together: Make the Map
  • Together: Ask the Experts and Write/Organize HMWs
  • Together: Pick a target
  • Alone: USA sprinters prepare for Lightning Demos  

And so on…

If you’re on opposite sides of the planet: God help you.

Seriously, this is a super difficult situation. Here’s an idea to try: Split your sprint team into two or three groups, each clustered roughly on one half of the earth. These teams can each run their own “competing” sprints on the same challenge. If you try this, be sure to have the teams share progress or have some overlap calls two or three times during the week.

Here’s how IDEO handled a super complex around-the-world remote sprint:

“We ran a design sprint with The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Hindustan Unilever, and The Better Than Cash Alliance focused on building a mobile application to digitize operations for over 100,000 shop owners in rural India. It was across 5 time zones with people in India, Netherlands, San Francisco, Senegal, and Boston.
“We had plenary sessions where everyone came together twice a day, including extended stakeholders and experts who weren't part of the full sprint, and then four subteams of 4-6 people each who worked together for the bulk of the day. San Francisco started our day at 7am, Netherlands started their day at 4pm, India started their day around 11am. At the end of India's day, we'd all be on a call together. Then, on the last day, each team made a final presentation that covered their prototype and a plan to test it in the real world.
“The logistics were challenging, and we put in a lot of prep work, but in the end, it surpassed all of our expectations and was actually better than an in-person sprint in many ways. We plan to run many more virtual sprints—not just during this moment of social distancing, but even after restrictions are lifted.”  
Jason Fund, IDEO
Make time for team-building

We’ll admit right at the beginning of this section: We are big time skeptics of team-building activities. You know what we’re talking about: icebreakers, trust falls, so-called “fun offsites”, that sort of thing.

On the other hand, we think the Design Sprint process is an authentic and organic way to strengthen your team. With a shared mission, a clear deadline, face-to-face work, and plenty of time for breaks and lunches, it’s team-building that’s perfectly aligned with the work that matters to your organization.

A remote Design Sprint keeps some of those benefits—like the mission and deadline—but loses the face-to-face work and unstructured social time. That means it’s a great opportunity to make time for some (non-cheesy) team-building activities.

We’ll share specific suggestions in the step-by-step guide below. But for now, as you’re planning your sprint, be sure to leave time for these extra bonding activities throughout the week.

0.4 Prepare your sprint team

Assemble a team based on our advice in the book: Get a Decider. Recruit seven or fewer people with diverse skills to make up your core team. Schedule extra experts for the first day. And don’t forget to pick a Facilitator. (Hint: It’s probably you.)

Schedule 30 minutes with your team the week before the Design Sprint to explain how the sprint works and show them the video conferencing, whiteboard, and team discussion software you’ll be using. This is a chance for them to practice using the tools AND an opportunity for you to get a dry run without the pressure of the schedule. During the meeting, check in with each person and verify that they can access and use all the software.

"The technology is new to people and you can't take that for granted. So we do an 'introductions' activity in Mural as pre-work before the sprint starts. This lets everyone practice and work out any kinks with access,  sign-on, using virtual stickies, typing, reshaping, uploading images, drag and drop, etc."
Kandis O'Brien, The Six
Try for two screens

Remote sprints are better if participants have two screens because they’ll be able to simultaneously see their teammates (on one screen) and the whiteboard (on the other), just like in real life. Most of us don’t use two screens all the time, but sometimes people have the right hardware if you ask. They can use a laptop and external monitor, two laptops, or a laptop and iPad.

If some or all of your participants are limited to one screen, don’t sweat it. For folks stuck on a single screen, AJ&Smart has a great suggestion:

“Help participants set up their workspace like this: ⅓ of the screen should be dedicated for the video call, and ⅔ for the digital whiteboard. This way, everyone feels like they are working as a team and their participation becomes more collaborative and less anonymous.”
Amr Khalifeh, AJ&Smart
Don't forget the office supplies

Your team will need the supplies to create a Solution Sketch. Most people don't have 3x5 sticky notes, PaperMate Flair pens, and whiteboard markers sitting around, so make sure they at least have a Sharpie and some plain printer paper before your sprint begins.

0.5 Facilitation tips for remote sprints

Our standard advice for facilitators still applies in a remote sprint. Check out the book, the checklists, and this article for more.

But remote Design Sprints are special, so we have seven special tips for facilitation when the team’s not all together:

  • Always-on video: Ask all participants to keep their video on throughout the sprint.
  • Shut the doors: Make sure everyone has a quiet place to work. (Of course, if you’re working at home with pets or kids or partners, sound happens!)
  • Prepare snacks: In an in-person sprint, the facilitator makes sure food and caffeine are available. In a remote sprint, you’ll have to remind the team to be ready with something quick:
“Tell participants to think ahead to what they might want for snacks and lunch and prepare these in advance. Maybe a flask of coffee if you know leaving the room might be hard (kids!)”
Nicola Rix, Google
  • Check in: Every time the team logs in (after break or first thing in the morning), do a video and audio check. It’s a good way to make sure everything’s working and everyone’s ready for action.
  • “Hall pass” protocol: Give the team a way to notify the group if they need to step away. We recommend using Zoom’s chat feature to post quick away messages.
  • Two facilitators: If possible, get a co-facilitator who can focus on team engagement. This person should focus on the people, not the process, and reach out to anyone who’s not participating.
“All of our remote sprints include a facilitator and a minder. The minder is the point of contact via chat, phone, and text and checks workspaces to see if any team members need help. The minder also scans Zoom to check participants' body language (nodding with agreement, furrowed brow, head down or turned away) to see who is engaged, tracking, or potentially lost. After we give instructions, we ask for a quick thumbs up or down before moving forward. If team members are confused, the minder jumps in and provides a new voice to explain and clarify the activity.”
Julia Jackson, Wily
  • Practice visual facilitation: It’s tough to keep people engaged in a remote sprint, so try using pictures or drawings to illustrate the process. Use Miro's Attention Management features to direct your sprinters’ attention.
  • Pass the mic: “In a remote sprint, organic discussion quickly turns into Zoom chaos,” says Julia Jackson. She recommends an activity called Pass the Mic:
“When it's time to Pass the Mic, everyone is muted. Then the facilitator rotates through the team, taking one person at a time off mute. We go in the same order every time so everyone knows what to expect. If you don't have something to share, no worries—you can easily pass. We've found this helps keep the Sprint moving, engages the team, and ensures all voices are heard at critical inflection points.”
Julia Jackson, Wily
  • Call on people: Don’t be afraid to “point at people and call their name out,” says IDEO’s Jason Fund. In a normal Design Sprint, you can use non-verbal techniques for drawing attention to certain individuals or giving them the spotlight. In a remote sprint, you’ll have to be more direct about it.

We’ve got three more great tips from Kristen Brillantes for ensuring each person on your team has the best experience possible:

  • Micro jobs: “Make each person responsible for a small piece of the sprint experience. For example, ask someone to keep time, someone to curate a playlist, and someone to handle video conferencing links. This gives the facilitator more energy to focus on facilitating, and it creates an IKEA effect, raising the team’s investment in the week.”
  • Individual plans: “Ask everyone what is challenging about remote meetings specifically for them. Make a plan to address or mitigate what they bring up. For example, if you have a teammate who has misophonia, make a rule to mute when you snack. Or if a teammate has a back injury and is unable to sit for long periods of time, you can plan more breaks.”
  • Interruption signal: “Decide on a fun, simple way to signal when someone wants to interject. This will help reduce the energy it takes to jump into a heated discussion, especially for those who might be more soft spoken.”

Several members of the Design Sprint community mentioned music as a great tool for augmenting your facilitation and making the sprint experience feel special.

Turning music on and off is a great way to say ‘we're changing gears here, folks’ so I use it often. In the morning, I play music as people are trickling in. I turn it off when we're ready to start, often 10 or so minutes past the hour. This is nice because it's a non-stressful way to ease into the morning that gives a bit of grace to people who are late. During breaks I play music to encourage people to actually take a break. I always play music during Art Museum. (It's a bit cheeky but I play Mussorgsky’s ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’). At the end of the day as folks are cleaning up I play something celebratory.”
Xander Pollock, Palo Alto Design Co

Finally, here’s a reminder that you have to work extra hard to make everyone feel comfortable in a remote Design Sprint:

“Hospitality is crucial for a Design Sprint—it’s how you help your client/team feel welcome, warm, and comfortable. Think creatively about how you can still provide a ‘white-glove experience’ in a digital sprint. For instance, send everyone $50 for meals, or get the name of coffee shops near your client to deliver coffee each morning. It’s not that expensive, and it shows that you’re not treating this as ‘just some webinar,’ but it’s just as important to you as an in-person sprint.”
Justin Mertes, Crema
“Video chat can be a tool to build culture. We've sent ‘phone sleeping bags’ to our clients to use during meetings. We've bought surprise breakfast for teammates that arrives during meetings. We've done show-and-tells for items magnetized to our fridges.”  
Simone Stolzoff, IDEO  

Whew! Like we said, it takes extra time and energy to prepare for a remote Design Sprint. But it’s totally worth it. One thing we heard over and over is that for all the extra trouble, remote sprints also bring extra benefits:

"Lots of things are actually better with a remote Design Sprint. With a virtual whiteboard, everything is readable, reviewing is easier, and voting is simplified. There are none of the real world headaches that come with booking conference rooms or getting building access. And no travel! Without commuting or flying we can still work together and bond in a meaningful way."
Diana Liu, The Six

With everything set, you’re ready for the first day of your sprint! In the section below, we’ll provide remote-specific tips, tactics, and advice for each part of the Design Sprint process. Remember to keep your book or checklist handy for the complete sprint guide. This is just the remote stuff.

📺 Watch a video of these activities

1. Map

1.1 Introductions

As mentioned, we’re not fans of icebreakers in real life, but over video, they’re worth it. Start with Ross Chapman’s Selfie Sketch. It’s a great way to get to know everyone a bit better, and participants also get some practice with Miro.

1.2 Explain the sprint

You already had a team meeting to explain the sprint and demonstrate the tools—right?! 😀

Re-introduce the Design Sprint process and give a tour of the whiteboard while briefly describing each activity. Answer any questions from the team. It’s okay to repeat things you said in the prep meeting. Short-term memory is imperfect, so it’s safe to assume people will have forgotten details and appreciate the reminder.

1.3 Long-Term Goal

Do this activity “by the book” and write the Long-Term Goal on your virtual whiteboard. Make sure you put it in a spot that’s easy to reference throughout the sprint.

(Bonus activity: We often write down a high-level Metric when we are running Design Sprints. It’s the same process as the Long-Term Goal, but instead of writing down a short sentence, you’re writing a number, like “20% of customers try the new feature.”)

1.4 Sprint Questions

Use a Note-and-Vote to gather Sprint Questions from the team. We’ve adjusted the steps to help you run the process online:

  1. Note: Everyone writes down their ideas individually on a piece of paper. (This step is the same.)
  2. Self-Edit: Each person reviews their own list and picks one or two favorites. (This step is also the same.)
  3. Share: One at a time, each person creates a Miro sticky note for their idea and places it on the board.
  4. Vote: Give each person two votes in Miro. Everyone chooses their favorite idea and places their votes.
  5. Decide: The Decider makes the final decision based on the votes (or not). If you’re not sure, you can wait and choose your Sprint Questions after you complete the map.

1.5 Map

Use Stéph Cruchon’s Note-n-Map. It’s clearer than what we described in the book, and it won’t drive you crazy!

Create a space in your board for each participant to work. Then, facilitate the process of creating a single map with the team.

1.6 Ask the Experts

Run the interviews like normal, but give each sprinter a separate space for their HMW notes.

1.7 How Might We

Organizing the HMWs as a single large group can get unwieldy. Ask a few people to sort and cluster the notes as a sub-group.

“I think assigning 2-3 people or about half the group is good. They will bump into each other some but they stay engaged. I secretly pick the people who are most easily distracted.”
Marin Licina, Gradient Ventures

Use Miro's voting feature to select the best HMWs.

After voting, move the HMW notes which received votes to the map.

1.8 Target

Do it the usual way: Choose your most important customer and one target moment on the Map, and mark it on the whiteboard. Now you’ve got your focus for the rest of the Design Sprint: the sketches, prototype, and test all flow from this decision.

Way to go!

📺 Watch a video of these activities

2. Sketch

2.0 Kick off your 4-Day Research Sprint

Michael Margolis’s 4-Day Research Sprint was engineered to run in parallel with a Design Sprint. On Tuesday, start recruiting customers that fit the target profile from Monday.

2.1 Lightning Demos

Streamline this activity by giving each person a few minutes to prepare their demos in a separate space of the Miro board. This saves the time (and headaches) involved in having everybody share their screen one-by-one. Plus, starting with a “demo board” for each sprinter makes the facilitator’s job easier: You can copy elements from the individual boards into your shared board of quick-reference sketches.

2.2 Divide or Swarm

Do this step by the book.

2.3 The Four-Step Sketch

Follow the instructions in the book, but make this an “offline” activity for your team. In other words, people should work on paper, and you don’t need to sit there on Zoom while everyone sketches. There are a few nice benefits to doing it this way:

  • Everyone gets a break from staring at the computer!
  • People have the option to sketch in another part of their home or office
  • You can move this part of the sprint schedule to accommodate time zones (check out step 0.3 above for more on that)

Adjust the format of your Solution Sketches to work with the supplies everyone has at home. Just make sure all sketches are in the same format, to create a level playing field. If nobody has 3x5 sticky notes, for example, you can have them draw directly on blank paper:

“For the four-step sketch, I have people use a piece of printer paper and fold it into thirds. They might need to do a few or end up cutting up and taping together the best panels, but it's totally doable with just printer paper and a Sharpie.”
Jackie

Make sure everyone has detailed instructions before you start. (Have we mentioned the book?) There’s a special final step: Everyone should photograph their sketch and email it to the facilitator. Then you’ll be ready to set up the Art Museum first thing on Wednesday morning.

Wow, is it Wednesday already?

📺 Watch a video of these activities

3. Decide

3.1 Sticky Decision

Art Museum

Arrange the photos of each sketch in the designated area on your whiteboard. (Remember to keep it anonymous.)

Heat Map

Do this part the normal way. Create a bunch of dots (small circles) in Miro. Then have each person review the sketches silently and put one to three small dot stickers beside every part they like.

“While the built-in voting mechanisms on Miro and Mural are great, we like to recreate the blue sticky dot experience for virtual sprints. For any activity needing votes, we have blue circles copied to that section of the board and assigned to each team member. To cast their votes, they just drag and drop! It's energizing to see all the movement on the board and watch the ‘heat’ grow.”
Julia Jackson, Wily
Speed Critique

Follow the steps in the book. Take three minutes per sketch to discuss the highlights of each solution. Capture standout ideas and important objections. (Bonus tip: We no longer give the sketcher a change to speak up at the end. Sorry sketcher! But we allow the sketcher to participate anonymously in the critique. Yay sketcher!)

Straw Poll

We recommend using Miro's voting feature to facilitate the Straw Poll. This is an improvement over in-person Design Sprints because it helps keep voting anonymous and allows you to reveal all the votes at once.

Supervote

Create a few large dots in MIro and allow the Decider to choose which solutions the team will prototype!

3.2 Winners & Maybe-Laters / Rumble or All-in-One / Fake Brand Names

Do these steps by the book.

The storyboard can be tricky, so give the team a break before you start. When you return, it’s a good opportunity for an icebreaker. Here are two ideas:

  • Give each person 60 seconds to show off something in their immediate surroundings. For example, a room in their house, an object on their desk, or even their collection of refrigerator magnets.
  • From Margriet Buseman at Orange Minds: “Every lunch break we have a photo challenge. At the end of the day the best picture is voted in Miro. It’s a nice way to have people get active and share something personal.”

3.3 Storyboard

Use AJ&Smart’s Design Sprint 2.0 Storyboarding Hack. It makes a lot more sense than what we recommend in the book 😒

If you don’t feel like watching the video linked above, here’s the process step-by-step:

  1. Create a separate space for each person to work on the whiteboard
  2. Each person creates sticky notes for the first 4-6 steps in their proposed storyboard
  3. Collect all the sticky notes and arrange them, one row per person
  4. Vote on the stickies (everyone gets one dot)
  5. Consolidate the winning stickies into a single storyboard flow
  6. Repeat steps 2–5, if necessary, to make the rest of your storyboard

Your storyboard is the blueprint for your prototype. So with your plan made, now you’re ready for Thursday 👍

📺 Watch a video of these activities

4. Prototype

4.1 Pick the Right Tools

Like in any sprint, your normal tools may not be right for building a realistic prototype in one day. You need tools that are easy for anyone to use (not just designers or engineers) and encourage you to make something that looks realistic (but avoid making it perfect).

Here’s a cheat sheet for choosing the right tools.

App Prototypes (and other digital products)

👉 Our pick: Figma — There are many (many!) great tools for prototyping digital products, but Figma is best for remote Design Sprints because it allows teams to work in parallel on the same document. A few other Figma features we like:

  • It’s approachable for non-designers (especially if a designer creates a template)
  • During Friday’s test, you can simply use Figma’s Prototype feature to give your customers access (no extra tools required)
  • It works well on all devices and operating systems
“Figma is the obvious choice. It allows for live collaborative prototyping… not to mention the huge plug-in library and vast amounts of UI kits that will help speed up your workflow.”
Ana Oarga, Just Mad
“We use Figma for the prototype. Usually team members are able to use it in a basic way: add text, add buttons, paste images, etc. I am a huge Sketch fan and Adobe XD is awesome too, but the entry bar is too high. Only designers can use it. During a sprint, I can create a project in Figma, send a link to the whole team, and each participant can join the project and start working simply with a Chrome browser, all at the same time.”
Stéph Cruchon, Design Sprint Ltd
Marketing Prototypes

If you don’t know what to prototype, prototype the marketing. It’s a handy shortcut that allows you to test the concept, features, and value of your product or service without actually prototyping the product or service. (In the book, we call this the Brochure Façade, and we’ve used it in more than half of our Design Sprints. Even when the sprint wasn’t about capital-M “Marketing.”)

👉 Our pick: Squarespace — If you haven’t used Squarespace, warning, you might end up with five new websites you never knew you needed. It’s just that easy to get started. And once you’ve selected a template, your team can work in parallel on different pages of the website.

4.2 Divide and Conquer

Follow the approach we describe in the book and split up the team during prototyping day. You’ll need:

  • Makers (2 or more)
  • Stitcher (1)
  • Writers (1 or more)
  • Collector (1 or more)
  • Interviewer for Friday’s test (1)

You’ll probably want to break the storyboard into smaller scenes and assign each to different team members. We recommend using Zoom’s breakout rooms to give each subteam a way to keep in touch.

4.3 Build the Prototype

As individual sections of the prototype near completion, the Stitcher moves in. It’s the Stitcher’s job to make the prototype consistent from beginning to end—and ensure that every step is as realistic as possible.

4.4 Do a Trial Run

Don’t forget to do a trial run of your prototype toward the end of the day (but not so late that you don’t have time to fix any issues). Bring the entire team back together and have the Stitcher run through the prototype. Look for consistency and realism. Check against the storyboard. Make sure your prototype will actually help you answer your Sprint Questions.

📺 Watch a video of these activities

5. Test

Just like everything else in the remote design sprint, you can conduct your customer interviews over video chat instead of in-person—but you’ll need a few modifications. When writing Sprint, we talked to GV’s Michael Margolis, who has run hundreds of interviews over video, to find out how to make it work. Here’s what we learned:

“You’ll need to work extra hard to engage your customer, put her at ease, and encourage her to think aloud. And the technology presents another challenge. You don’t want to waste valuable time getting your video-conference software up and running, so practice ahead of time and send your customers a detailed how-to guide for connecting.” (page 256)

Here are some tips for putting Michael’s advice into action:

  • Send a how-to guide. Don’t assume your interviewee has used GoToMeeting (or whatever software you’re using) before. Give them simple step-by-step instructions.
  • Sign documents in advance. Remote interviews still require signed NDAs. We recommend using Docusign to get participants to e-sign beforehand, which gives them time to review the documents and also saves precious interview time.
  • Be extra friendly. Video drains about half the energy from a conversation, so you’ll have to project more energy in your interviews. You don’t need stage makeup and a clown’s demeanor—just be extra attentive, and give lots of verbal and non-verbal clues that you’re listening. Also consider an extra half cup of coffee in the morning.
“Genuinely greet the user with excitement and warmth, as opposed to taking a formal, procedural tone. We say things like ‘Are you comfortable? Do you need anything before we start? Anything to drink? Take your time, I wish I could offer you something!’” Amr Khalifeh, AJ&Smart
  • Hide your team. Having the full team visible in the room can be intimidating. Make sure your teammates turn off their video. Ideally, find a way to hide or minimize them in the video call with your customer.
Expect every possible tech failure

Here’s AJ&Smart’s troubleshooting cheat sheet (thanks to Amr Khalifeh for these tips):

  • Customer’s webcam doesn’t work or they don't want to share video ➔ Tell them it's okay. Don’t worry about it. It’s not a must-have.
  • Customer’s mic doesn’t work ➔ Help them troubleshoot (be prepared to tell them where to click in your conferencing tool and Mac/PC settings). Be prepared to call them on their cell and use that for audio. (Tip: have some Skype credit to call internationally, have Skype Call Recorder installed to record the call)
  • Customer’s screen sharing doesn’t work ➔ Guide them to where they should click. Be prepared to guide them on exactly on how to do it (e.g. "Now click Add to Chrome. Do you have it? Cool, you can close that and go back to the video call and try clicking the screen sharing button again...")
  • Customer’s computer is too slow to load the prototype or screen share ➔ Have the prototype open and your machine and be prepared to share your screen and demo from your side instead. Ask them where they would want to click next and do the clicking for them.
  • Customer joins on mobile but you need them on desktop (even though you told them several times before) ➔ Ask them if they can switch to a computer or get to one relatively soon. Be prepared to let them go and call a backup tester instead (and obviously have backup testers, see below…)
  • Expect people not to show up and have backups. Try to mitigate this by sending people reminders (and remind them there's a human on the other end who will be in trouble if they don't show up without prior notice!)
  • Expect your main recording tool to fail (sometimes silently!) and always record the call using two tools.

Yes, there is a lot that can go wrong. But like other elements of a remote sprint, the hassles come with some serious upside:

“Remote testing has many advantages. You can choose from a much wider pool of users. People are in their own environment where they're comfortable, rather than some testing lab or office where they feel on display. And once you transition to the prototype, in most cases the tester won't even see you anymore (because they switched tabs) and they get more comfortable talking than they would in an in-person test.”
Amr Khalifeh, AJ&Smart

5.1 Customer Interviews

The structure of the interview remains the same: Refer to the Five-Act Interview in the book, or check out this video for a quick refresher.

5.2 Taking Notes / Keeping Score

Right after we sent Sprint off to press, we realized there was a much faster way to take notes during customer interviews. Instead of using sticky notes on the wall, we could track the answers to key questions in a spreadsheet. Although a spreadsheet is a bit more rigid than free-form notes, it helps us focus on key questions and makes it easier to see patterns.

We recommend this more structured form of note-taking for any Design Sprint, and especially for your remote sprint. A shared spreadsheet in Google Sheets works great. This scorecard by Voltage Control is a crowd favorite—sprint facilitators love how it allows individuals to capture scores and automatically aggregates them.

If you want to stick with the sticky-note method, use this board from our Miro template to keep everything in one place. This approach might suit your team if they are intimidated by spreadsheets 🤓

5.3 Wrap Up

After your last customer interview, have each teammate fill out a worksheet in the whiteboard summarizing the sprint. Include these questions:

  1. In your opinion, what is the answer to:
    [Sprint question #1]
    [Sprint question #2]
    Etc
  2. Can we reach our Long-Term Goal and Metric with this approach?
  3. Do we need another Design Sprint? If so, what do we need to learn?
  4. What should we do next week?

Set a timer and give everyone three minutes to share their Wrap Up with the group. Let the Decider go last so they can summarize everything they heard and make a decision about what to do. Keep the worksheets in your whiteboard so you can refer back to them. (Bonus tip: Make a video of this discussion and share it with colleagues who weren’t in the sprint!)

Thank Yous & Further Reading

Bigtime thanks to the worldwide Design Sprint community. More than 100 of you submitted your advice, tips, and stories. You’re the best! Reminder: All of the community submissions are included in this spreadsheet:

Extra special thanks to the expert facilitators who talked with us, recorded videos, wrote how-to guides, created templates, provided feedback, and more. In order of appearance:

✌️

More advice, tips, and lessons

©2016–2021 Jake KnappJohn Zeratsky
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