The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that the way we work is certainly changing. At Credera, we’ve shifted into a fully remote team, and we had to rethink our process in order to cultivate productivity and collaboration. We had a clear opportunity to practice our processes when facilitating a remote design sprint with one of our healthcare clients. As our first try, we conducted a five-day sprint with 10+ participants spanning central and eastern time zones using just a couple of applications. Much to our surprise, we realized that with the right tools and practices in place, going completely digital was totally possible and even enjoyable. Here are three guiding principles we found helpful when successfully running a remote sprint.
1. Come overprepared
Get a head start. Create repositories for any necessary documentation, conduct a trial run for any online collaboration tools, block out everyone’s schedules, and set up group chats to ensure communication is in place. The week before our design sprint, we spent time setting up a demo and activities in Miro and creating our Teams channel to ensure everything would be ready to go.
Have a tool walkthrough. Utilizing new collaborative applications is both exciting and daunting, especially for those who are not as familiar with new technologies. Make sure to prep an overview of the tools that you are going to use, a tutorial, and even prepare some mock activities to get participants comfortable with the product. For example, we prepared a set of fun activities like creating a bulk post-it note list of the five most recent foods participants had eaten. Doing these activities help ground the participants in how they would be using these tools throughout the week.
2. Structure your time
Manage your time well. Design sprints are intensive both physically and mentally. Preparing an agenda for each day is one thing but getting a feel for the room and where conversations are going is really a “game-time” decision. Do your best to stick to the schedule. Make sure there is someone on your team who is not the facilitator watching the time and rethinking the order of activities if there is a need to pivot.
Keep lunch and breaks sacred. We have found that no session(s) should go more than two hours without a fifteen-minute break. Without breaks and time limits, participants may get exhausted and check out from the process.
Add daily check-ins and debriefs. For our recent remote sprint, the core Credera team met briefly at the start and end of each day to make sure everyone stayed on the same page.
3. Keep it simple
Limit the number of tools involved. Although remote workshops rely on applications to enhance the experience, be cognizant with the tools that are absolutely necessary. We chose to use Miro for all our collaboration and Teams for all sources of communication and resource management.
Avoid observers. Limit the attendees to those who are fully dedicated to participating the entire sprint. This helps everyone stay focused and keep the momentum going. Running a remote design sprint allows for groups to meet virtually rather than being restricted to the confines of a room. This, however, opens the door for an endless number of contributors to jump in at any given time. Do your best to limit your core team to under eight members with a limited number of stakeholders randomly dropping in.
Be realistic. When you start a design sprint, you will uncover a slew of problems and will have to decide which one is worth testing by the end of the week. This can prove to be a difficult task if you aren’t realistic with expectations. As a facilitator, make sure to acknowledge that all the uncovered problems are real and important, but then redirect them to choosing one to solve given the small amount of time. This is the crux of a design sprint because there needs to be some sort of clickable prototype by the end. During the storyboarding session, make sure your whole team has a firm grasp of what is being prototyped and tested on Friday. Most importantly, make sure your designer has a fundamental grasp of the requirements of said prototype. During the prototyping day, support your designer by clearing your calendar and ensuring they feel equipped to jump on a call with you or anyone on your team to clarify a question. Remember that not every part of the designs will be fully fleshed out, and do your best to communicate that with any stakeholders.
Digital collaboration across distributed teams will be more seamless as technology evolves. And although remote facilitation comes with challenges, its effectiveness is heavily reliant on the principles and tools you implement. How will you run your next remote workshop? Need help conducting one? We’d love to share from our experience. Reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.