How we make remote design sprints work?

In an ideal scenario we would all be working alongside our teams in our lovely workspaces built for maximum productivity and collaboration. But since that is not the case and will remain unchanged for a while, the only option is to adapt. Considering the circumstances our design team like every other team has gone completely remote and to be honest, it’s not easy.

But processes help. Here is our process laden with some good practices that helps us retain our productivity in a remote environment.

There are numerous questions associated with the who, what, and how of collaboration. Like, who all should be included, how to manage the time zone differences, which tools and exercises to be conducted, and lastly, is it even possible?

We will address the simplest query first – Yes it is possible! Read on to know how you can manage the other aspects that we mentioned.

Tools that make our lives easier

screengrab of trello and asana

We have Trello and Asana for project management. These tools come in real handy when you have a team working on multiple projects. You can make separate channels to keep different projects and related conversations unaffected from other projects. And for communication, Slack saves the day for us. It also lets us separate our sincere work conversations from our casual chats via channels. For video collaboration we use Google meet and Zoom.

Choosing the right suite of tools reduces half of your work/collaboration effort. They might vary for you so do your research and choose wisely.

Meticulous planning and preparations

video call screengrab

We start with a brainstorming session which sets the precedence for the sprint, wireframing and designing process. This chalks out a roadmap for reaching the solution. To make things easier for all the stakeholders involved, our project managers prepare a design brief that answers some basic questions at the outset. It includes:

  • Selecting the right participants
  • Informing everyone about the aim of the meeting and what roles will they play
  • The meeting’s specifics, including the time and date. Making a calendar event for this works out well for us.
  • Stationary and technical requirements, post-its, colored sharpies, quiet background, good internet connection that will allow all-day video conferencing, software to be used, as well as incorporating suggestions from the participants.

Once the brief is sent out, we do follow up calls with the participants. This will ensure that everyone onboard is on the same page to avoid any delays once the meeting starts.

Starting the design sprint

Interface sketches

This elaborate planning is put to test here. We carry out two exercises

1. How might we?

This exercise helps us answer the fundamental questions of the application.

For example, your team is creating an app that helps to keep track of a user’s pet’s meals, vet appointments, exercise timings, etc. You can start by thinking about how you might attract the right set of audience, encourage them to use the app as well as address the different problems of pet owners.

All these “how might we” questions will help you come up with an outline of your product or service. Each team member can come up with a few specific questions that will show possible directions for designing and prototyping the project.

2. Crazy Eights

Crazy Eights has helped us come up with some of our most creative ideas. Everyone on the team needs to come up with 8 different ideas. This gives us a lot to choose from and mix-up the ideas to come up with the best designs.

Creating a prototype and testing it with users

Person holding a phone in front of a laptop

In this stage, we work on combining the ideas to reflect well into an interactive prototype. We build wireframes using Axure and Invision helps us add interaction to our presentation. This is then followed by high fidelity prototypes using Sketch or Figma.

Once the prototypes are built, we bring in unbiased users to put out ideas to test. We leverage to conduct the testing process with our users.

Conducting remote testing

Person taking notes in front of a laptop

  • You should be able to see how is your user interacting with your prototype
  • You can communicate with them continuously for smooth interaction
  • Remote testing should not affect the overall process and thus give the most accurate results.

We test run our setups for avoiding any hiccups once the users are onboard. This saves our time and ensures a smooth testing routine. A Google sheet is created by our team, which pools together all the answers in one place for the questions asked.

This sheet has answers related to the overall app idea, problem areas, and specifics related to the app design. All these answers are shared with the interviewer who evaluates the answers with what she/he observed during the testing. If possible, we do live recording of the users when they are interacting with our prototype, with their permission. This live recording helps us eliminate any biases that could be done subconsciously from the user or the interviewer’s end.

Final takeaways

After successfully running remote design sprints for the past few months, we have come up with a list of prerequisites for running this process smoothly.

  • Live video conferencing is a must at all stages accompanied by a good webcam and microphone. A reliable internet connection helps avoid any lags or connection drops.
  • Setting up meetings considering all the time zones differences. We use World Time Buddy to schedule our meetings. In case you are spread all across the globe, you can keep rotating the meetings to make it easier for everyone involved. You can also record your meetings for the participants who were unable to attend.
  • A quiet work environment during this sprint. This helps in minimizing any background sounds and distractions, thus keeping everyone focused on the tasks at hand. With all of us working from home, this can be a bit difficult, but you should encourage your team to keep this in mind.
  • Have one on one conversations before and after the sprint to see how efficient this process was for everyone involved. Any troubles faced by your teammates will surface on these calls. This feedback loop is aimed at improving this process.
  • Your tool selection should take into consideration all the stakeholders involved, and how comfortable they are with the tools.

To Conclude

Planning and executing remote design sprints is a daunting task. We have been collaborating remotely before this pandemic confined all of us into our home. Over time, we have improved our process with constant evaluation and tool selections.

We would love to collaborate with you virtually and integrate our learning within your projects as well. You can get in touch with us here.


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