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  • Kate Ainscough

So, Remote Design Sprints ARE a Thing...


I’m just going to be totally honest here, I knew people did run design sprints remotely but I just couldn’t figure out why you would want to and even how it could be possible. What I love about running design sprints is getting a diverse mix of people in a room and focusing them around a common purpose and delivering an awesome prototype in just five short days. I love seeing the camaraderie develop, the emotional highs and lows and the look on their faces when they place the prototype in the hands of their customers. I just could not fathom how you could replicate that remotely. But then things changed.


The good news is that those people who have been running remote design sprints for years have been very kind to those of us who have had to rapidly pivot our businesses to remote delivery. There are some great resources available and I would recommend the remote design sprint guide by Jake Knapp et al and also some brilliant videos by AJ & Smart. Virtual collaboration tools and video conferencing underpin remote design sprints and allow you to develop a virtual space where you and your team can collaborate. My tools of choice are Miro and Zoom, although I’m sure other tools work just as well. There is already a full design sprint template available on Miro and I found this to be a really great starting point.


There are definitely some advantages to running your design sprint remotely. For example, in the last sprint I ran we had team members participating in four different countries and although time zones were a challenge we were able to make it work.

Remote design sprints do not run full time on five consecutive days and now Zoom fatigue is an everyday reality, this can be a big benefit. I’m finding teams are really enjoying participating in shorter more focused sessions which also allows them to keep an eye on the day job or mange things at home. With good planning, it’s easier to get senior leaders involved who would have been unlikely to commit to five full-time consecutive days.


The diversity involved with a remote design sprint can really encourage creativity. For example, groups tasks and individual tasks, real time tasks and homework tasks. The majority of tasks are digital and take place online. But of course, we still sketch final solutions on paper with Sharpies; I ask people to take photos and send them to me so I can upload them overnight into our art gallery.


The main disadvantages I’m experiencing is having to learn new facilitation skills to engage an online audience and also the amount of preparation. It’s challenging to facilitate online and tasks like checking in and making sure everyone gets an opportunity to contribute becomes even more difficult when it’s hard to read physical ques and body language.


The preparation required to deliver a remote design sprint should not be underestimated. Even using an existing template, there is a significant amount of design work and ensuring the team can access and use Miro to a basic level takes time.

It’s difficult not being in the same room to correct small things very quickly. I got to the end of the sketching solution exercise recently and found that someone had produced their solution in PowerPoint because ‘they couldn’t draw’! It’s also really useful to have an extra pair of hands when facilitating to deal with the tech issues (there are always tech issues!) but also because it’s tricky to facilitate a discussion and capture outputs particularly when problem mapping and story boarding.

It’s early days and I do miss the simplicity of having a small team in a room for five days aligned around a common goal; but I think the remote sprint definitely has some interesting advantages for clients. I’m getting some great feedback , but I’m still learning and will keep posting and sharing.


I'd love to hear about other peoples experiences running remote design sprints, whats working really well for you ? What are you finding the biggest challenge ? Let me know at Hello@freestyleinnovation.co.uk

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