The design sprint in a world that works from home

Bryan Dollery

by Bryan Dollery

Back in 2017, we shared our experience with the design sprint. It’s a powerful method to get quick insights into a product that you’re planning to develop. Now, with the global Covid-19 pandemic having changed the way many of us work, we find ourselves with one burning question here at Luxus: can a design sprint be held remotely?

Walking on treadmills

Developed by Google Ventures, a design sprint is a five-day workshop in which an idea is turned in to barebones prototype. After testing that prototype on the fifth day, the team gains valuable insight into their product without having spent time or resources on building and launching a fully functioning version. For a successful sprint, a team of professionals in fields such as customer service, design, business and management must work quickly and closely with one another to identify goals and create something that can be used to test the idea.

For any chance of work-from-home design sprint success story, the key lies in achieving that high standard of teamwork. So, here are three fundamentals of working remotely that are essential for seamless collaboration.

Don’t just schedule meetings – structure them

Sharing ideas and thinking creatively is a big part of the sprint, particularly at the problem-mapping and decision-making stages. But as many of us are aware, communication over conference calls can get a bit strained, with people accidently cutting one another off and moments of silence where everyone is waiting for someone to move things along.

To make conference calls as seamless as possible, designate a meeting leader. This person’s job is to make sure that everyone is aware of the purpose of the call, to make sure everyone gets to speak up and to prevent the meeting from running over. That is not to say that the discussion of ideas should be restricted, but a little bit of structure already goes a great way in keeping meetings productive.

For advice on how to run a meeting, there is an excellent piece from the Harvard Business Review – from March 1976. And yes, it’s absolutely relevant to today, because no matter what tools you’re using or what decade you’re in, we all want to avoid unproductive meetings. “Unless you have a very clear requirement from the meeting,” writes Antony Jay, “there is a grave danger that it will be a waste of everyone’s time.” And since time is a key factor in a design sprint, it is critical that everyone present understands the expected outcomes of a meeting.

Timing is everything

A design sprint is designed to take five days – it’s inherently a highly structured process, so re-structuring it slightly to suit a distance-collaboration format might not be that much of a stretch. But even when online meetings run as smoothly as possible, they just aren’t as dynamic as discussions that happen in the same room.

Consider scheduling an extra day for the problem-mapping and decision-making stages: that’s Monday and Wednesday respectively. Tuesday is about working on ideas as individuals, so there’s probably no need for more time there. Whether you need more time to work with your test groups at the end of the sprint probably depends on the type of product, but sharing or exhibiting digital files over a conference call is not going to be difficult.

Whenever you set yourself a timeframe, it’s always worth considering the following: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely – or in other words, be S.M.A.R.T. Check out this post from MindTools on how to apply the S.M.A.R.T. method and ensure that you’re laying down the right path to achieving your goals.

Choose your weapons wisely

If you’re planning a design sprint, you probably already know the kind of tools that you’ll be using: your office software, design suite, project management tool and so on. But working remotely demands its own set of tools, namely conference calling and file sharing. Many solutions out there offer several functionalities under the same roof – Microsoft Teams, for instance, lets you set up shared folders and project tracking boards for individual teams. For a more tailored stack of software, you might want to check out Slack or Zoom, both of which offer tons of integrations including Google and Microsoft services.

While it’s good to have all of your bases covered, an overstuffed toolbelt can weigh you down. An article by Scoro points out some of the dangers of having too many business tools in place, and unsurprisingly, that golden word crops up again – time. When files and discussions are spread over too many places, teams can potentially waste a lot of time getting lost in a plethora of platforms, and that is something you just can’t afford in a sprint. Make sure your toolbox is tidy and efficient, not full to the brim.

If you’re still looking to put your toolbox together, check out this run-down from HubSpot listing 35 tools and summaries of their key features. There’s also a list from Scoro dedicated just to project management tools. So read up, take your time, then take your pick.

A final note

So is a remote design sprint possible? Maybe. If we had asked ourselves this question before the pandemic, our answer would have probably been no. The design sprint is a tried-and-tested method that leads to real results, so toying with that recipe has its risks. But amidst the disruption and chaos that the corona virus has wrought, we have salvaged an opportunity: to re-evaluate working practices that have gone virtually unquestioned for years. Employers and employees alike are discovering more and more things that can be achieved from home – maybe the design sprint is next in line.

Want to try a remote design sprint with us? Get in touch.