Facilitating Remote Sprints

With the current need for everything to operate remotely, how can the experience of a real-life Design or Innovation Sprint be translated into an equally engaging and effective online experience?

Prepare your participants

Circulate a primer to all participants – let them know why the design or innovation sprint is happening, why it is worth investing their time and what the potential outcomes might be.

Set up and onboard individual team members with your preferred digital tools in advance – at Xwerx, we use Microsoft Teams or Zoom for video conferencing, and Mural for interactive visual collaboration.

Task each participant with a small exercise to ignite their beginner’s mindset. We like to get individuals to create a digital sticky note with their name on it on their own private Mural board, copy it to the group board and then vote for their sticky note using the voting feature. It’s a simple task but it helps familiarise participants with the basic tools.  

Good preparation helps prevent miscommunication and creates a shared understanding from the outset.

Create a structure and set some rules

A key issue with remote sprints can be the loss of momentum towards the goal, compared to when the team is in the same physical space.

Account for this by providing clear instructions and by sharing a defined structure and timeline for the sprint with the team. Show everyone the road ahead and be their guide through the process.

Set the stage with some ground rules at the start and moderate the sprint to ensure focus and to avoid drift. For example, time-box activities to ensure the schedule remains on track.

You might also insist everyone is “in-camera” – we find visibility improves collaboration and “being seen” tends to increase participation. 

For sprints with a large number of participants, we find chaos ensues if everyone talks at the same time – use the “Mute All” function on Zoom or Teams to prevent this. However, for engagements with two or three people, it’s unnecessary – let the conversation flow naturally.

Familiarise the team and test the system

Start the sprint with a test exercise involving the whole team – get everyone into a collaborative mindset and used to the tools as a group.

This will set the scene for the activities to follow, manage team expectations and ensure everything is working as it should.

At Xwerx, we have tried a number of test activities, including a failed attempt at a Pictionary-style game! A simple exercise called “Your Three Favourite Movies” is our favourite.

On the team board, each team member adds a note for each of their three favourite movies.

The Facilitator then asks each participant to read out their notes, and arranges them into clusters of themes, adding a title note to identify the themes. 

It’s a good icebreaker and demonstrates the Facilitator’s role, how activities are run and importantly encourages everyone to participate and contribute their opinions and ideas.

Conducting Remote Activities

While the goal and activities of the sprint will remain the same when conducted remotely, the delivery and facilitation needs to pivot to account for a virtual setting. For example, the sprint activity known as “Ask The Experts” is where experts in the company share their knowledge about the vision, customer research, how things work, and previous efforts. This is a useful activity to explore some of the techniques that have worked for us while facilitating remote sprints.

The key consideration for any activity is to ensure participants are engaged throughout. While the experts on the team take 5 minutes each to share their perspective on the sprint goal during the “Ask the Experts” session, the rest of the team create “How Might We…?” notes to brainstorm challenges that they will bring to the team.

To avoid the visual distraction of multiple notes being added to the team board at the same time, we ask participants to use their individual boards for private note taking.

Our Facilitator invites each participant to copy and paste their notes into the team board, reading them out as they go, ensuring full participation. Notes are then collaboratively arranged into themes by the entire group.

In this and all activities, we find the Facilitator’s role critical to success and leverage some of the key features of Mural to help. Time creep is reduced using the built-in timer; boards are fully interactive and collaborative for maximum participation; the voting feature speeds up the decision-making process; and the summon feature allows the Facilitator to force the focus of the team at any time.

We find that the great advantage of undertaking remote sprint activities in this way is that all work is created and recorded digitally – consider the valuable time saved by not having to collate physical “How Might We…?” sticky notes! It helps the team and the process to move quickly and easily, from Ideation through to Production.

In summary

  • Prime participants in advance.

  • Provide structure to show the path and destination.

  • Set-out simple rules on remote Sprint etiquette.

  • Mitigate against distraction to ensure engagement.

  • Facilitate collaboration with the right tools.

  • Practice participation, and test tools and infrastructure.