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A Facilitator’s Guide to a Virtual, Global Design Sprint

October 29, 2019

This is a story about a GV style Design Sprint. If you’ve never heard of that, you can learn more here or read the book. It’s also a fully virtual Design Sprint – but trust me, the experience we gained will apply to both virtual and in-person Design Sprints.


Kudelski Security, a long-time client of Crema, reached out to us in a bit of a bind: they needed MVP designs for a new platform – fast. I’m a Product Manager at Crema, so I’m usually in some of the early sales conversations with clients. I also facilitate Design Sprints at Crema, so you can imagine that when a client said “we need designs fast,” my ears perked up like a little puppy. “I think we may have just the right process for you.”


So it begins.


Right off the bat, we had a challenge we’d never faced before: the Kudelski team we’d be working with had employees in Atlanta and Switzerland. We’re in Kansas City, which is neither of those places. So we’d not only be running our first virtual Design Sprint, but we’d be doing it across 3 time zones.

5am never looked so productive!

6 Days… With No User Testing?

The client didn’t have a preference how we helped them or what process we used. All they cared was that we delivered designs that would:

  1. Showcase the technical abilities and business value of this platform.
  2. Provide clarity and momentum to key internal stakeholders.
  3. Cast vision for developers who are chomping at the bit to get to work.


Although we would have loved to have had time for continued user testing, our Sprint team was made up by the people who would be using the platform. We knew that if we got their excited sign-off, we’d be on the right track.


We also know that the traditional Design Sprint does not provide development-ready designs. The problem was, that’s exactly what the client needed. If we’re going to run a Design Sprint, it will be shaped to serve the client, not the other way around. As such, we proposed 3 days of intensive Design Sprint workshops followed by three full days of design work. This gave our designer just enough time to understand the context and then provide the quantity and fidelity of designs the client needed.

Designing Backwards

Knowing that we had to get to 8+ high-fidelity screens in a matter of 6 days, we had to design backwards. First, we started off with what the client needed, then we considered what they already have. In other words, in the a+b=c formula, we first learned the c and then the a. From there, we felt ready to create b.


We relied heavily on the 5-day Sprint methodology, with the main themes of each day being…

  • Day 1: Understand
  • Day 2: Decide
  • Day 3: Storyboard
  • Days 4-6: Design
Day 2’s schedule

Ultimately, we needed to hand off a dropbox folder that included…

  • Final designs (InVision & Sketch)
  • An executive summary (PDF)
  • Pitch deck (.pptx, .key, PDF)
  • Miro boards (PDF, url)
  • Session recordings (.mp4)

Team Rosters

Representing the Crema team:

  • Aubrey Illig: Product Designer – taking in the vision and making it come to life
  • Nicholas Suddarth: Wing-man – making sure things are running smoothly
  • Justin Mertes (yours truly): Facilitator – leading the sessions, scheduling it all out, Crema point person


From the Client Team:

  • Product Owner of the new platform (The Decider) – this platform was/is his baby, and it’s got to meet the goals he has for it.
  • Sr. Project Manager of R&D provided business context & strategy.
  • Software Engineers (3x) – the people who will be using this platform when it goes live.

Our little Brady Bunch group

The Workshops (abridged)

I could (easily) spend hours discussing what we did and why we did it. Instead, I’m going to focus on the main goals of each day, and the main exercises we did to help us get there. I’m going to assume at this point that you’re familiar with what exercises make up a Design Sprint, so I won’t explain those that we didn’t deviate from. Also, I’ve omitted introductions, recaps, homework review, etc.

Day 1: Understand

  • Problem Framing: Each person writes their understanding of the problem, their ideal solution, and the top “How Might We” (HMW) for that solution.
  • Expert Interviews & HMW voting
  • Mapping: How do people get to this platform? What do they do after? What do they do in it? Who does it affect?
  • Homework: Lightning Demos

Day 2: Decide

  • Lightning Demos
  • Dashboard MVP (review existing wireframes – what’s MVP?)
  • 3 pt. Sketch (Notes & Ideas, Crazy Eights)
  • Homework: 3 Part Sketch


Let’s get sketchin’!

Day 3: Storyboard

  • Art Exhibit
  • Connect the Dots: Take each person’s best sketch elements and drag them to the current wireframes, translate to what’s needed for the new design.
  • Dress Rehearsal: Our designer walks them through, screen by screen, what she’s doing and why she’s doing it. This builds huge amounts of trust, and brings up final clarifications that need to be made.
  • Final Survey & Retrospective

Days 4-6: Design & Touch Points

  • Daily meetings with client: We met at 9:30a / 4:30p each day, reviewing the things that had come up in the client’s work day and discussing the things we’d be working on that day. Turns out having a client +7hrs was actually a bit convenient!
  • Continued design

End of Day 6: Asset Delivery

Below are images of the Dropbox folder that house all final assets, as well as key screens from the designs.

Client Feedback & Reactions

With the Sprint completed and assets delivered, we are proud of the work we’ve done. Ultimately, though, it’s the opinion of our clients that matters. Below are some key pieces of feedback from the Kudelski team:


  • “I expected it to be a little more ‘touchy-feely’… [but it was] mature - every exercise added value. Well organized.”
  • “[I wasn’t] sure if design needed a Sprint - after the sprint though, it was great. It focuses on finding and providing value. I have never seen this done in design before.”
  • “Had we not done a Design Sprint, this process would have taken us a month or two, and the quality of the output would have definitely suffered.”
  • “The Sprint made everyone convicted and passionate in the direction we’re going.”


I put these quotes here not to toot our own horn. Far from it. Rather, I include to show that the Design Sprint process works, even when done digitally and globally. The process really is that good.


NOTE: Our client was a dream client in many ways: humble, conversational, open to changing ideas, tech savvy, patient with a process they didn’t know, etc. This is the kind of client we love!

Tools

Design

The client developers specifically requested all designs be done in Ant.Design so that they could get to work immediately. Our Designer quickly downloaded every resource she could and did as much reading as possible. All designs were done in Sketch and shared with the client via InVision.

Communication

We relied on Zoom for all audio/visual communication. Each of our conference rooms are equipped with Zoom Rooms, which makes virtual collaboration a piece of cake (with only the occasional hiccup. No tech is perfect.)


Our team also relied on Slack for offline communication. This came in handy with the whole 3 time zones thing.

The fingerprints on the screen prove two things: 1, we use it a lot. 2, we need to clean our screen.

Whiteboard

We’re big fans of Miro for collaborative workspaces. Our Miro board served as our map for where we were going, what we’re doing now, and where we came from. It didn’t just provide vision to the team, but it proved to be especially important to gain our client’s trust. Having a fully-built-out board proved to the client that we weren’t winging it, but instead had thoughtfully and intentionally prepared each and every aspect of the 3-day workshop.


One client specifically said, “It helped me trust your team more, knowing we weren’t just going from one random thing to another.”

My setup – Slack, Miro, and Zoom all in clear view (you know, minus the IP)

Key Learnings & Takeaways

Though there were learnings for each person on the team, the following learnings are specifically from a facilitator’s perspective.


  1. Timing & Pacing. We’d never done a fully virtual Design Sprint, let alone a global one. Although we optimized offline work, we worked hard to make sure we had as much face-to-face as possible, resulting in a 5-10a / 6a-1p / 12-5p workshop time. Our team waking up in the 3 o’clock hour three days in a row was exhausting… but, hey, this is a sprint not a marathon – exhausting is okay so long as it’s not expected to be sustained!



  1. Make a clear schedule for each time zone. You already saw the above image of Day 2’s schedule. Printing that off and having that each day was invaluable because I could see how long I expected things to take, what time it was for the client, and I remembered little notes I made previously. It sounds simple, but it made things easier for me. Which leads me to…


  1. Build it all out beforehand. My wife and I often talk about “Now Us,” “Future Us,” and “Past Us” (or, as Jerry Seinfeld calls them, “Night Guy and Morning Guy”). The formula goes like this: “Now Justin doesn’t want to do dishes, but Future Justin will be glad Past Justin did that.” And so, you do it now instead of putting it on Future Justin. So it is for building out every single aspect of the collaborative space.


There were times where I thought, “Do I really need to do this now? I’ll just do it on the fly next week.” Whether it was setting a frame, laying out stickies, creating dots, drawing arrows, or whatever, I’m so glad that Past Justin made the job easier for Future Justin! (Then) Present Justin was consumed will all kinds of thoughts, ideas, conversations, etc. and would’ve been scrambling through the entire Sprint had Past Justin not painstakingly walked through the entire process.

Just look at that beautiful map!

  1. Be willing to flex. One of the values of a Design Sprint is simply getting the right people in the same room for an extended period of time. As a facilitator, you may think “but we need to get past this to get to the next thing!” While that may be true, and there may be some conversations you need to put in the parking lot for offline follow-up, hold time loosely when you need to. There were conversations about key terms/functionalities that ended up taking 2, 3, or even 4x as long as I had planned on. It was those same conversations, though, that strengthened the foundation we were building and ultimately made it easier for our designer to build upon it.


  1. Provide summaries. At the end of each day, send a summary of what the team achieved, key decisions that were made, and a reminder of what’s expected of the team during the offline hours. Lots of things are said in a 5-hour workshop, so consolidating both provides clarity for the team and forces you to boil things down to the absolute essentials.


  1. The process works. The funny thing about exercises like this is that when you’re a client hearing what the Design Sprint consists of, you are likely to think, “why do we have to do 15-20 hours of meetings? Can’t I just email you my answers?” I specifically addressed that issue by saying, “Look, I could’ve emailed each of you a Google Form and had you give me your answers to all of Day 1 & 2’s exercises. I’m going to ask you to trust me, and trust the process. I think that the process of hearing why people put those answers, hearing what others think about your answers, and seeing that the team might not be aligned will prove the value by the end. Sure enough, it did. Our Product Owner’s big takeaway from the whole experience was that his team didn’t fully understand his vision. Having read their Google Form answers, he was far more likely to say “yeah, we’re on the same page.”


  1. Retro together. This is a big takeaway I got from Douglas Ferguson of Voltage Control (more on him later). If you don’t get people to discuss their experience together at the end, you have 5 separate people going to their respective teams, department heads, peers, etc. all giving their feedback. If they have different messages, the perceived value of the Sprint could break down. Make sure each person hears what key phrases they’d use to describe the Design Sprint process.


  • In fact, I forced all of our clients to take a survey before doing the retro, that gave me far more specific feedback about our team, the process, what was most/least valuable, etc… They didn’t want to, but we needed the feedback, and I wasn’t prepared to let that survey sit in their inbox for eternity.


Wrapping up the final day.

Key Influences & Helpers

  • I received a huge amount of input and advice from Robert Skrobe of Dallas Design Sprints (and the ever-growing Global Virtual Design Sprint). He is both knowledgeable and approachable. He is a selfless professional who shared his best tips & tricks with me, doing his best to equip me to succeed in a venture I was fairly nervous about.



  • Ana Oarga and Raz Burciu from JustMad. Miro held their Distributed 2019 conference in the weeks leading up to this Design Sprint, and Ana & Raz delivered a talk (How JustMad Uses Miro to Run Remote Design Sprints) and presented their Design Sprint template (which they shared with me, and I believe will be made into a public Miro template soon). This template helped both save me time and think through how I could best use Miro to support this engagement.


  • AJ&Smart’s Masterclass. After reading the book , I made my way to AJ&Smart’s Masterclass. If the book is the blueprint of a house, then this masterclass was structure and construction of it. It helped give us what we needed to rearrange, redesign, and make our own decisions to best provide for our clients. (AJ&Smart, if you’re listening, feel free to use that as a quote)


  • George Brooks and Tyler Hilker at Crema. Working with strategic designers has shaped my understanding of how to think through… well… strategy and design. They have both been valuable coaches and teammates in this process, and each had valuable input through this new experience. Though they gave me autonomy, knowing I could (and did) get eyes on something and provide quick feedback gave me peace, and the clients benefited from their influence.


Final Thoughts

Our first virtual, global Design Sprint is in the books, and we couldn’t be more excited with how well it all went down. It was a mix of having great input from others, a culture of strategy and design at Crema, a lot of hard work, and an ideal client. Though I’m not ready to say “let’s only do virtual, global Design Sprints,” I won’t turn down a client who needs it. After all, the process works. We’ve seen that firsthand.


Justin Mertes is a  Product Manager and Design Sprint Facilitator at Crema. If you have any specific questions about about Design Sprints or want to get in touch, reach out to him on LinkedIn.