How to Run a Virtual Design Sprint

With these tips, you can start to plan your company’s first design sprint and finally solve those problems that you can’t seem to find a solution to.
douglas
Douglas Ferguson
Expert Contributor
June 30, 2020
Updated: August 11, 2020
douglas
Douglas Ferguson
Expert Contributor
June 30, 2020
Updated: August 11, 2020

Throughout the novel coronavirus pandemic, businesses have adapted many of their strategies to a socially distant world, while they themselves are socially distant. The ability to quickly make big changes will, in many cases, determine if the business remains profitable or even survives these trying times. Given these circumstances, there has never been a better time to try a design sprint.

Here’s how a design sprint works.

The fine art marketplace startup, Twyla, had a vision of excellent customer experience and identified a problem: Unlike shopping in a spacious well-lit gallery, e-commerce customers do not get to see the art in person until after they have made a purchase.

Even with the team together in the office, a traditional approach to solving this problem would have likely involved months of meetings, research, development, and ultimately a commitment to a safe option worth all the time invested. Spending months of effort on something risky is just too risky.

The tried and true “safe” solution for this specific e-commerce challenge is a 30-day return policy. Consumers are known to have less hesitation about buying something unseen if they know they can return it.

But the company did not take the traditional approach or opt for the safe option.

Instead of spiraling through endless feedback loops, Twyla conducted a five-day design sprint. A design sprint is an intensive, concise, and deliberate approach to innovation.

  • Day 1 – Get laser focused on the problem.
  • Day 2 – Come up with solutions.
  • Day 3 – Choose a solution to prototype.
  • Day 4 – Develop the prototype.
  • Day 5 – Test and get feedback.

It’s counterintuitive, but that five-day limit unleashes incredible creativity. The short, defined process of a design sprint unshackles creativity from corporate bureaucracy. The worst-case scenario is that the participants lose five days of productivity (yet still gather information) rather than months of widespread company time.

And by limiting how much time is spent on each phase of design, you ensure your time is only focused on the most critical aspects of any concept, allowing it to be validated before too much is invested in its development.

Following this methodology, the team at Twyla developed an innovative way to give customers a trial run with the artwork. They charged the customer $30 to try the art for 30 days. If the art wasn’t returned, the rest of the balance would be charged. On day five of the design sprint, they tested this idea and found customers responded better to this strategy. It would likely increase the company’s bottom line.

Businesses are well aware of the need for creative ideas and quick turnaround, but risk-averse bureaucracy often stifles innovation. When you combine that with the world-wide pandemic slowdown and the challenges of remote work, a typical approach to problem solving may outlast the problem itself.

The paradigm needs to change: We can go from lengthy processes to quick, iterative cycles that put the user first. Fortunately, design sprints can be adapted to virtual meetings.

Here are a few tips for conducting virtual design sprints that will solve problems, generate revenue, and keep your business on the cutting edge.

1. Pick the Right Problem

I tell clients to get more general in language but narrower in scope. This is the difference between changing a return policy and improving the customer’s purchasing experience. You want to open the space for creativity while keeping your focus on the problem at hand.

2. Set a Quick But Appropriate Time Frame

It can be challenging to ask your team to take a full five days away from their day-to-day responsibilities and coordinate everyone’s schedules, but, in my experience, shorter design sprints tend to drop prototyping and user testing first, which undermines much of the sprint’s purpose.

With social distancing and remote work, I think it’s even more important to take your time. It’s hard to keep everyone in front of their monitor for the entire day and week, so plan mini workshop sessions with time to work independently in between. It’s OK if it takes a little longer, because the result will launch you months ahead of where you would be with a traditional approach.

3. Hire a Professional Facilitator

When you have an expert lead you through your sprint (especially your first one), you can focus more on participating and less on logistics. A professional facilitator will know what needs to be planned in advance, what tools are needed and easy to adopt for the sprint, and how to support the team throughout.

4. Invite a Diverse Group of Participants

Include people with varying expertise. One mistake I see a lot is companies only sending their designers. Designers are more than welcome, but diversity adds much more perspective and a better end result.

5. Plan for Post-Sprint

Set aside time after the sprint to debrief and be ready to invest resources into your newfound solution. The design sprint is only intended to create the idea, but company support will be needed to make it a reality.

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