The Remote Design Sprint Cheat Sheet
Hey there! This post is a cheat sheet version of The Remote Design Sprint Guide which I created with John Zeratsky, Jackie Colburn, and the input, advice, and smart ideas of over one hundred Design Sprint experts from around the world (see below).
This cheat sheet is pretty good, but the Guide is better and much more detailed—it’s just really long, so I thought it would be handy to have a quick reference thing to go with it. This is that thing.
Wait, what’s a Design Sprint?
The Design Sprint is a process for small teams starting big projects. Following a step-by-step checklist, the team develops competing solutions, chooses the best, then builds and tests a prototype, all in just five days.
Oh, but hey! Quick note. If you didn’t already know what a Design Sprint is, this post isn’t gonna teach you enough to run one. May I suggest this book?
Okay, so you’re back and you’ve read the entire book, or you’re just skimming and didn’t even read this sentence because it doesn’t have a number by it. Either way let’s go…
Here are the tricks:
1. Yes, remote Design Sprints work!
I know, this isn’t exactly a “trick” but I think it’s important that you know people have done remote Design Sprints literally thousands of times with great outcomes. If this is your first time and you experience one or more moments of terror, remember tip #1. This is TOTALLY gonna work. 💪
2. Don’t reinvent the process, just tweak it
More good news: You don’t have to reinvent the Design Sprint in order to do it over video conferencing. You can even use the checklist from the book! You just need extra preparation and a bunch of tiny adjustments.
Let’s talk about those adjustments. First, you need some software.
Choose the right tools
3. Stick with what works
If your team already has video conferencing, whiteboard, recruiting, or prototyping tools that work well, ignore tips #4, #5, and #7. Otherwise:
4. Use Zoom for video conferencing
Zoom edges out Google Meet because it’s more reliable and has a better presentation mode.
5. Use Mural for a virtual whiteboard
There are two excellent whiteboard apps. One is called Mural and the other is called Miro, and no, I don’t know why their names are so similar. Miro is more responsive and polished. I wanted it to be the winner because it looks a lot nicer. But Mural has better facilitator tools and is easier for newbies. Mural wins, for now.
6. Use this whiteboard template
Stéph Cruchon of Design Sprint Ltd created this Mural template for you because, well, Stèph is a nice person. The template has separate sections for each day and activity, instructions, and space for individual work. Just in case, Stéph made you a Miro template too. I told you, nice person.
Also, here’s an incredibly long video about how to use the template:
7. Use User Interviews.com for recruiting customers
This service was recommended to us by customer research legend Michael Margolis who recruits all kinds of customers for his work with startups at Google Ventures.
🧙♂️ For tips on using these tools, as well as software picks for customer interviews and team discussion, check out the Remote Sprint Guide.
Set the schedule
8. Pick reasonable hours
Use World Time Buddy to find reasonable overlap with teammates around the world. Once you’ve figured out how much shared daylight you have…
9. If necessary, divide the day into “alone time” and “together time”
Don’t make anybody work crazy hours. Instead, split each day into “alone time” and “together time”. (Thanks to Ross Chapman of Etch)
10. Don’t compress the sprint
This is always true but especially over video: If you try to cram a whole Design Sprint including prototyping and testing in just two or three days, the outcome will suffer, and so will your team. In fact, you may need more time—so even if you’ve run four-day Design Sprints in-person before, consider going the full five for your first remote sprint.
11. Plan lots of breaks
As you may have noticed, video conferencing is exhausting. Expect people to get more burned out and tired working over video, and don’t skimp on the breaks.
12. Book a 30-minute practice session
Before the Design Sprint starts, bring your whole team together (online, obviously) to explain how the sprint works and give them practice using the whiteboard and video software.
🧙♂️ For detailed advice and sample schedules check out the Guide.
Get your team ready
13. Get a co-facilitator
If possible, get a co-facilitator to watch people’s expressions and workspaces to make sure nobody gets lost and provide extra help. (Thanks to Julia Jackson of Wily.)
14. Shut the doors
Make sure everyone has a quiet place to work. If possible. I have kids, believe me, I know this is tough. Just ask people to do their best.
15. Get office supplies
Make sure everyone has at least a Sharpie and some plain printer paper (see #23).
16. Plan snacks
When running an in-person Design Sprint, the facilitator can plan ahead to make caffeine and healthy snacks available. In a remote sprint, everyone’s on their own, so remind them to be snacked up and coffee-ready. (Thanks to Nicola Rix of Google.)
Lay down the law
17. Seriously, establish rules
In your practice session and day one of your Design Sprint, remind your team that things are gonna work a bit differently in the sprint than in normal video call meetings. Specifically:
18. Always-on video
Ask everyone to keep their video on when working together so that the team is aware of each other’s presence and the facilitator can observe body language to be sure everyone is doing alright. This isn’t just touchy feely nice-to-have—this sense of “presence” is critical so the team can move fast.
19. Split screens, don’t toggle
Ask everyone to divide their screen so ⅓ is video and ⅔ is the digital whiteboard. This way, they can see each other and the content at the same time, which is way better than toggling between tabs or windows. (Thanks to Amr Khalifeh of AJ&Smart.)
20. No multi-tasking
Just like in an in-person Design Sprint, if one person is distracted by email, news, Slack, or whatever, they will bring down the whole team’s focus. You can’t tell if somebody is multi-tasking in a remote sprint, but you can tell your team the norm is one-thing-at-a-time. Tell people they can step away to attend to urgent messages, but they must do so according to the…
21. Hall pass protocol
It’s hard to focus when people unexpectedly drop out of the video call, so give the team a way to notify the group if they need to step away. Zoom’s chat feature works well.
22. Pass the mic
Use this method any time the discussion gets chaotic (thanks to Julia Jackson again):
- Say “Hey y’all, it’s time to play Pass the Mic!”
- Mute everyone.
- Rotate through the team, unmuting one person at a time.
- When the person is unmuted, they can share their opinion.
- Or they can pass.
- That’s it. Order restored.
- Don’t you wish you could mute everyone in real life?
🧙♂️ For more virtual facilitation techniques (how jargony is that?! But I don’t know what else to call it!) see the Guide.
Okay, you’re all set, now it’s time for the actual Design Sprint!
Run the actual Design Sprint
Again, the principle is pretty simple: run the Design Sprint according to the checklist in the book as much as possible. In the Guide, we’ve got remote advice for every single step in the checklist, but since this is just a cheat sheet, I’ll only give you some highlights:
23. Use the Note-n-Map shortcut
I hate to admit it, but Stéph Cruchon’s Note-n-Map exercise is clearer and smarter than what we described in the book. Use it.
24. Do it on paper
Everything else in a remote Design Sprint happens onscreen, but keep the sketch on paper to give people a damned break from the computer.
You’ll probably have to adjust the format to work with the supplies everyone has at home. Just make sure all the sketches are in the same format to create a level playing field. The simplest form is drawing directly on a blank sheet of paper divided in three (no sticky notes).
25. No sketcher sales pitch
This is an update since the book came out: We no longer give the sketcher a chance to give a sales pitch for their own solution during the Speed Critique. Sorry sketcher! But we DO allow the sketcher to participate anonymously in the critique (you can talk about your own sketch, you just can’t reveal that it’s yours) and of course the sketcher is welcome to vote for their own solution in the Straw Poll.
26. Use the Storyboarding 2.0 shortcut
I hate to admit it, but AJ&Smart’s Storyboarding 2.0 exercise is clearer and smarter than what we described in the book. Use it.
27. Use Figma for app prototypes
Figma is the overwhelming favorite of the experts we spoke to because it has live collaboration, is approachable for non-designers, works on all devices, and has a simple share prototype feature that allows you to give customers access for the test.
28. Use Squarespace for marketing prototypes
Squarespace has many limitations, but if you want to quickly make a good-looking, realistic marketing page — and that is often the very best thing to prototype for a new product or service — it’s unbeatable.
29. But, again, stick with what works
If your team already uses and loves some prototyping tool, keep using it!
30. Yes, you can test over video!
Just another not-really-a-trick-actually-encouragement thing here. Testing over video TOTALLY works. 💪
You will have to be extra friendly and deal with all kinds of glitches (see below) but there are two big advantages to remote testing: You have a wider pool of recruits (since you can target people anywhere in the world) and people will generally be more comfortable. (Because they’re in a familiar environment instead of your weird office with you sitting there watching them like a creep. No offense.)
31. Expect every possible tech failure
Be prepared for all of these scenarios:
- The customer’s computer is too slow.
- The customer’s mic doesn’t work.
- The customer’s screen sharing doesn’t work.
- The customer’s webcam doesn’t work.
- The customer’s webcam works, but they don’t want to share their video.
- The customer joined on mobile even though you told them about fifty thousand times you needed them to join on desktop.
- The customer didn’t show up.
- The customer showed up and everything went perfectly but your recording failed and your team didn’t see it.
You gotta know when to troubleshoot, know when to ignore it, know when to walk away, and know when to run. You can find Amr Khalifeh’s advice for each of these in the Guide.
32. Take notes in a spreadsheet
Right after we sent Sprint off to press, we realized there was a much faster way to take notes during customer interviews. Instead of using sticky notes on the wall, we could track the answers to key questions in a spreadsheet. 🤦♂️
Although a spreadsheet is a bit more rigid than free-form notes, it helps the team focus on key questions and makes it easier to see patterns. A shared spreadsheet in Google Sheets works great and this scorecard by Voltage Control is a crowd favorite — sprint facilitators love how it allows individuals to capture scores and automatically aggregates them.
After the sprint
33. Voilà, a tidy time capsule!
Remember those old boring in-person sprints, with the disgusting less-than-six-feet-away human beings, the smelly whiteboard markers, and the piles of sticky notes at the end? Woohoo, none of that! AND your virtual whiteboard is now a record of the entire Design Sprint, all in one place.
At least one thing was easy.
🧙♂️ That’s it for the cheat sheet, now check out the Remote Sprint Guide
Once again, these are just the highlights. For step-by-step adaptations, check out the Remote Sprint Guide:
Thanks to the experts!
More than 100 Design Sprint experts shared advice, tips, and stories for the Guide and this cheat sheet. If anything seemed smart and useful in this post, it’s due to these folks. Thank you, you’re the best!
Extra special thanks to the facilitators who talked with us, recorded videos, wrote how-to guides, created templates, provided feedback, and more:
Alesha Unpingco, Jason Fund, Kristen Brillantes, Amr Khalifeh, Douglas Ferguson, Michael Margolis, Brie Ann Demkiw, Kandis O’Brien, Nicola Rix, Julia Jackson, Diana Liu, Ross Chapman, Xander Pollock, Justin Mertes, Simone Stolzoff, Marin Licina, Margriet Buseman, Ana Oarga, Stéph Cruchon
Seriously if you haven’t looked at the full Remote Sprint Guide yet, what is your deal? Click it.