Tips for Running a Remote Design Sprint

We recently conducted a remote 5-day Design Sprint at Storyblocks for our Enterprise team. In this post, we discuss facilitators' tips we learned along the way.


We recently conducted a Remote 5-day Design Sprint at Storyblocks for our Enterprise team. Scott Simpson (Storyblocks’ Director of Design) and I had both led sprints and other various in-person workshops pre-pandemic but needed to adjust our planning to a week that best suited remote collaboration. We learned a lot about what does and does not work for planning facilitating a remote design sprint and wanted to share some of those tips with you, dear reader. Below are some key takeaways and suggestions for running your own remote Design Sprint.

Quick Background: What is a Design Sprint?

Sprint week at a glance. Image credit: Google Ventures

The Design Sprint was originally a five-day process developed by Google Ventures for answering critical business questions through design, prototyping, and testing ideas with customers. It’s a great mix of business strategy, innovation, and design thinking packaged into a battle-tested process that any team can use.

A Design Sprint provides helps explore big ideas and test out riskier solutions that sometimes may take months (or even years) to validate in a very short amount of time.

Tips for Running a Remote Design Sprint

Meet with each sprint participant 1:1 before the Sprint Week

It is important to meet with each Sprint participant beforehand to make sure:

  1. You have buy-in from a schedule, process, and outcomes standpoint, and
  2. Participants feel comfortable with the Sprint Week activities, schedule, and software.

Scott and I divided our Sprint Week participants between us and schedule 1:1 meetings the Thursday and Friday before the Sprint to:

  • Provide a general overview of what a Sprint is and the activities involved. We also linked to helpful articles and video overviews from Google Ventures and AJ&Smart, in case anyone wanted more materials.
  • Go over the activities and schedule for each day of the sprint in our remote collaborating board (our prepared Miro board, in this case), answering participant questions along the way.
  • Complete remote collaboration tools onboarding, in this case using Zoom, Butter (which ended up not working, more on that below), and Miro. This ensured that all participants felt comfortable using the Sprint Week tools and collaborating fully.
  • Go over the physical materials involved. Although most of our collaborating throughout the week would be done digitally, we still wanted participants to use paper, sharpies, and sticky notes.

Finalize Your Day-by-Day Schedule 1–2 Weeks Beforehand

Even though we used many of the activities detailed in the original Sprint book, we still made some changes to the structure and flow of the overall week. For example, we started the week with 5 customer interviews to gain insights into the creator’s workflows and pain points. We also asked individuals to provide asynchronous feedback on our Solution Sketches mid-week via a Google Form and reviewed responses with the Sprint team.

1–2 weeks before the Sprint, Scott and I reviewed each day’s schedule and activity that would take place during the Sprint Week. From there, I created a schedule for each day and made sure they were available on our Sprint Week Activity Board at all times for participants. This allowed us to determine if any activities needed to be moved around and to ensure participants had enough breaks throughout the day.

Prepare your remote workshop board 2–3 weeks in advance

For our remote Sprint board, we researched pre-existing templates for remote workshops and sprints in both Miro and Mural. We then pulled from public examples we saw to use for the foundation of our board. In the end, we used aspects of templates created by Google Ventures, AJ&Smart, and Crema to create our Sprint Week Activity Board.

Test your software and collaboration tools before you sprint week

For our Sprint, we decided to our Butter, Zoom, and Miro as our means of video-sharing and collaborating. Although we tested Butter quickly the week, the software kept freezing and crashing on the Monday of the Sprint Week.

Schedule customer interviews (if applicable) and usability testing 1–2 weeks beforehand

We completed customer interviews a bit differently than how the authors of “Sprint” describe. Instead of only speaking with individuals on Friday during prototype testing, we asked them to participant in our Sprint week in three ways:

  1. Scheduled 1:1 interviews on Monday to learn about their pain points and workflow
  2. Asynchronous feedback on which “Solution Sketches” that felt most valuable and viable.
  3. Feedback provided during high-fidelity prototype testing on Friday.

Because we wanted to include customers more than usual, we made sure to reach out to them well in advance (about a month) to make sure they were available. Doing so allowed us to have great customer insights and feedback infused throughout our Sprint Week.

Write a quick summary at the end of each day

The Sprint Week moves fast. There’s a lot that happens each day. In addition to taking consistent notes, we recommend writing a quick summary of key decisions, feedback, and insights captured at the end of each day. This will help you quickly refer back to important moments.

“Always Be Capturing”

A simple concept, but one that is easy to forget. Throughout the Sprint, always make sure to capture key takeaways in both writing and visually, when applicable. A lot of good insights take place during group activities and conversations throughout the week. Although it adds more work for the facilitator or co-facilitator, you’ll thank yourself that you took such good notes.

Schedule off-computer break time

A remote Sprint Week means a lot of computer time, there’s just no way around it. I would argue that breaks are even more important during Remote Design Sprints than in-person one — screen fatigue is REAL. Off-computer breaks allow people to recharge and come back feeling refreshed and ready to re-engage. We wish we had included more breaks, or considered starting later and ending earlier, to help reduce participants’ screen time.

Have an idea of how you’d like to implement the results (or not) of your sprint week going forward

So much work went into the preparation for and week of the Design Sprint that come Friday, we realized we had not communicated a specific plan for how we’d implement the learnings of the week. I’d recommend spending some time with your participants, leadership, and/or co-facilitator to determine at least an outline of what the coming weeks will look like. Is there a specific team that will take prototype findings and implement them? Will several teams own the output of the Sprint? How will customer takeaways be shared more broadly across the organization?

Other Helpful Quick Tips

  • Send participants physical materials (paper, sharpies, and sticky notes) ahead of time to ensure Solution Sketches have a consistent look and feel.
  • Consider sending participants a goody bag to keep them motivated throughout the week with swag and/or healthy snacks.
  • Start each day with a quick round-table icebreaker completely unrelated to the topic at hand. It helps warm people up for the day and foster camaraderie.

Written by

Rebecca Silverstein