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Virtualizing Design Sprint and UX Workshops

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Design sprint and UX workshops can be done virtually using a combination of remote whiteboards and communication platforms. It brings advantages like being able to invite international experts, having remote participants attend, less travelling, smaller carbon footprint, and lower costs.

Christian Kulas, a managing business analyst at Capgemini Deutschland GmbH, shared his experiences from converting Design Sprints and UX workshops into a digital format at OOP 2021.

Due to Covid-19, their UX teams were forced to work from home, Kulas mentioned. They had to convert their UX workshops into a digital format to maintain the efficiency of projects or to drive innovation just as they were used to doing so in person.

"Design sprints and UX workshops can be moved to a remote setting," Kulas said. "There are challenges in doing so but all of those can be tackled."

They evaluated several remote whiteboard and communication platforms to digitize their existing workshops and decided to use Miro whiteboard and Cisco WebEx Meetings, as Kulas explained:

We can do all parts of a typical on-site Google design sprint and any customization of such a workshop virtually. We found a mix of plenum, individual, remote and offline analogue techniques work best. A good template like the Miro design sprint template offers a suitable mix of activities; this is a good role-model to follow.

Kulas mentioned the benefits that the digitalization of design sprint and UX workshops has brought:

We now have the option to invite international experts to sprints which would have been too costly before. We can integrate participants from remote locations cost-effectively, saving on travel overhead and reduced carbon overhead.

Another benefit is that it’s now possible to do two half-day remote workshops for different projects on a single day. Kulas mentioned that this can be rather exhausting, so this is not something you want to do too many days in a row. He suggested to only consider this when there are no overlapping participants other than experienced moderators.

The digitalization of design sprints and UX workshops has allowed their projects to be not disrupted by COVID-19 and to continue as though nothing had happened with continued high efficiency, Kulas concluded.

InfoQ interviewed Christian Kulas about converting Design Sprints and UX workshops into a digital format.

InfoQ: How did you start the digitalization?

Christian Kulas: We started by evaluating a number of different remote whiteboard and communication platforms in internal workshops. We found the combination of Miro whiteboard and Cisco WebEx Meetings worked best.

Miro whiteboard offered the best UI/UX, offered an easy accessible webclient, good performance, high security standards as a cloud-only-solution and directly usable workshop templates. The Design Sprint template of Miro is a faithful virtual representation of the onsite four-day AJ&Smart Design sprint which is directly usable out-of-the-box.

Cisco WebEx Meetings offers a flexible side-by-side view of shared content and webcam view well-suited for remote usability tests to see the participant and the shared content large enough as an observer without the need to dial in twice.

After we felt comfortable we adapted them to live and new projects. Each remote workshop gave our UX team new learnings which we leveraged to improve our remote UX workshops even further. For example, in remote settings the number of participants is a lot more volatile than in on-site workshops; it helps to have supporting co-moderators in the workshop who can adapt the individual work areas in the whiteboard to the new names. Another best practice is to keep everything in the whiteboard to avoid media breaks.

InfoQ: What practices do you use in your virtual workshops?

Kulas: Creative solution sketching works best offline in an analogue fashion; only the final results need to be scanned or photographed and uploaded back to the whiteboard. The creative storyboard exercise is hard to do online without tablet and pen support; some whiteboard solutions like Miro offer wireframe tools within the whiteboard which can be very helpful.

One method to kick-start the storyboard exercise in a remote setting is to give all participants about 20 minutes to collect screenshots and ideas in the different storyboard squares labeled by the user test flow steps, and then discuss and fine-tune the results in the plenum.

InfoQ: What are the challenges that the participants of a Design Sprint in remote setups have faced, and how do they cope with them?

Kulas: A remote design sprint adds a new technical barrier which we overcome with a quick pre-workshop onboarding session and additional simple ice breaker exercises at the beginning of a new remote session. A clear set of rules, regular breaks, good preparation, tight moderation and a good mix of activities help to keep the attention of participants on the workshop goals.

Specific remote rules usually include turning off alerts, using no other devices, and turning on the webcam when speaking. Even social networking is possible in an online setting. We found tools like gather.town work excellent within breaks and virtual events; for example, organized remote wine or chocolate tastings on one of the first evenings of a multi-day workshop can help to break the ice.

InfoQ: What have you learned?

Kulas: We have learned a lot of best practices for remote design sprints: we learned what works and what does not. For example, to remain flexible when facing changes, it is good practice to think about the grouping of elements in your whiteboard to quickly unlock and lock elements as needed. Have one co-moderator double check an upcoming section a few minutes before the start of work on the section. Is everything which should be locked in fact locked? Are elements that should remain interactive in fact interactive and in the foreground?

Overall, to our delight we learned that UX workshops, even whole Google Design Sprints, can be done remotely with the same learnings you get in an on-site workshop. Whilst this experience is obviously not the same as on-site UX workshops, remote workshops have a number of benefits which will still be relevant long after COVID-19 is not a topic of daily discussion any more. For example, we have a number of bachelor and master students who work on UX topics whose work can benefit attending a UX workshop. It is much easier for them to silently join a remote setting than to hang out in the on-site workshop room. In fact, the number of silent observers / stakeholders is pretty much unlimited in a remote setting.

InfoQ: What advice would you give to companies who want to go digital with design sprints or UX workshops?

Kulas: Start with an internal workshop done remotely, then apply the learning to first remote client workshops. Foster exchange between remote workshop facilitators to build up best practice processes and templates for remote workshops. Have at least one experienced sprint moderator who already has remote experience to run a client sprint.

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