Virtual Sprint How-To-Guide
By: Air Force CyberWorx UX Design Team
The following is a collection of notes on various
issues with respect to conducting remote or virtual sprint events. These notes
are based on both experiential data and from reading dozens of articles on the
subject. We do not advocate for any specific tools but provide reflections of
our experiences with them. Our intent is to help you conduct a successful
sprint on your own.
Since each sprint is different and people have many
different ways of conducting a sprint, this document does not describe the
sprint process. Instead, we describe the functional issues you’ll need to
address in order to provide a successful virtual sprint.
This is not an exhaustive review of various tools and
methods, just experiential knowledge cultivated over time. Therefore, this is a
rough guide to use as a data point, not a comprehensive set of rules.
The most difficult aspect of conducting virtual events
is maintaining participant engagement and momentum throughout the event. To
that end, we provide these tips and tricks:
Social distancing rules brought on by the COVID-19
pandemic forced us to develop a remote sprint capability to replace our
in-person design sprint events. We quickly determined that we could not just cut
and paste our renowned 3-day sprint process into a virtual environment. The
virtual domain demanded we change the process, deliverables, and expectations according
to the challenges presented by the participants and available technologies.
That said, we have had enough success with virtual
sprints to consider this alternative when logistics (or acts of nature)
prohibit us from bringing everyone into our studio.
If this works, what about combining virtual
participants and in-person participants during an event? We wouldn’t recommend
it. To put it simply, in-person participants will most likely end up dominating
the conversation. Virtual participants can become frustrated and eventually
become disengaged and go silent.
Participant engagement is a critical factor of a
successful UX event. It’s a much more balanced level of engagement if everyone
is either virtual or in-person, but not a mixture of both.
An in-studio sprint is usually a 2-3 full day effort
with lots of different group and breakout exercises. When everyone is in the
studio, it’s easy to manage this kind of breakout and regroup process. In a
virtual environment, this process is limited due to the technology and
distractions in the participant’s workspace.
Distractions make it difficult to maintain attention on
long conference calls. A virtual environment allows for a mixture of
synchronous and asynchronous events. Synchronous events occur when everyone is
together on the conference call for shorter periods of time. Asynchronous
events are basically homework participants can complete alone or as a smaller
team when timing (and lack of distraction) is best for them.
One good method is to describe and practice an exercise
synchronously, such as creating storyboards or personas. Participants can then add
to that body of knowledge by creating more of these artifacts asynchronously before
the next session.
When we have 50 people fly in for an in-studio event,
it makes sense to run the sprint over 2-3 days. In a virtual event, we can skip
a day between events without losing momentum. Giving homework assignments on
the off days keeps the participants engaged in their free time. Moreover, it
allows more time for ideas and methods to sink in.
Attending a long conference call can be difficult for
some. We recommend keeping the sessions to 2-3 hours and spread them out over
several days. Separating the sessions by a day allows you to assign ‘homework,’
asking the participants to revisit the digital whiteboards and adding any
additional insights that occurred to them. This approach proved useful in
capturing insights that attendees did not have time to bring up during the
session. This also helps to keep them engaged with the effort.
Since we ran 3-hour sprints, we found a single
15-minute break in the middle of the session to be good. When participants
returned, we asked them to announce in (Zoom) chat that they were back from the
break for accountability.
If you have more than 6 participants for your event, we
have found breakout rooms are a useful feature in a video conference tool for
conducting remote sprints. You may want to send small teams into a breakout
room to allow for more focused discussions and the generation of ideas. If your
sprint expects to use breakout rooms, be sure to enable the breakout room
features in the account settings (Zoom). You’ll know it is enabled in Zoom if
you see the Breakout Room icon next to the Record button at the bottom of the
screen. Different tools do this differently, just be sure to check that your
tool has all of the features you’ll need enabled.
There is currently no consistency across the Air Force
about the use of Zoom. Be prepared to switch to another tool. The Zoom Gov
version is acceptable in some locations whereas a paid Zoom subscription is
acceptable in others. The free version of Zoom is always questionable. In any
case, avoid any sensitive discussions (FOUO, PII, etc.).
We tested only a few tools that offer breakout room
Zoom – This is our top choice. Most folks know how to
use it or need little to no training.
Blackboard – Less common, but an Air Force-accepted
platform (licensed by AETC and used for academics at the Academy).
Blue Jeans – Pretty good functionality and similar to
Zoom. Has a history of being unstable, but that may have improved over the
years. This tool may not be approved for use on AF networks.
We didn’t test some tools for various reasons: time for
testing, cost (free version insufficient), ease of use (based on reviews and
discussions), software install required, and more.
Reviewed but not tested conference tools with breakout
NewRow – A remote classroom tool
Remo – A webinar tool
Recommend to the participants that they use their phone
to call in to the conference call. They
can use the video conference tool to connect visually, but should not rely on
the tool for their audio. Using a computer for both audio and video can double
the internet bandwidth and create audio drop-outs. A video drop-out isn’t
usually much of an issue, but audio drop-outs are disruptive.
To ensure their phone connection follows them into
breakout rooms, participants should link their audio to their video persona. If
they aren’t linked, the video goes to the breakout room, and the audio remains
in the main room.
As mentioned before, we highly recommend tools with
breakout room capability. The difficulty of using tools without breakout room
capability isn’t the technology, but the human factor. To mimic a breakout room,
the host needs to create separate conference sessions for each team, send separate
invites to the team members of each room ahead of time, tell them to log out of
the current conference, and login to their specific room. You also have to make
someone the moderator of each room. Procedural problems can arise if the chosen
moderator doesn’t attend that session.
Each of the sprint moderators will have to login to
each room separately to answer any questions or make announcements. On top of
that, there is no easy way for members to ask questions of the facilitators.
When the breakout session is done, participants have to repeat the process of
quitting a room and login again to the main line.
This cumbersome process adds frustration to
participants, interrupting their engagement and the sprint momentum. We found
this takes extra time to reestablish engagement. Using standard video
conference tools is acceptable for events that don’t require breakout teams.
There are many collaboration tools, but Mural and Miro
are the most common tools of many UX teams who offered suggestions during this
research. Tools fall into three categories: digital whiteboards, prototype and
design tools, and full design activities support. Since every sprint is
different and every team has their unique ways of conducting sprints, we
recommend that each team identify tools that serve their needs. Remember, this
is a living document and you are encouraged to add you knowledge and
There are several digital whiteboard tools available,
but the free versions limit the number of projects or team members. I hope you
try them out and report back.
Some common examples are:
Everything Explained – Getting some attention from UXers
Stormboard – Trending with some UX teams
These are common collaborative tools used for sharing
and commenting on visual design concepts. As such, they are not optimized for supporting
activities like task flows or journey maps.
Some common examples are:
This category is like a whiteboard, but with extra
options that enable both design and non-design activities. We tested and used
two tools successfully:
Mural offers a few more desirable facilitator
functions, but it’s also a bit more difficult to learn how to use within the
constraints of a virtual sprint.
This feature shows the moderator’s board on all of the
participant screens so they can follow the facilitator’s work. A useful
feature, but not used that often for sprints.
Easy to learn and use. It only takes a 15 minute
practice session to get everyone up to speed. Miro lacks a few facilitator
features that Mural offers, but it’s still quite good.
Bring to Me
Miro has added a new feature called Bring to Me that
brings all or selected participants to the same area of users’ board. It is
accessible from the member indicator circle in the upper right. Click on your
circle and then select the desired option.
Miro Board invites
Team members can invite people to the Team, which is
necessary if you want them to have access to one or more projects. Once someone
is a member of the Team, they can be invited to any project or board. Team
members invited to a board are, by default, given access to all boards in that
A recent update allows you to invite guest editors via
a URL but be aware that there is no type of access protection with that link. Anyone
with the link can access your board (and therefore the information on it). This
sharing is performed through the share feature on a board (upper right). You
create a link and then send it to the invited guest editors (email, slack,
Invited guests have access only those boards that you
invite them to. They cannot see any other projects or boards.
To uninvite these guests, change the settings in the
Through use, we created a best practice to streamline
using Miro: keep a list of every invitee and their email address ready to
resend them invites and double-check that each participant is invited to the
Miro boards and conference tool (Zoom).
We settled on Miro for our sprints after testing both Mural
and Miro with the AF CyberWorx staff. Even better is that we already had a license
for it, it made sense to use it.
discovered that Gov PC’s on a VPN are often blocked from accessing many tools.
It is advisable to ask participants to turn off their VPNs or use their
All facilitators, despite their role, need to have the
right permissions in both the conference call and the collaboration tool to
enable smooth transitions and quick answers to questions.
Because of the various technology requirements, it is
best to have someone on the periphery to take command of the conference rooms
and collaboration tools as a sort of producer or Wizard of Oz genius behind the
curtain. This enables the moderator(s) to focus on activities without being
distracted by technology issues. The more participants in a sprint, the more
this becomes and issue. Typically, a lead facilitator and assistant can handle
up to 15 participants, but any more than that requires the additional
assistance of a Wizard of Oz.
It is better to work with the project stakeholder to
identify the team make up. Avoid overloading teams with participants who share
the same perspective or role. Assign attending participants based on these
predefined teams. Reevaluate these teams during the sprint as some folks may
need to drop off and may not be available during the time allocated for the
breakouts. This is one of the tasks the ‘producer’ needs to perform behind the
scenes so that the facilitators don’t have to interrupt the sprint.
Moderators need to be assigned as co-hosts. Each
breakout room should have a moderator assigned and each moderator must be
assigned to a team, otherwise, due to technical issues, they will not be able
to bounce around to other rooms.
For breakout sessions, it may be necessary to provide a
separate private board available only to the members of that specific team.
Separate boards reduce distractions and confusion over where on the
collaboration screen each participant should focus.
We have yet to test these processes on a tablet but we
recommend participants use a laptop or desktop computer with sufficient
processing and graphics capabilities. In
some cases, depending on the collaboration tools used, personnel will need to
use a personal device on a commercial network while others may be able to use
government devices on a government network. Highly recommend testing out the
tools prior to start with enough time to work any technical issues.
If possible, it is advisable to use two screens, one
for the video conference tool (Zoom) and one for the collaboration tool (Miro).
There are times when the moderator will be sharing a screen on Zoom and
participants will be interacting with their collaboration boards.
Recognizing that different sites have different
internet access rules and not every tool can be used on a government computer
or behind a firewall, it makes sense to test each site that a participant would
use to make sure they can access and use each of the tools. For instance, not
everyone may have access that allows them to use the collaboration tools (Miro
and. Mural). Therefore, you may need to simply share your screen in the video
conferencing tools. Test this far enough in advance to allow time to make
adjustments to the plan.
Create visually large anchor points in the main project
board (Miro) that are easy to find. This makes it easy to direct participants
to the right area of a board (which can get pretty large). A large numbered
circle is highly visible from the navigation map.
A practice board (Miro or Mural) lets invitees login to
the board and use some of the common features prior to the event. Let them know
you will be monitoring that board to make sure everyone can log in to it. Have
attendees leave a “Kilroy Was Here” message on the board so you can track who
was able to login. If someone doesn’t leave a message on the board, be sure to
reach out to ask why before the start of the sprint.
We developed practice boards for each feature we
expected users to use during the sprint. We provided a sample artifact using each
tool for users to recreate on their own. For instance, in one frame we showed
some colored shapes and had users recreate those. In another frame, we had
users connect shapes with the arrow connection tool.
In some cases, you may want the participants to draw
things. Not everyone is comfortable drawing on a digital whiteboard. Therefore,
be prepared to let participants draw things on paper with marker pens and
upload a picture of it to the board. To facilitate this, you should have participants
practice taking a picture and uploading it.
This also means that you should let participants know
to have paper and markers on hand. Regular pens and pencils don’t register well
enough when photographed and uploaded. Include this information in the
Be sure to ask for their preferred email address, not
just their official address. Military
email can have connection and delivery issues that would inhibit participants
from getting essential sprint-related emails in a timely manner.
Be sure to test all of your tools and features prior to
launching your sprint. Enlist your colleagues to participate in a dry run of
your process and tools. Something will need adjusting, so plan for about an
hour to do a full dry-run.
Introduce the collaboration tool (Miro) and review the
practice steps to show how it should be done. This helps those who didn’t
practice and those who struggled with the tool to better understand how the
Be sure to demonstrate how to navigate the boards using
the map tool and the different pointers.
When it comes time to vote on something, have a
PowerPoint slide ready to describe how to use the voting feature and show an
example of what it looks like to the users. Indicate what to click on to place
their vote. For instance, in Miro, if they click on an object in a drawing,
that object will get the vote, not the drawing. This can be leveraged to
promote some conversation by asking users to clarify what they were voting for.
Be sure to record the meetings. It’s better to store
the recordings on the local computer to avoid running out of space in the
cloud. Zoom offers 1GB of cloud storage with a paid subscription, but that fills
up in 4-8 hours.
Because Zoom only records what is shown in the Zoom
screen, be sure to have the moderator share a screen with the digital
whiteboard tool displayed in it.
Remind participants to call in on their phones and link
their phone to their video feed. It may be best to describe how to do this as
part of your welcome message. The Producer Behind the Curtain can tell who is
linked and who isn’t and prompt them via direct chat.
Recommend capturing the session recording and make it
available to the necessary parties.
Take advantage of the tool to capture relevant info on the boards. Miro has
an export board function to save parts to your computer as an image or vector
PDF. The vector PDF allows the greatest clarity and zooming features for later
Create a survey asking folks what they would like to
see to improve their experience.
While conducting virtual sprints was a direct response
to the limitations imposed by the Covid-19 lockdown, we learned that virtual
sprints may be useful when gathering a group in our studio is not feasible.
Hopefully, you will find this information useful when you need to conduct a
remote or virtual UX event.
Remember, this is a living document that will benefit
from your experiences – both successful and unsuccessful. Feel free to add
comments or questions.