So 2020 Made Us Run a Remote Sprint Relay!

My current listen is Make Time: How to Focus on What Matters Every Day by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky on Audible. Struggling to find the divide between office and home, I needed to find a way to help me manage work at office, academics, that guitar solo and the sweater project which was meant to be a Christmas gift for Mum, well, now maybe an Easter gift. But as someone who rarely reads self-help books, and just likes to “carpe diem” and wing it, what actually drove me to this book was another one by the same duo, Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days. I’ve worked in sprints at work before, ones where we picked things off the backlog and polished them into executables at the end of 2–3 weeks. What about a Design sprint where you Map out the problem and Decide a Target, Sketch Solutions, Decide on a Solution, Build a Realistic Prototype aaand Test with target customers in 5 days? Bit of a stretch? That’s what I thought too. But having executed a Design Sprint with an amazing 5-member team, the Sprint book now seems to be more than just another ‘How-To’. Make Time might work just as well.

Who were we and what were we sprinting towards?

As a team randomly put together by the instructor of the Interaction Design Project module of the Masters in Interaction Design, Alfredo from Colombia, Anu from Switzerland, Ivo from Portugal and Ozge from the Netherlands and yours truly from India took on a design challenge and the challenge of running a remote sprint (remotest sprint rather, 2020 being the year of remote work, among many other things it turned out to be).

The focus of the sprint was on designing a system/product/service that fosters the participation of women in the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) workforce. Part of me used to believe that women counterparts in the Western Hemisphere had better opportunities and support. Nevertheless, as we went through the “understand phase” with a brief literature review and spoke to experts across the globe on Monday of the Sprint, I realized that problems women face are universal and there are always, everywhere, “jobs meant for men” and “jobs meant for women”, with the COVID pandemic marginalizing women more than ever .

According to the module schedule, each day of the sprint spanned two weeks, but the intensity never faded, partly due to the fact that we tried to keep group work as synchronous as possible. Our team pored over the notes we had taken while listening to each Expert Interview and played a quick routine of HMWs and in the fullness of Monday, we realized what we wanted in 2 years’ time — to have more conversations and discussions on girls in STEAM fields through a support system of family, educational institutions and companies engaging and working together to ensure equal conditions between men and women. The laser focus was on how to make life better for female high school students who were looking for guidance regarding STEAM fields.

Monday’s Customer Journey Map

Tuesday had us reflecting on Mafalda, Colombian Network of Scientists Women, Mentor To Go and She-board among other carefully curated inspirations and an intense session of sketching solutions.

On Wednesday, we critiqued each of the solutions, voted the most relevant ideas and storyboarded what Ivo and Ozge alchemized into “Muse” with Figma the next day.

Sketch from Tuesday critiqued on Wednesday
Thursday’s prototype: Muse

On Friday, from the reactions of little Nancy, parents and company reps from Vivient and Joana Dark, we twigged “Muse” a flawed success.

Friday: Setting the stage for user testing

Did that sound like a regular, remote Design Sprint?

An important consideration we had to make was that all of us were professionals working full-time day jobs, across the seven seas. We met once over a weekday to discuss the execution of a sprint day and then took on the actual execution of the sprint day on a convenient Sunday. Doodle came in handy when finding that one slot which would bring us together despite the sprawling time zones. Well, the closest a remote Sprint can get to a Design Sprint run from the same room is when all the sprinters are on the same screen and this worked for us, but not quite for Expert Interviews and User Testing. These were recorded separately by the sprinters and played back on Monday and Friday.

Sprint may be a great book, but any methodology is only as strong as your team. This was a learning phase for some of us and so, a small tweak we made to Design Sprint was having a different facilitator every Sprint Day, thus, each of us got to play different roles in the Sprint. This would have failed without the 100% every sprinter put in. With the facilitator changing every day, we learnt to build on each other’s experience in running a Sprint Day and the team made sure the baton never slipped when being passed. We also had to make sure all tasks were planned and accomplished.

A facilitator a day!
A Kanban to stay on top of tasks
Facilitator’s handover protocol

Times we worked together but apart, took unintentional detours from the target, and sometimes slipped into unnecessary detailed specifications of the task at hand, the facilitators made sure we ran as a well-oiled machine and our “diverge-converge” phases were productive (in fact, the team was like-minded and very quick to agree to disagree on the few things that raised different opinions). Communication is the key, we made good use of Slack, Meet and Miro to keep the conversation going. The team grew from strength to strength every day, learning to trust, support, provide fair opportunities and put the diversity in our team to good use.

As we sprint, we become! At the end of the sprint, we looked at everything like a target to run a Design Sprint on, felt clued up on areas we weren’t familiar with, had failed, but fast and safe and eventually had finished strong! But most importantly, hearing from little Nancy and the other users who tested “Muse” that we were headed down the right lane in helping bring families, academia and industries into having more conversation about women in STEAM — mission accomplished!

Photo by Zach Lucero on Unsplash

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