Success story: remote design at Trello

Written by 
Chris Kimbell
February 2, 2020
A mural template that shows a team doing a How Might We exercise

As a lead product designer at Trello, now part of Atlassian, Chris Kimbell works with product managers, designers, developers and marketers all over the world. Their challenge is to run effective remote workshops.

Using a wide range of tools, the design team is able to hold regular design sprints. Virtual workspaces let them share ideas quickly, diagram customer journeys and distribute hi-res assets for asynchronous use later.

Having a clear digitally-defined workspace also helps them attract and retain high-caliber talent. The design team at Trello also strives to simulate casual, spontaneous conversations that take place in person.

👉 "What's notable about remote collaboration is that when you break how a software maker spends their time these days, anytime they’re working through a screen they could be anywhere in the world." — CHRIS KIMBELL, Head of Design at Trello

How they do it

Sprints are demanding. They take full days of focus. Usually teams book a space away from the office to remove the temptation to step away. For remote sprints, Chris asks participants to let their teams know that they’re effectively ‘out of office’.

Where there’s a need for sticky notes or whiteboard type stuff they'll use MURAL. They've also invented several mural-based exercises for things like voting in a nuanced way at the ‘converge’ stage, or collectively placing ‘How Might We’ stickies on a huge customer journey diagram.

Then, they're basically on video chat for multiple days, where people stay in the call even if they step away to grab a cup of coffee. They've found that after sprints, teams miss seeing each other for long stretches like that.

They also do remote group ‘warm ups’ each morning to get the team into a creative, collaborative headspace despite not being physically together.

Chris' Rituals for Remote Sprints

Be Present: Phones off. Logout of Trello and HipChat. (We log out of our chat app and create a new instance just for the sprint.) Keep your attention on the sprint.

Be Respectful: Be thoughtful with your feedback and make sure you’re really looking and listening as well as contributing.

Practice Conversational Turn-Taking: We want to hear from everyone, equally.

Take a Risk: If you go out on a limb someone will be there to support you.

Try Something New: Don’t worry if you idea isn’t fully baked - your perspective may help someone come up with an idea or build on yours.

Acknowledge: If something is resonating with you, say so. Don’t just think it.

Hold On To Your Own Point of View: Watch out for groupthink! Different perspectives can make ideas better, or lead to new ones.

👉 "When you're 100% remote, your tools are effectively your office. You experience collaboration tools as proxies for a disappearing, or digitizing workplace." — CHRIS KIMBELL

Take action

This Design Sprint template is ready to be duplicated and used in your own projects.

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About the author

About the authors

Chris Kimbell

Chris Kimbell

Head of Design
Chris is the Head of Design at Trello, part of Atlassian. His team consists of product design and research talent, distributed across a few time zones.

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