ARCHER: Collaboration for Excellence

ARCHER: Collaboration for Excellence

AF CyberWorx and the Extreme Digital Development Group Enterprise (EDDGE) teamed up to tackle Project ARCHER virtually despite the challenges of COVID-19. The magic of the dream UX team wove together active duty end users and creators of the original tool into a working group for an incredible experience.

This event was a great opportunity to experience what Human Centered Design is all about first-hand! EDDGE first reached out to AF CyberWorx to see how we could collaborate in an event, and they soon responded with an opportunity to empower software-enabled innovators.

The design process we went through really helped us understand the pain points and what part of the tool was making the process frustrating. We went through many exercises that allowed the team of end users, trainers, and developers understand the functionality that the ARCHER team wanted.

Within one week of being assembled as a team, we took off! We were able to power through the design phase with a clear understanding of the requirement. The EDDGE team couldn’t be more excited to work with Captain Chris “Archer” Fry and the CyberWorx team to get this product developed and out to help our people!

We look forward to continuing to provide our experienced software developers to sharp Airmen to come up with products that are USEABLE and maintainable. Virtual or in person, the collaboration with AF CyberWorx for Project ARCHER was a BLAST!

AIR FORCE CYBERWORX LEADS THE AIR FORCE IN VIRTUAL HUMAN-CENTERED DESIGN

AIR FORCE CYBERWORX LEADS THE AIR FORCE IN VIRTUAL HUMAN-CENTERED DESIGN

AF CyberWorx Paves The Way For Others In The Air Force To Innovate Virtually

Just as Air Force CyberWorx became the experts in leading in-person, human-centered design events, the team is now stepping up to become the experts in leading virtual sessions.

Since the team, normally housed at the Air Force Academy, has begun teleworking, they have tested and vetted multiple virtual platforms and in less than two months have facilitated three UX Sprint events, with more in the queue.

AF CyberWorx’s human-centered design events are focused on – you guessed it – humans. The “human” in “human-centered design” refers primarily to the end user of whatever problem the team is tackling. Projects always start with the question, “How can we solve this problem in such a way to actually meet the needs of this pilot or operator, etc.?”

But AF CyberWorx also places a premium on bringing humans to a physical space to solve said problems. There’s just something about standing around a whiteboard, placing and rearranging sticky notes, and then mulling over questions while eating lunch. And AF CyberWorx has arguably the most advanced human-centered design process in the Air Force.

But when COVID-19 hit, they had to suspend in-person events. Big gulp. However, AF CyberWorx has ironically never been busier. They are, after all, a problem solving organization; if they can help others change for the better, they ought to be able to do so themselves. And teleworking is no excuse to stop designing for end users.

Larry Marine, one of the lead User Experience (UX) Designers at AFCyberWorx, shared some of the pros of virtual events: more people can participate, and the virtual events that are spaced out over a number of days allows for a mix of synchronous and asynchronous interactions.

“We assign people ‘homework’ between sessions,” said Marine, “and then they have time to think about it on their own time, and to add to the online whiteboards whenever creativity hits. People can go in and tinker here or tinker there.”

Online tools have never been more positioned to allow for online facilitation but make no mistake: online design sessions require the same level of preparation as in-person events, and more,  to account for the virtual environment. AF CyberWorx facilitators work closely ahead of time with a “person behind the curtain” who takes care of the behind-the-scenes technology work needed to give participants a smooth experience while using the various tools.

“As the moderator, your whole focus is on the screen, not the technology,” said Marine. “You can’t always get visual clues, so you have to listen for audio clues for how people are participating.”

While the team looks forward to being able to host people in-person again, Marine said he doesn’t expect virtual events to stop happening as soon as restrictions are lifted. However, it’s possible that they may look at projects which incorporate both in-person sessions and virtual collaboration. “I think it could work and I hope we have the opportunity to try.”

The UX team has not only started leading virtual sessions but has decided to help others do so as well by pulling together their research and experience to share with others the best methods and practices for helping others collaborate online.

The effort started because as he was researching best practices for leading virtual design sessions, Marine noticed that there really wasn’t much out there.

“I decided to put together a guide because no one had done a sprint like this before, and no one had vetted the technology before,” said Marine. “I thought that if we needed this, surely other people will too, so why not create something and share it?”

The team has posted their How-To guide on AFCyberWorx’s website here, and are looking into a place to post it where others in the Air Force can add to the document and share their own experiences.

*

About Air Force CyberWorx

Air Force CyberWorx is an Air Force organization that brings together cross-functional teams of the best and brightest subject matter experts from the military, civil service, industry, and academia to solve operational users’ most challenging problems. Air Force CyberWorx uses the Human Centered Design Methodology to increase multi-domain warfighter effectiveness by accelerating disruption and transformation. To learn more about Air Force CyberWorx and its upcoming projects, visit http://afcyberworx.org/.

Virtual Sprint How-To Guide

Virtual Sprint How-To-Guide

By: Air Force CyberWorx UX Design Team

Executive Summary

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.

Main Objective

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:

Changes to Our Design Sprints

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.

All or None

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.

Synch vs. Asynch

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.

Pace Yourself

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.

Taking Breaks

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.

Video Conference Tools

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 capabilities:

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 rooms:

NewRow – A remote classroom tool

Remo – A webinar tool

Use Phones for Audio

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.

Standard Video Conference tools

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.

Collaboration Tools

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 experiences here.

Digital Whiteboard Tools

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

Prototype and Design Tools

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:

InVision

Figma

Balsamiq

Sketch

Axure

Xd

Design activity support

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

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.

Follow Me

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.

Miro

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 project.

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, etc.).

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 share dialog.

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.

VPN issues

We have 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 personal computers.

Facilitators

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.

Pay No Attention to That Man Behind the Curtain

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.

Set up Breakout Rooms Ahead of Time

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

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.

One Board or Separate Boards?

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.

Technology

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.

Two Monitors

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.

Varying Degrees of Internet Access

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.

Pre-Sprint Checklist

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.

Practice Board

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.

Uploading Images

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 invitation email.

Preferred Email Address

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.

Test, Test, Test

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.

In-Sprint Checklist

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 tool works.

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.

Session Recordings

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.

Post-Sprint Checklist

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 use.

Create a survey asking folks what they would like to see to improve their experience.

In Summary

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.

STEP FOUR: THE OUTBRIEF

Dissecting the Design Sprint Event

STEP FOUR: THE OUTBRIEF

The finish line of a design sprint is the final outbrief. This last piece is when participants and decision makers see the results of the hard work everyone has put into finding a solution. The outbrief is an integration of everyone’s efforts during the event and includes all the design sprint elements: the refined problem statement, personas and scenarios, solution design, and all the pieces in between.

Vel Preston, AF CyberWorx Head of Innovation Design, describes the elements of an outbrief. Just as the event begins with the problem statement, the outbrief also starts with the problem. As Vel asks, “What’s the impact of the status quo?”

Stakeholders define the goal, but it’s the participants who explore the problem and determine how the status quo impacts the end users and, by extension, the mission. While the military mindset tends to put mission first, people enable the mission. As Vel explains, “We’re in the military. A lot of our problems revolve around lives at stake,” whether that means boots on the ground being supported by aircraft in the sky or personnel relying on finance for their paychecks. In exploring the human aspects of the problem, participants identify specific pain points to improve upon.

After briefers reiterate the problem, explain its impact, and outline the human element involved, they’re ready to lay out their solution. The ideal solution addresses the problem statement directly and pertains to the specific barriers and pain points identified during the design sprint journey. Vel explains that overall, “we want our listeners to follow the logic trail…Here’s what the status quo is, here’s the impact of keeping it that way, here are the things that’re getting in the way [of improving], and here’s how we can do it better.” The solution is the final piece that gives stakeholders a direction to a better future.

For the best response to an outbrief, participants should keep in mind more than just what the problem and potential solution is. Participants need to know to whom they are briefing. Ideally, they will be the person or people who can say yea or nay to the next steps. When that’s not possible, the person receiving the information should be someone who can become a champion for the solution to those who do have say. To help with this, briefers need to understand what information the decision-makers need. The team needs to consider and include that information. Some of that can include approximate costs, necessary resources, items to investigate further, and what parts of a solution are already in place to easily use.

Though the purpose of a design sprint is to come up with new ideas and solutions to solve or mitigate a problem, there are still limits to keep in mind. As Vel says, “It’s harder to get behind someone who wants to restructure everything.” Resources across the DoD are shared among a lot of projects, programs, and departments. If a team attempts to change the world, even if that is what is ultimately needed, their solution may not gain much traction.

Vel explains that the best received solutions are when the participants have drilled down to a single root cause that affects several pain points of the problem. “Because [a team] focused on the root cause…the integrated solution was more impactful and powerful.” If they focus on the right problem, the solution will have a large impact and be received well by stakeholders even if the root cause is relatively small and can be fixed with little effort and resources.

The outbrief is not the end, however. As Vel encourages participants, “The outbrief should be the beginning of change that everyone is asking for.” Viewing the outbrief as the beginning of change, instead of the end of an event, changes the perspective from one of presentation and after action to one of suggesting next steps and path to improvement. AF CyberWorx works to enable change and improvement. Facilitating events and guiding experts through the process to a solution is simply a vehicle to enable that change, not an end in itself.

*The postings on this blog reflect individual team member opinions and do not necessarily reflect official Air Force positions, strategies, or opinions.

How to Sprint with AF CyberWorx

You’ve been selected to attend one of AF CyberWorx’s Design Sprints. Congratulations! We are so excited to have you participate with us during our workshop; but, you will soon learn that our sprints are a little different than most workshops. Today, before attending the upcoming sprint, we’ll review what a Design Sprint is, what to expect as a participant of a Design Sprint, an example of a sprint schedule, and attendee reminders

What is a Design Sprint?

It’s a workshop event where different-minded people from militaryacademia, and industry backgrounds collaborate while working out possible solutions to a challenge. AF CyberWorx sprints develop human-centered design solutions for the modern warfighter. Design Sprints try to answer the question, “How can we deliver innovative and intuitive operational solutions to our warfighters?”

Throughout a sprint, groups of 4-6 participants partake in candid discussions and structured tactics for solving problems. Trained facilitators will guide teams through the design process and help maximize team effectiveness, ideation, and solution-crafting.

Industry participants are encouraged to challenge the mindset of the Air Force, while government collaborators provide an insight into needs and operational functions to provide a cohesive, feasible, and desirable design solution.

Participation Expectations in a Design Sprint

Design sprint participants come in with open minds. Sprints are all about sharing ideas, from wildest dreams to the most practical details. Sprint events generate a wide range of solutions through attendee collaboration and creatively explore problems and potential solutions from every angle.

What to Bring

Please bring a government-issued ID card to the campus and the event. While AF CyberWorx will provide design materials, you can still bring a laptop, tablet, or other writing materials.

How to Dress

Be sure to dress casually while attending the event. ALL participants will be in civilian attire to facilitate an open learning and design environment. Please be aware that pictures and videos will be taken during the sprint for marketing purposes. Appropriate security measures and approval processes will be followed for use of the images.

Internet

A commercial wifi will be available for use during breaks. There will be NO .mil internet or email access.

While attending, you will be very busy. Please plan to do your regular work outside of the hours posted in your sprint agenda. Working on other items will not be conducive to the collaboration atmosphere or project.

Example of a Design Sprint

Attendees can expect both breakfast and lunch to be provided if they fill out the eventbrite application beforehand. Attendees who wish to bring their own meals may store items in a refrigerator on site. A happy hour will take place offsite of the campus at 4:30 on the first day of the sprint (usually Tuesday).

Attendee Reminders

There are a few things to remember before attending a Design Sprint with AF CyberWorx.

  • Pick up your T-Badge with your welcome packet before the sprint.
  • Dress in civilian clothing.
  • Bring any additional materials you might want to use.
  • Return T-Badges to AF CyberWorx staff before leaving on the final day.

We can’t wait to see you at our next sprint! Be sure to follow us on FacebookTwitterLinkedIn, and subscribe to our emails to stay up to date on current projects and future sprints.