If you ever find yourself in the Swiss Alps, you may hear Steph Cruchon, the Founder and CEO of Design Sprint Ltd, shouting about Design Sprints from the mountaintops. Steph is one of the early European pioneers of the Design Sprint methodology and its biggest evangelist in Switzerland.
Steph and his team at Design Sprint Ltd help companies rethink their products and strategies to become more agile, digitized, and resilient.
One of the most important aspects of Steph’s role as a facilitator is helping his clients choose the right team members to be involved in their Design Sprints—something that makes or breaks the success of the Sprint.
Steph, being the nice guy that he is (he asked us to say that), has provided you with a little guide on who to invite to the sprint, and why.
The best Design Sprints should have a team of seven to eight people—max.
But in most companies, there are way more people who want to participate or who need to attend for political reasons.
If you’ve ever facilitated Design Sprints for clients, this conversation should feel familiar:
“Hey Steph, I wanted to know… This project is a bit political, so could we make an exception and have more participants in the Design Sprint?”
“How many people?”
As Design Sprint facilitators, we need to help our clients narrow down to the best possible people in the room so that they can achieve their desired outcomes.
This means including:
- people with decision-making power
- the voice of the customer
- a mix of skillsets (marketing, dev, design, business)
- diversity of thought and experience
- a mix of personalities (optimists and devil’s advocates)
But before we get started, let’s drill down on why clients want so many people involved, and how to push back.
Why Design Sprint teams can go wrong…
Let’s set the scene: your client (or your company) has a big hairy problem they’ve been meaning to solve for months.
Usually, it’s not a lack of ideas or talent in the company that’s holding things up. Instead, it’s the unpleasant feeling that everyone has more urgent things to do, so every decision takes forever.
It’s time to help these stakeholders work together and move forward.
Fast forward: You’ve convinced the Product Manager to run a Design Sprint—a five-day workshop at high speed, with everyone’s full focus on solving that one problem.
She even managed to convince the VP of Product, who found a bit of budget somewhere. Everyone had been willing to get things done for a while, but nobody knew how.
During these five days, the team will share, get aligned, build a realistic prototype of the best solution, and test it with real customers—the kind of things that would normally take months.
So now it’s up to you to build the team.
You re-read Jake Knapp’s book, Sprint. Everywhere, he talks about sprinting with “startups”, a small team of seven people, with the CEO as Decider.
It seems easy enough on paper, but the problem is that your client has hundreds of employees—not seven. Oh, and the CEO is away at a Zumba boot camp in Kathmandu—so they won’t be available.
Another problem you are quickly confronted with (which isn’t mentioned in the book): literally everyone wants to participate in the workshop.
The project has been dragging on for so long that now everyone wants a say.
But for the Design Sprint to work, you need between six to eight participants. With more, the Sprint becomes way too slow.
This max number applies to the core team—people who are going to participate for the whole week. You can invite a few extra experts, on the first day, if you need.
As the Design Sprint facilitator, it’s now your job to stand up and help your Decider build the best possible team.
Here are the four roles you’ll need to include for a successful Design Sprint.
1. The Decider
This is the person within the team who has the most decision-making power.
CEO, VP, Head of Product… the title doesn’t matter. But this person must have the power to “sponsor” the project. It is this person and only this person who can eventually unlock a budget after the sprint, or hire contractors.
In an “agile” context, you might be tempted to run a Design Sprint without a Decider (“we are all equal”), but this is a very bad idea.
In fact, it is the Decider who will avoid compromises and make the rapid execution of the project possible by convincing other stakeholders. Without this help, the project might get stuck once again.
We always insist that the Decider is involved in the whole Design Sprint (not just a few hours).
If the CEO or VP can’t participate, they will have to delegate this responsibility to another member of the management that they trust, who will carry the responsibility of the sprint.
There are more than enough smart people in every company, so it doesn’t always need to be the CEO.
2. The Facilitator
This is the person who will organize the sprint and guide the team through the workshop.
The role is well described in the Sprint book, but there are two aspects that must be taken into account when choosing a facilitator:
- Experience: the Sprint leader will have to manage the energy of the group, as well as the technical aspects—especially if the Design Sprint is online, with tools like Miro and Butter. Having run dozens of sprints will help deal with anything unexpected, and guarantee a good outcome.
- Neutrality: the Sprint leader needs to be neutral with respect to the group or the hierarchy. By facilitating a sprint within your own team, you can quickly lose your impartiality. Things can go wrong quickly if you let Joe, the big boss with the big mouth, run a one-man show for 30 minutes. If you need to run a sprint at your own company, try to do it for a different team or department.
3. The Designer
This is the person who will create the prototype, with the help of the rest of the team.
Here, you’re looking for a very good UI designer—ideally a senior one—but also someone who knows how to work quickly under stress.
The prototyper will only have one day to go from a rough sketch on paper, to a hi-fi testable prototype.
Beware of people who are too perfectionist: they won’t have time to align each pixel or rename layers!
4. The Voice of the Customer
This participant must know the target user perfectly.
Generally, this participant is not found at the management level, but rather in a customer-facing role, such as customer success or sales.
The most important thing is that this person spends most of his time in contact with the customer and fully understands what their biggest needs are.
5-8. The rest of the sprint team
The three or four remaining participants are wildcards. Here, you are free to invite the best people for the job.
My advice here: focus on diversity. Diversity in skillsets, motivations, experience level, personality types, and more.
Here are some ideas on how to choose your wildcards.
Their availability and motivation
The number one criterion is that they are willing to block their agenda for the whole sprint week.
It may seem impossible at first (everyone will tell you they’re too busy) but if the Sprint Challenge is really important, and they feel legitimate and useful, they will gladly accept.
This is a very good filter to choose only the most motivated participants.
Their involvement in the project
Always prioritize people who will play an important role in the project and its future execution—the people who will do the actual work
We often see in our workshops that companies tend to overly favor top managers in the strategy phase when there is a real opportunity to empower their more junior employees who are full of energy (and also have more time).
Their department (think multidisciplinary)
Because the objective of a Sprint is to create a common vision, try as much as possible to have a multi-disciplinary, multi-talented team. Having six engineers in a Sprint won’t be much help.
For example, include:
- a participant from Marketing (desirability)
- a person from Dev (feasibility)
- a person from Finance (viability)
The workshop is an excellent opportunity to get all these people working together and to break down silos.
We often default for asking the most experienced people in the room for their opinions, but sometimes, younger (or fresher) is better.
In some sprints, we’re trying to reach a younger target audience for a product. “How might we sell our product to Gen Z?”
It’s clear that a bunch of boomers in suits (or even millennials!) will have a hard time conceiving of the next big hit on TikTok.
In this case, being young, even with little work experience, will be balanced by the advantage of being from the right generation or subculture. That’s real expertise in itself.
Give your more junior employees a chance to be heard. You may be very pleasantly surprised.
Finally, for a Design Sprint, you’re always going to look for people who are team players, and who are eager to move forward.
Most of your core team should be made up of people who are optimistic, collaborative, and open-minded.
But I’ll end this guide with a good piece of advice from Jake Knapp: “bring the troublemaker”.
Bring someone who is smart, but likes to play devil’s advocate. It could also be someone who is naturally a bit more conservative or risk-averse. This person will represent the dozens of gatekeepers you will have to deal with later in the project.
But do yourself some good: invite only ONE of them. Otherwise, you’ll have a rough week!
I hope these tips have helped you establish your dream Design Sprint team.
For more Design Sprint tips, you can follow Steph and Design Sprint Ltd on LinkedIn.
And to run buttery-smooth Design Sprints, use Butter! Try it, it’s free.