Teams

How to assemble your design sprint team

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Updated 8/4/17: We’ve updated this post with even more info. Enjoy!

Design sprints are reshaping how the most progressive companies build ideas into functioning products. Within a sprint, you’ll build a team-wide understanding of a well-defined a design challenge, ideate solutions, vote on the best conceived solution, build a functional prototype of that solution, and test that prototype with 5 targeted customers.

Did I mention this all happens within 5 days?

In this article, we’re going to focus on 2 topics that’ll help you prepare a team that can run a successful design sprint:

  1. Generating support from your company to conduct a sprint
  2. Putting the right sprint team together to execute

Engage your company

Once you’ve put the pre-work in to select a business challenge to run your design sprint on, your next step is getting others around you committed. These people may include co-founders, board members, designers, engineers, and marketers. They may be peers, managers, or junior members.

Related: Frequently asked questions about design sprints

Depending on outside pressure and your team’s progress, getting everyone to agree to a design sprint may be the easiest decision you’ve made since opening your doors. Or it may take some finessing—in which case we’ve laid out 3 options for rallying everyone together.

“Design sprints are reshaping how we build ideas into functioning products.”

Good news: We’ve already tested and validated each of these options time and again. We’ve also experimented with others, but none had as much success.

Option 1: Distribute copies of the Sprint book and pitch it

Ask the team to read the book. Then break out Keynote, organize your compelling pitch about the benefits of a design sprint, and call a meeting.

Image courtesy New Haircut.

Image courtesy New Haircut.

Note: For the ultra lazies, you can prompt your team to skip the book and review this Sprint Checklist (opens PDF).

Pros:

  • If they share your passion, they should be at least mildly stoked to give it a shot
  • This is about as low-risk/low-cost as it gets

Cons:

  • People are not to be trusted + people are lazy = people may not read the book or take you seriously
  • Your pitch bombs, people throw stuff at you, and you’re never asked to participate in another sales call
sprint-team-4

Option 2: Run a 1-day sprint demo

With this approach you’ll run a hyper-condensed version of the design sprint in one business day.

If we pretend the typical business day is a true 8 hours, you’ll leave one hour first thing in the morning for the team to take care of their administrative duties and one hour for lunch. Use the other 6 hours to work through the sprint.

Pros:

  • This highly collaborative environment is contagious. Expect it to boost confidence and team dynamics.
  • 6 hours should be easy to sell

Cons:

  • The abbreviated schedule could backfire if it’s not laser-focused. Consider bringing in some outside help (see option 3).

Option 3: Get some outside help

The previous options assume you have the team and know-how to create your own momentum with design sprints. However, some of you reading this may be a company of one. And some of you may simply not be up to the task, or you don’t have the time to rouse the team.

In these instances, consider bringing in some outside expertise, who already have the process and experience nailed down.

You have 2 options here:

  1. Training
  2. Contracting a professional facilitator
sprint-team-2

Pros:

  • Outsiders with vetted experience tend to carry more influence
  • Pros who’ve run many sprints will be able to offer outside perspective
  • The best facilitators will help you avoid costly mis-steps and landmines, so you can focus on the company objectives rather than managing sprint operations

Cons:

  • Options are often slim for finding trustworthy providers

In the end, the goal is for you to get your existing team on board with a running a 5-day design sprint. Consider your team dynamics, roadmap, and pressures so you can get them over that hump with as little friction as possible. And if you discover a better option, please let us know.

“Sprint teams need a good mix of personalities, skills, and disciplines.”

Your sprint team

Once your company is enacted to run a sprint, the next order of business is selecting and rallying your sprint team. You’ll want to assemble a balanced team that can fully commit to the process. But you’ll also need a good mix of personalities, skills, and disciplines.

Google Ventures recommends a team no larger than 7. We agree—otherwise, you go from running a sprint to managing a mob. You will have your hands full keeping the team from jumping directly into solution mode–that dynamic worsens the more people you have in the room.

sprint-team-1

Below are the 5 roles we’ve found to be absolutely necessary in running a quality sprint.

Product chief, AKA the Shot-caller or Decider
This is the person with the most sway, and often the biggest, shiniest voting stickers. Though it’s often the case, this won’t always be the boss / owner / VP of Product / CEO. In some cases we’ve seen heads of customer service, lead engineers, and sales execs charter this role. What’s most important is that this person has the most tangible exposure to the problem you’re trying to solve.

Facilitator
The design sprint facilitator undoubtedly has the biggest load to carry. Of all the roles on the sprint team, this is the one we get hired to help out with the most.

Aside from confirming you’ve done all of the required pre-sprint work and that the best-fitting cast has been assembled (sprint team, experts, and customers), there is also a ton to manage during and after the sprint. Designate one person on your sprint team as the facilitator—their primary role is to ensure the team keeps up with the aggressive pace of a 5-day sprint.

Customer rep
If your product chief doesn’t have immersive, daily interaction with your customers, be sure to recruit this role onto your sprint team. They’ll often be the ones to cut through the sales and marketing hype you’ve tried ad nauseam, while pinpointing the precise issues your customers face.

Designer
In another article we talked about creating Goldilocks-quality prototypes. Having a designer involved in the sprint process is important because they can quickly make things look good enough.

Design sprints also require lots of visualizing of ideas. Designers (along with the facilitator) are often leaned on to help encourage this show-don’t-tell approach.

“Sprint teams shouldn’t have more than 7 people.”

Engineer
While you don’t need to be a technology company to run a sprint, the majority of prototypes you’ll be testing will require some kind of engineering talent. The engineer on the team may produce software, hardware, or some other real-world product prototype.

Marketing
The words used to describe and market your product as well as the words within the product itself are just as important as the form and function of your prototype. Make sure someone is present who’s blessed with the ability to effectively wordsmith.

Bonus: Facilitator
There are a lot of moving parts to a design sprint. Don’t forget that you have to book conference rooms, organize lunch, capture notes, set timers, interview customers, and keep the group on-task. Designate one person on your sprint team as the facilitator—their primary role is to ensure the team keeps up with the aggressive pace of a 5-day sprint.

Summary

Design sprints require a commitment from your team. Once they’re in, you’ll want to mobilize a team that’s willing to clear their schedules and charge through the sprint. And hopefully you now have the structure to accomplish those 2 objectives.

Does your team use design sprints? If you’d like to share your process on the InVision Blog, get in touch with us on Twitter: @InVisionApp.

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Author

Jay Melone
Jay Melone is the Strategy Partner at New Haircut, a software design firm. They combine design thinking, design sprints, and full-stack software development to offer digital innovation-as-a-service to their client companies. They offer Duco to teams looking to prepare for their own upcoming sprints. Watch his DesignTalks on how to prepare for your first sprint and get executives on board with sprints.

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