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In this article, we will focus solely on the participants. As a foreword, let’s just note that the design sprint requires a Facilitator and a Designer. In the case of our website design sprints, we provide both. However, if your business hires an independent Facilitator you can use an in-house designer or outsource the task. Both can work just as well, as long as they’re briefed on their role in the project.

The most important design sprint roles

We’ve facilitated workshops with various numbers of participants. Some involved just a single solopreneur, while others saw us in a packed room with 7-8 people (the theoretical limit for design sprints). Based on that experience, here are the four key roles in a design sprint team.

Decision-maker

The design sprint can’t exist without a decision-maker. Even if you think you have the buy-in from your key stakeholders, they might still choose to overwrite your decisions after the sprint ends. If that can happen, it’s not worth it to take part in one in the first place.

We’re aware that CEOs often have packed schedules. The design sprint allows decision-makers to pop into the workshops for just a few minutes each day to have the last say. The entire process is based on the principle of working together but alone so they won’t be out of the loop. There’s little to no discussion during the process, so there’s not much for them to miss. They just need a few minutes to get familiar with the top voted problems or solutions.

As you may now realise, this should always be the person that has the last say. Wrapping up a design sprint just to have the entire outcome scrapped is the worst thing that can happen.

A decision-maker should generally be an executive or a product owner at your company, but it will depend on the level of understanding of the design sprint principles within the organisation. If you’re a lead marketer of a small team in an enterprise, you can be the decision-maker. Just make sure there’s nobody higher up that can overwrite your decision.

Customer guru

Design sprint workshops are all about creating products that work for your customers. If you can’t have anyone else participate in them, bring the person that knows the most about your audience. That person is likely to also have sufficient knowledge of other areas of the business and the product.

They will be able to come up with ideas and vote on ideas through the lens of your ideal customer, which is invaluable for the outcome of the design sprint.

Important note

Even though we encourage you to have a dedicated customer guru, it’s important to remember that knowing your customer should be one of the key attributes of any other role. If you need to choose between a marketer from the back office and one with more hands-on experience, choose the latter.

Marketing expert

Marketers will always have some degree of audience knowledge, which is already a plus. They also ought to understand your product – another key aspect of a design sprint participant.

In the web design industry, inviting a marketing expert has another huge advantage. Marketers will be the ones that use your website as admins. It’s an added bonus in our niche, but it’s an important one.

Plus, they’ll be the ones that will describe the product we’re building with words. As we’ll mention in the bonus entry later, copywriting happens in the design sprint. Having a marketer around for that just makes sense.

Product owner

We know a lot about the user, but we need a product expert as well. This role is often combined with being a decision-maker, but we recommend having an “independent” product owner in the workshop as well.

Similarly to our previous marketer example, some product owners can be more or less hands-on. If your decision-maker is a product manager (or has similar responsibilities), choose a product expert that is a contrast to them.

Who else can join your design sprint team?

If you’d like to bring even more diversity to the workshops, here are the design sprint roles that could supplement the key members of the team.

The engineer

It’s not a must-have, but it’s definitely a nice bonus. We often include a web developer in the design sprint team for the client, if the workshop capacity permits. That’s because it’s much easier to transition from a design sprint to web development if they have been involved.

They also happen to be irreplaceable when it comes to technical knowledge. Even if they’re lacking a bit on the customer requirements front, the ideas our developers had for some of the design sprints would be impossible to come by without having an engineering mind in the room. Once again – diversity for the win.

A role that is specific to your challenge – i.e. HR, finance, or other

Every business is unique, and there are many job roles that exist that we haven’t even heard of. Based on your challenge, it might be worth inviting other members of your team. If your main goal is to make recruitment easier for your company, an HR person would be a great pick.

Similarly, someone from the finance department can help out tremendously if you suspect that your website needs content around that topic – whether in the form of copywriting, or maybe even suggesting tools and calculators.

If this just sparked a question about copywriting… yes, you write the actual copy during the workshops. With that in mind, you can even fill one spot on your design sprint team with a copywriter – some of our clients have done that in the past.

Customer support

This might seem redundant when we have a customer guru in the room already, but knowing the problems of your customers is a unique skill. It doesn’t get any more hands-on than that.

A customer support agent might not have the user research prowess of the ideal customer guru, but they can definitely provide a unique perspective.

Quick tips for assembling the design sprint team

When considering the design sprint roles for your next project, there are just a few high-level things you should keep in mind:

  • Diversity is the key – start with as many different roles as possible, but if you need to duplicate one of them, don’t worry about it. Two marketers from the same team will have different skillsets and ideas.
  • The design sprint team should know your audience well. It’s not a problem if some of them are not as well-versed as others, but if everyone in the workshop has hands-on experience with your customers, the project will benefit greatly.
  • Knowing your product is just as important. We need to know who we create for, but also what – what it is now, and what it could be in the future. Not everyone will have the knowledge of a product owner, but they need to be familiar with what you’re trying to achieve.
  • Don’t go too crazy. We’ve found that 7-8 participants are the upper limit. Going beyond that brings diminishing returns and can even affect the process negatively for everyone involved.
  • Last but not least, brief them on the design sprint process. If someone has no idea why they’re in the workshop or they can’t bring themselves to conform to the rules of the design sprint, it will ruin everyone’s time and the project will likely fail.

Do you know any other design sprint roles?

Have you had success with some of them, or maybe certain job roles have a pattern of making design sprints harder? Let us know. You can find us on Twitter and LinkedIn – share the article with us and start a conversation. We want this article to be as valuable as possible, so every bit of feedback helps.

Originally published Mar 28, 2022 5:16:03 PM, updated April 17 2022.

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