Business User Experience UX
January 5, 2021

Workshops: the best tool to speed up design collaboration

Kaja Toczyska
Lead UX Designer

Working with an external agency (or even an in-house team) is not always a smooth and easy process. Whenever we ask designers to translate complex business requirements into beautiful and useful products, we often meet the most common barrier – the transfer of knowledge. So, how can you – a person with extensive business knowledge about your company – pass all of this information to the people who need it? How can you make sure that the design they create will meet your needs perfectly? The workshop is the answer.


Well, the sad fact is, none of us are mind readers, including designers. We are, however, experienced in extracting important information and knowledge from stakeholders and turning them into actionable points. This may almost sound like magic, but our most effective secret weapon is actually the humble workshop (and some research too).

Workshops: how do they work?

A workshop, in contrast to what some people may imagine, is not about playing with post-it notes or brainstorming ideas. It’s a well-defined and controlled process that involves ideation, knowledge sharing, decision-making and prioritizing work.

And the benefits of this process are pretty huge.

THE BENEFITS

For example, well-conducted workshops:

  • save a lot of time that would usually be wasted on discussions and decision-making,
  • gather people with very different perspectives, which leads to developing ideas that would normally never come up,
  • help facilitate the process of knowledge sharing and build a mutual understanding of the challenges and goals that are shared among the whole team,
  • make it possible to identify knowledge gaps that will require more research later on,
  • allow stakeholders with different opinions to generate new ideas together – and find a solution that fits each of their needs.

But, of course, these benefits also depend on the persons involved in the process. Choosing the right set of people helps us make the most of it.

Who should take part in the workshops?

To get the best results, a workshop should include between 3 and 10 participants along with an experienced facilitator whose job is to make sure that everything goes smoothly – so that there are no ineffective discussions or disputes, and everyone is working towards the same goal. There are also two important rules to follow:

  • All of these people should represent as many different perspectives as possible so that you can come up with ideas that are truly interesting and diverse. This is especially helpful when you have many stakeholders in the project and don’t want to spend too much time talking to each of them separately, trying to navigate conflicting demands and needs.
  • Since workshops can be difficult, they should be run by people with the appropriate experience. However, if you don’t have anyone like this on your team, don’t let this become an excuse not to hold workshops at all. Everyone can learn how to conduct them, and even if the first few tries won’t be very effective, they will still be more helpful than your typical meeting.

Plus, making sure that you are well-prepared will help you make the most of it, no matter how experienced you are.

How to prepare for workshops effectively?

The most significant part of preparation is to first clarify the most important goal of the workshop. Since this is meant to be an effective and time-saving measure, you won’t be able to do absolutely everything in these few hours. However, if there are many topics and challenges that you would like to cover, you can always carry out a few workshops. So, how do we handle this ourselves?

  • Whenever we work with our partner, we usually define the goal of the workshop based on product maturity and also on the amount of knowledge that they have about their target audience.
  • Some workshops require a quick research phase first so that discussions are not based on what everyone “thinks”, but rather on the real needs and pain points of the target users.

As you can see, the entire process is very different from a typical brainstorming session during which people are usually just tossing ideas around and the most charismatic person in the room gets their way. A good workshop is all about collaboration and working with various ideas to create something that works best for the determined goal. 

However, we typically run a few different types of workshops in order to achieve the best results.

Top 4 kinds of workshops

As stated above, each workshop can vary depending on its goal. We typically start by identifying a few important stages in the project, and then we establish when a workshop would be the most beneficial, and figure out the most effective way of working. Even though we customize workshop activities a bit based on individual goals, we also have some repeatable formulas to work with. Balancing customization and process automation is the key to success!

1. KICK-OFF WORKSHOPS

The main purpose of this initial workshop is to facilitate knowledge sharing and define the scope of processes at the beginning of every project. During this phase, the partner’s main interest can often be summed up with: “I want to develop an app with intent, but I also want to make sure they (the designer) understand what I do and what I want”. Well, worry no more, as this workshop is the perfect way for the partner and the design team to achieve a common understanding.

The kick-off workshops provide answers to a lot of questions, such as:

  • Who is the target audience? 
  • What are the most important business goals and project requirements?
  • How big is the scope of the project?
  • How can we plan incremental releases, etc.?

The kick-off workshop is also a great way to get to know each other and encourage team spirit. Some techniques that we can use during this event are: proto-personae, impact mapping or the impact vs. effort matrix for prioritization.

Results & benefits:

  • Transfer knowledge effectively and efficiently.
  • Understand business and technical requirements based on the real needs of the target group.
  • Take the opportunity to revise and discuss the roadmap and product features, and generate some new ideas.
  • Plan out work based on the MVP and subsequent releases, also improving the  prioritization of the product backlog.
  • Discuss the most challenging business and technical tasks.

2. DESIGN SPRINTS

“I have a bold idea for a product, but I’m not sure if it is going to work client-wise or business-wise”. Ooh, this is a topic we love! Big challenges are our thing. We have an effective and tested method of tackling them – design sprints. This type of workshop was founded at Google and has been used by the most innovative companies in the world, such as LEGO, Slack, Headspace, and many more. This comes as no surprise since design sprints are really helpful in navigating the most complex challenges effectively.

Design Sprints last a bit longer than ordinary workshops, as they require 4 or 5 full days of work. During the first 2 days, our team and the partner’s team spend time on-site (or they can also do this part remotely), collaborating on ideas that are to be tested with real users within the next 2 or 3 days.

The formula is simple: 

  • We research the topic.
  • We come to the workshop prepared.
  • We spend 2 days coming up with different ideas and approaches to the challenge.
  • Finally, we test our assumptions.

At the end of the design sprint, our partner has a working prototype as well as an answer to the critical question: will this idea work?

It’s a fun and, more importantly, an efficient way of validating business assumptions. You don’t spend weeks or months building your product only to find out that no one wants to use it at the end. Taking 5 days to test an idea at the beginning sounds much better than wasting weeks or months, doesn’t it?

Results & benefits:

  • Create an interactive prototype of the most crucial user flow – tested with real users in just 5 days.
  • Receive a clear answer on whether your idea makes sense – or if you should start to look for a new one.
  • Save a lot of time and money on product fixes that you can spot and improve during the prototyping phase instead of the development phase.

3. PRODUCT IMPROVEMENT WORKSHOPS

What if you already have a working product, but want to make it even better? The answer, as you may have already guessed, is to hold a workshop! The biggest challenge with further developing an existing product is in toeing the fine line between improving on a good product and instigating so-called feature-creep.

The most common case of this for startups and more mature organizations is: the more people engaged in product development, the more ideas for its improvement and new features. But how can you distinguish between great ideas (that will have a real impact on user experience) from poor ones (that will just make the product more complex without any added value for the end user)? Of course, the main tool for prioritization should be a clear roadmap. But in order to create one, we need to hold an effective workshop to gather different stakeholders and discuss their expectations and ideas around the product.

This kind of workshop can also act as a great tool for discovering new business opportunities. When you map out your partner’s experience, from A to Z, you can easily spot bottlenecks and pain points that you can try to address in the future.

Some techniques that we use during this workshop are: the Customer Journey Map, Scenario Mapping, Design Studio and some prioritization techniques.

Results & benefits:

  • Create a backlog of ideas for improving the current product and for releasing new features.
  • Prioritize ideas based on their potential value for the target group and technical feasibility.
  • Find opportunities to explore new directions of development.
  • Quickly generate many ideas that can be used later on in the design and development phases.

4. BUSINESS WORKSHOPS

Many people have already discovered that when they build a new business, they don’t have to spend days or weeks creating a business plan in an Excel spreadsheet that, in the end, will have nothing to do with what they actually need for their business. There are many lean methods that can help you quickly prepare a business plan to test and validate.

These methods – such as proto-personae, the Value Proposition Canvas or Business Model Canvas – are perfect for a one-day workshop. Just gather your (future) teammates and work together on creating a business plan from the ground up – a plan that you can later validate with research and prototypes.

Results & benefits:

  • Work together with your team to refine ideas from a business perspective, allowing you to focus on the real needs of the target group.
  • Build a backlog of ideas for product features based on user needs.
  • Create a testable business model.

Are workshops worth your time?

The answer is: yes, definitely. As you can see, you can solve almost any problem more effectively with just a one-day or a two-day workshop. The types of workshops mentioned above are just suggestions, but you can definitely organize them however you want. There are many sources of great workshop techniques that you can find on the Internet, so just do the research.

The most important thing is to make sure that you have a clear goal and plan for the workshop before jumping into it. This will save you a lot of time and guarantee that you will meet your challenge or find some spot-on ideas.

And of course – if you need any guidance on organizing a workshop for your company, don’t hesitate to contact us!

Design Sprint
From a bold idea to a prototype
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Written by
Kaja Toczyska
Lead UX Designer

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