Why workshops are a powerful tool
At the point where your digital project has stakeholders and they need to be included in the process for whatever reason, never invite them to a meeting: invite them to a facilitated workshop.
Some other relevant articles...
Here's what we will cover...
- Old habits
- Who are stakeholders?
- What happens in a workshop?
- Artefacts are the truly powerful result of a workshop
- 5P WTF
- Benefits over meetings
Have you ever been invited to a production meeting where you check your calendar first, always request an agenda and secretly hold in reserve a reason not to go? This is because meetings generate a disproportionate volume of low-benefit work which lacks focus, requires follow-up and is grounded in the opinions of non-neutral actors.
Workshop invitations on the other hand are a welcome prospect. This is because facilitated workshops solve problems by directly uncovering evidence through the process of creating artefacts. Stakeholders witness the evolution of ideas in real-time resulting in a united vision to directly address user needs.
Is it magic? Not really, facilitated workshopping is one of the processes underpinning User Centred Design. It has surprising benefits for budgets and keeping your project grounded in the needs of users.
Meetings are a nasty corporate habit we’ve been tricked into accepting as normal. You’ll know you’re in a meeting when:
- Practical problem solving is absent
- The controlled format stifles innovation/thinking/dissent
- Streams of work are invented which require follow-up by someone, sometime, maybe
- Loss of momentum
- Notes taken are an interpretation of events by the note-taker
- The facilitator is rarely neutral
- Participants lack engagement and never volunteer an action
- The only real goal is to get through the meeting
Who are stakeholders?
It’s tempting to imagine that everyone and anyone connected to a business or project should be a stakeholder because it sounds inclusive and that’s nice. But no, sadly too many stakeholders without genuine interest can be disruptive. A good shortlist for stakeholders will usually include:
- End Users (either internal or your customers)
- Marketing people in your business
- One or two senior project sponsors in your business
How we workshop with these stakeholders depends on scope. End Users (your customers for example) will have different needs to project sponsors. Customers buy stuff and project sponsors control budgets and are business strategists. Their needs are different so workshopping topics will vary, but the underlying experience of discovering those needs will be the same.
What happens in a workshop?
Workshops have no rules, no agenda & no actions. Free thinking is encouraged, no-one can hide, no preparation on the part of stakeholders is required and the ability of powerful members of the stakeholder team to steer the session to their way of thinking is removed by a neutral facilitator. It’s everything a meeting is not and leads to the creation of indisputable artefacts based on evidence.
Artefacts are the truly powerful result of a workshop
We have a few favourite artefacts when doing workshops. Loosely based on the Moscow principle, there’s nothing better than collectively discovering features and ranking them in importance to produce a giant collage of ideas which can be rolled up and taken away for processing at the end of the session.
Rough and dirty wireframe sketching is a very quick way of trying ideas as are process diagrams.
The benefit of artefacts is that the interpretation of their meaning is deferred and considered in conjunction with other evidence obtained in the Discovery period of a project’s life cycle. No instant decisions need to be made during the workshop itself, and consequently pressure for stakeholders to “perform” on the day is minimal.
The great thing about workshopping is the low-tech nature of it. We frequently advocate staying away from computers entirely. All you really need is the 5Ps:
- Post Its
You’ll be amazed at how accessible this is for novice workshoppers. Because it’s unlike a meeting in all respects, engagement is high and most teams actually enjoy the change in their normal working patterns.
Benefits over meetings
With a similar time investment as a meeting, a workshop will bring a different perspective for stakeholders working on a digital project.
- The shared experience of making something together
- Beginnings of shared vision
- Collective responsibility
- There are no actions or follow ups
- No preparation is required
- No pressure to be clever
It takes a while to fully understand the power of a workshop. It’s not complicated and everytime we do them, participants are engaged and feel listened to whether they are End Users, Customers, Marketing or Business Strategists.
Best of all: people think it’s fun. It never feels like work and the evidence it gathers for a digital project is priceless.
Will you try it on your next project? VU has an excellent UX workshop space right in the heart of Totnes. We’ll bring the paper and pens. All you have to do is bring your team and have some fun.