Collaboration with our clients is at the centre of what we do at System Concepts. Over the years, our clients have become more engaged and involved in projects, which has placed workshops at the core of what we do.
We carefully plan and run workshops at various stages in a project lifecycle; for example; at a kick-off, working together to drive, scope and ideate the focus and content of the research; in the middle of a project to crunch through the data and gain a better understanding of the client’s priorities and business decisions; or at the end taking the research findings forwards into ideation and design.
Simply put, we love a workshop! The feeling of working together towards a common goal, rather than just presenting research findings, makes us happy.
But a productive and useful workshop takes preparation, logistics, and planning. Here are a few tips that we’ve learned along the way to avoid the small issues adding up and distracting from the objectives of your workshop.
Highs and lows of workshop expectations
1. Set expectations
Prepare people for the day. Set expectations that they will have highs and they will also have lows. But not to worry, this is to be expected so just roll with it! Let people know that there will be mid-morning, lunch and mid-afternoon breaks to have a breather – but don’t specify the exact timings, to give you the flexibility of breaking earlier when energy is low or continuing on when people are in full flow.
2. Be prepared to be flexible…about everything
We prepare heavily for our workshops but that’s not to say they run exactly to plan, and neither should they (where would the fun be in that?).
Facilitators need to adapt to the environment, the energy of the room and the conflicts and difficulties that arise. Sometimes we may need to get everyone to take a break even if it isn’t scheduled. It’s sometimes needed to switch things up and change the energy of the room. It may feel like you are wasting time, but people usually come back to work more productively after. And it’s important to be bold – cut things short if they aren’t working, let people take longer on a task than you had planned if it’s a productive activity and use ice breaker tasks in the middle of the day just to get people up and out of their chairs.
3. I need some space!
Workshops produce a lot of material, which is best placed on walls to keep minds focused and the objectives and discussions alive. This means that a full day workshop will need lots of usable wall space for sticking and writing on (and I mean LOTS!).
“As humans, our short-term memory is not all that good, but our spatial memory is awesome. A sprint room, plastered with notes, diagrams, printouts, and more, takes advantage of that spatial memory. The room itself becomes a sort of shared brain for the team.” ― Jake Knapp, Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days
4. Go stationery overboard
I was one of those kids who loved stationery. Don’t judge me. Who knew UX would make me so happy? Some key pieces to take are:
masking tape (no need for scissors or teeth and less likely to damage walls)
lots of different coloured and shaped post-its (with a key to know which colours you are using for what)
stickers for voting
black thin pens (and a very patronizing, but invaluable, slide telling people why and how to write neatly on a post-it with it!)
you can also use reusable whiteboard rolls that turn any wall into a whiteboard….magic!
5. Get snap happy
Take photos of everything! Take photos of the post-its on the wall, the sketches people have made, the writing on the whiteboard. You may need some of this information in the future and it’s easily lost/mixed up.
Also take photos of people in the workshop to make any post-workshop summary more engaging.
Finally, consider filming people presenting back their work or describing their ideas in case their work will be taken forwards into the next stage of your project.
6. Keep an eye on attendee numbers
A fairly common occurrence for us is when a client asks ‘so how many people do you recommend taking part in this workshop’ and we list the profiles of the people who need to attend and, for example, suggest a total of eight attendees. The client then comes back and says that everyone is very excited about the workshop (excellent!) but they have 15 people who would like to attend. After going through the whole ‘are you sure they all need to attend?’ we then likely end up with 15 people.
Two of the main areas this impacts are as follows.
Is the room big enough for everyone to sit, but also for everyone to be up at the walls and moving around in groups?
How this will impact the timings of the activities?
For example, if you are running a Design Sprint, some of the activities won’t take any longer whether you have 8 or 15 people in the room, as they are individual tasks. However, when each individual then presents back their ideas, you have twice as many ideas to hear about. Time will quickly run away from you!
Once the basics are covered, running workshops is fun and rewarding. Good luck running your own or get in touch if you would like some help designing and facilitating a workshop for your team.
Get expert assistance designing and facilitating your workshop