NEWS

PLANNING A REMOTE WORKSHOP WHILE LOCKED DOWN AT HOME

Facilitating workshops are a fundamental part of any service designers job.  Until recently, these workshops have been in person, where multiple stakeholders, users, and subject-matter experts (SMEs), are brought together to accelerate thinking and decision making. Of course, owing to the pandemic, we’re all in a situation where remote working has been forced on us and is fast becoming “the new normal”. As well as all meetings being conducted remotely, workshops must be too.

As this project is ongoing, I won’t be able to disclose sensitive details; however, I can share the way we structured the workshops and activities. The project that this article is based on concerns 4 teams, set up to respond to the immediate and short-term effect of the pandemic on education in the UK. These teams were set different areas of focus on particular user groups.

We ran a four day sprint, loosely following Jake Knapp’s Design Sprint methodology and ENGINE Transformation’s version of a design sprint – we have developed a flexible sprint framework, which made it really easy to grab a few of the activities/methods and gave us a structure for the week. This was split up into two days of analysis and research, one day of synthesis and one day of re-framing & ideation.

Each team was asked to prepare a slide deck from our research, which contained insights and a synthesis in the form of problem statements. To take the research forward to the next stage, it was decided that workshops would be best, but we needed to make sure these workshops could work remotely. The result was two workshops. The first – a re-framing workshop and the second – an ideation workshop.

Workshops – Planning and Facilitation 

Reframe workshop

Goal

To reframe the problem statements into opportunity statements, identify cross-cutting themes across all four teams’ research, and decide on the opportunity statements to take forward into ideation.

Attendees

Team/project/design leads, as well as a few members of the project’s senior leadership team.

Tools

We used Zoom as our remote video conferencing tool; to see and talk with each other.

We used Miro, the virtual whiteboard tool; to collaborate, to collate, sort, and reframe the problem statements.

Preparation  

We created a Miro frame with three sections;

  1. Populated with the pre-defined problem statements the teams had developed
  2. A space to sort/group/ these statements into themes
  3. A space for the problem statements to be reframed into opportunity statements

You can see this layout below.

transformation, design sprints, blog, remote workshop

How the workshop was run

This workshop was run over an hour. The first 45 minutes was attended by the leads of each team, and with members of the leadership team joining us for the last 15 minutes, to make a decision on which opportunity statements were to be taken forward.

Introduction and overview (5 mins)

We asked participants to introduce each other and then gave a brief overview explaining how the workshop would run.

Review problem statements (10 mins)

We had already populated the top of the ‘miro’ board with problem statements the teams had developed. We asked all participants to review these problem statements.

Identify and sort into cross cutting themes (15 mins)

Reframe into opportunity statements (20 mins)

Present/vote (10 mins)

In fact, the last three steps didn’t actually go to plan in the workshop. As the facilitator, I realised that teams were already identifying themes during the “review of problem statements” activity. Rather than ruin the flow of the workshop, I allowed the participants to continue on, but kept them on time, reminding them what they needed to achieve by when. We were able to achieve the outcome we needed because I could adapt the structure of activities, on the spot, during the workshop.

In the end, the activities “Identifying the cross cutting themes” and “reframing of the opportunity statements”, were completed in less than the time we had planned. All participants co-created the themes together and we then framed the opportunity statements, before the leadership team joined us to vote on the final statements.

Sometimes pivots like this need to happen in workshops. The role of the facilitator should not only be to guide the session, but also see where they should sit back and let the participants do what they do best.

 

Ideation Workshop

Goal

Brainstorm and produce ideas that address the area of focus – How Might We’s (HMWs) – each team was asked to address

Attendees

All members of the four teams; stakeholders from the policy team

Tools

Again, we used Zoom as our remote video conferencing tool but this time we also used the Breakout Rooms feature. This allowed small focus groups within each Zoom call. (I’ll go into more detail about this later on)

We used Miro, the virtual whiteboard tool; to capture the ideas from participants.

Preparation   

We created Miro frames for both the solo activity and group activity. We sent out the Zoom invitation links and tested out the breakout room feature, as this was my first time using the feature. 

You can see the layout of this frame on miro below:

transformation, design sprints, blog, remote workshop

How the workshop was run

This 75 minute workshop was run as four concurrent but separate workshops – one for each team. Each team had three opportunity statements as the focus of their ideation. There were 8-12 people in each team. I facilitated one workshop, as well as checked on the progress of them all.

Introduction and overview (5 min)

We asked participants to introduce themselves, and gave them a brief overview of how the workshop would run.

Introducing opportunity statements (HMW) (5 min)

We went over the opportunity statements to ensure everyone understood them thoroughly. This was vital as the statements would be prompts to focus their ideation.

Solo ideation (5 min)

In this activity, participants were coming up with ideas individually for the first time. In Miro, beforehand, we had labelled boards with participants’ names so they had their own space to ideate in. We split up the 3 opportunity statements between all the team members, so they were all aware which ones to focus on.

Lightening ideation (5 min)

For this activity, participants continued on individually as in the previous activity. Every minute we also shared prompts to help the participants think from different perspectives. For example, “how would Apple solve this?”

Solo playback (15 min)

All team members took one minute each to present back their ideas individually.

Group ideation (20 min)

We asked the team to split up into 3 groups for the “group ideation” activity. Each group used a breakout room and focused on one of the three opportunity statements. This way, each of the groups could speak amongst themselves. Each group also had their own space on the Miro board to develop one or more ideas. The aim here was that the ideas would resemble, combine or iterate some of the original ideas developed in solo ideation.

Group playback (15 min)

Each of the groups were asked to present back their ideas to all teams.

Playback to leadership (5 min)

The team leaders presented back their overall ideas to the senior leadership team in a separate session.

 

Post workshops learnings and tips 

Test tools before

Test out the tools you plan to use before the day of the workshop. We tested out the Breakout Rooms feature on Zoom with colleagues beforehand. We realised while doing this testing that it wasn’t as easy as we had initially thought it might be.

Set expectations and provide guidance to beginners

Make sure you have shared guidance and set expectations with participants for any tools new to them that they’re being asked to use during the workshop. We chose to use Miro for it’s collaborative features, but it was a new tool for some participants. This made participation harder for them as they got used to using Miro while also participating in the workshop.

Time box

Be clear with the timings you set for activities, and keep an eye on the time to keep on track during the workshop. It’s easy to let time escape!

Have a plan b, and c and d…

Tech is reliable in that it always fails in some way or another. Make sure you have a back- up plan for when something breaks. We had participants who could not get Miro to work, so we had them share their ideas in the Zoom call chat and they were scribed into Miro.

Prep well

Good planning and preparation for the workshop is even more essential to ensure the workshop is likely to run smoothly. For example, we prepared all the boards in Miro that all participants would be using for the ideation session ahead of time.

Have clear and well-defined HMW’s

Your opportunity statements must be well defined and make sense to everyone. Strong opportunity statements will provide a solid foundation for participants to ideate from.

Have you run any remote workshops?

Get in touch to tell us what went well and what didn’t.

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