As well as having the right people present, clearly communicating the agenda and purpose of a workshop is essential – how else can its success be judged? It's also a good idea to present clear time frames for specific activities and establish rules for meetings (e.g. only one person can speak at a time, computers are shut down and phones put away, no stupid ideas).
The biggest challenge during workshops is to get the participants to express themselves and convey their thoughts, ideas, or doubts. Of course, this is not out of malice but from uncertainty, embarrassment, or a belief that what they have to say is unimportant. The truth is that everything they have to say about the workshop is important at this point. Thus, I will suggest some of my favorite ways to stimulate participants' creativity and generate real value in workshops.
There are often people who attend workshops but don't see each other every day or even realize they're in the same company. Since such people have no relationships between them whatsoever, you need to let them get to know each other by starting with a warm-up.
You can warm up to the start of a workshop in many ways, of course. Some methods allow participants to get to know one another, others help them learn about the tool that will be used during the workshop (this is useful for online workshops), and some just relax everyone.
My favorite method was taught to me by a friend who is a UX Team Lead, and it’s extremely simple. Give each participant a post-it note and ask them to write down three things about themselves, two true and one false. After everyone has quietly gotten ready, they say a little about themselves and the rest of the group has to guess which statement is not true. In addition to being fun, this breaks the ice and the things people mention in their statements will be circulated as anecdotes throughout the workshop.
Other creative warm-up methods can be found here.
You want workshop participants to have open minds, think about the topic broadly, and have their own ideas on how the final product, i.e. the result of these workshops, will look. For this reason, I like starting with an exercise called "press release," in which participants must write a press release about their product.
Participants should include the following permanent elements in their press release:
At the beginning of this exercise, it is worth setting the scene with something like: “Imagine that it's morning and you're eating breakfast, drinking coffee, checking the latest news. The product has been launched, and you've sent a press release to the media. What does it say?”
Explain that the press release is intended to get the reader excited, emphasizing how the project will make the world a better place and celebrating its success. Be creative – your goal is to tell a story that people will want to read.
To make the whole exercise run smoothly, divide participants into three to four preferably mixed groups so that people who don't work together on a daily basis are put in one group. Allow each group 20 minutes to prepare their notes, then have them share what they wrote.
What is the purpose of this exercise? It allows you to understand the expectations of the participants, for there are some things they will see in the same way and others differently. There will definitely be surprises and new opportunities to address or functionalities to implement.
One of the most basic things that you need to know when creating a product is who it is intended for. Our workshops are often accompanied by customer interviews, surveys, and other forms of consumer research. There are times when you can only rely on the internal knowledge of stakeholders about their customers. In any case, it's best to keep the user context in your mind during workshops.
This can be accomplished with pragmatic personas. During their preparation, the general perception of users is changed into characters whose characteristics you recognize and needs you understand. It is a fun way to always keep the customer at the center of discovery workshops.
As in the case of the press release, we also use a certain pattern for pragmatic personas:
In the beginning, it is crucial to determine what potential personas you have for the product and to choose three of them. Although "everyone can benefit from our product" implies that you want to be building a product for everyone, it is actually more about building a product for no one.
Ultimately, you want workshops to produce ideas. However, it would be even better if they were ordered and prioritized. A brain dump might be able to help here, at least in general.
A brain dump is an exercise that people often do to sort out excess thoughts and prioritize topics. However, you can also use them during workshops to produce as many ideas as possible and determine which are the most valuable.
Participants have 10 minutes to write down as many ideas as they can about the product on a blackboard, flipchart, or online whiteboard. Ideas are not limited to functionality; they can be anything – product marketing, customer service, tone of voice, etc. Afterwards, browse the boards and translate one another's ideas so that everyone understands what they mean.
The next step is to vote for the most significant ideas at that time (which aren't always the best ones!). This can be done with cards that are each equivalent to one vote, of which every participant will have a certain number.
This process provides a list of ideas that are important, ready for further processing and prioritization, and an entire backlog of ideas that can be implemented in the next version of the product.
There are a million other possibilities
These exercises are my subjective choices and only a tiny fraction of what can be done during workshops for the participants to get the most out of them. Gathering the right people and creating a relaxed atmosphere of respect and constructive discussion is the key for things to run smoothly!