FAQ │ The Art of Design Workshops: Strategies for Effective Facilitation

Jun 12, 2023Dianne Eberhardt

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The main point of a workshop is to get to a solution.

Hello everyone. Welcome to the next episode of Pixelated Perfect. We have another FAQ for all of you, and this is one of my favorite topics I'm very passionate about. We will be talking about workshops, design workshops, and how to help facilitate them. So the goal is really a view into how you can create your own design workshop, how you should expect to run it, how you should expect others to feel about it, and how you can help people deliver better results. All the good stuff. So, let's dive right in. The first question is, how do you plan and structure a design workshop to ensure that it is effective in engaging participants? So the biggest thing is to understand what is the problem you're solving? How big is it? And making sure that you dedicate the appropriate amount of time to it, right?

So a traditional Google Ventures design Sprint is five days, and it's tackling how can we come up with how can we come up with a solution to this really complex problem and how can we not only come up with a solution, but how can we quickly build a solution, an MVP of the solution, test it, and get feedback and know if we're going in the right direction? So that is a five day sprint, full five days, right? So I do a lot of small mini workshops at the design project. It's usually like, it could be as small as an hour. Sometimes it's like two to three hours and it's basically chunking out the project, the problem that I'm trying to solve in a way that is digestible. So one thing is like we're having a problem with customers. Maybe it's like we don't know the best way to communicate to customers.

Should we communicate one day, two days, three days? Can we have a template? How should we go about telling them the status of their projects or something? An example of a workshop, right? So in this instance, I think it's small and bite size enough where I can actually go in and say, okay, let's do a couple of exercises so that we have a takeaway of things we want to test. So in these examples, I'm not actually saying, Hey, let's come up with a solution. Let's build it and let's test it, which is super useful and depending on what you're looking for, but if you're also just saying, Hey, I would love to get the team together to brainstorm, like I just said, let's just come up with a few solutions, pick one and run with it. I think workshops like a one to three hour workshop are great.

So first thing, yeah, time. What is the problem you're solving and making sure you dedicate the time? Then it's what exercises are gonna help get to that result? So again, I use the Google Venture design Sprint a lot, and I break out the exercises in a way that I see fit usually. So I usually try to give the audience enough context where maybe we could skip some of those. What are the problems? What could potentially happen if things go wrong? Maybe some of these high level things. And I focus on, okay, let's, let's brainstorm. How can we brainstorm? So you have to give them enough context. So you have to be able to formally explain the problem that you're solving. Maybe you do all that up from work and say, here, this is where we are. This is the user flow that I'm suggesting.

Now how do we come up with solutions based on these key points that we need to get across? And so one of the big things I like to introduce is to ask the expert. So there's probably someone on your team or external that knows a lot about maybe the specific topics. So maybe you're doing onboarding or, or maybe you're trying to do some research on how to tackle problems with customers, something like that. So there's usually someone on the team that knows a lot about this, and you can come in and usually you set the timer for, I don't know, 10 minutes. They just kind of, you give them a topic, they talk about it, and then the team asks questions and while the team is asking questions and this x expert is talking about it, the team is also coming up with how might we, so how might we, is a huge part of brainstorming and design sprints.

And why I love it is because you're taking a problem or you're taking a piece of something that someone said and you're turning it into a question. This is going to help you be able to communicate and not think of solutions right off the bat. So it's like, how can you figure out instead of saying, oh, what's the solution to this? How might we understand why the users are not giving us the right feedback at the right time? Or how might we communicate better with them? I don't know. These are, these are not the best examples off the top of my head. But I think you, you kind of understand how we might exercise and then ask the experts. Another great thing is something that's a really important key part of this is doing it alone together, right?

So by coming into a workshop, you are giving people the space to take that time to think about the problem together. And so a lot of the time in workshops we'll set the timer, we'll say, think about this on your own. Come up with ideas. This is completely, you write whatever you want for four or five minutes, and then we're all gonna come together and share what we've come up with. So it's not like one person is taking over the meeting because they're more outgoing. Everyone is participating, everyone is doing the work. It's really important to do this alone together type of exercises because it gives people the space to really think about it. Another really great exercise that I use regularly is crazy eights. So crazy eights is taking maybe some of these ideas you have and actually drawing them out, actually making them easier to explain and bringing them to life in a different context.

So it's also about taking an idea and thinking about it so deeply that maybe another idea pops up or what if you dive into that further, what does that mean? So with crazy eights, you set the timer for a minute and you have eight squares, and every minute you switch to a different square. So for one minute maybe there's an idea you have and you draw it out, and then you take that same idea and you draw it out in a different way. And so it unlocks a lot of interesting ideas that maybe once you give yourself the space to think about them, they come to life. So crazy eights is great. Another big part of it is note and vote. So note and vote is kind of the alone together type of situation. So once everyone's kind of shared, maybe there's a crazy eight sketches or anything in any part of these exercises, then you give people the space to vote on their favorite ideas.

And it's not discussed or anything yet. It's everyone taking a few minutes and putting little stickers on the ideas they like the best. And what you're gonna get from note and vote is you're going to get this view of which of these ideas are strongest. Maybe a lot of people voted for one specific idea and it's like, okay, game over. That's obviously the best idea. Let's run with this one. So the note invite, vote into kind of like seeing those patterns is really, really great to come up with the solution and not just talk and talk and talk in circles. It's very clear and obvious which direction the team would like to go. So let's, let's kinda keep moving on to some other questions that people have had. So how do you manage time and keep participants on track? Great question.

Time blocking for exercises like this is very important. The point of these workshops is not to give people all the time in the world. It actually always feels like not enough time, and that's okay because you're pushing people to brainstorm and think outside their comfort zone. It's not supposed to be comfortable, it's supposed to be quick, right? That's the point of it. And so you have to give people the space to understand that and to lean into it. Like, Hey, you have five minutes to come up with this idea. You're gonna come up with something random. It might not be great, but just take the time and then after the five minutes we have to move on. So time blocking and being kind of like the owner of the time is so important to this because you have a short amount of time to get to the goal of your workshop.

Another big thing is when we open it up to discussions and workshops, that is really where you have to take a hold and grasp on kind of managing that time because conversations come, some interesting things come, maybe there's something off track, but it's so interesting. So this is where you basically as a facilitator are gonna say, Hey, this is a great idea. I'm gonna put this in a safer later box and we'll tackle it and open it up for discussion another time. Let's continue to talk about this because we only have two minutes left, right? So you have to be able to make sure that you keep the team on track and also when the time's up the timer is up and you have to move on because you don't wanna take away from the time of the next activity. So that's really great.

Time management <laugh>, super, super important. What are some common challenges that can arise during a design workshop? So some of the things that can arise are people pushing back on the workshop, maybe they feel uncomfortable, maybe like, this wasn't enough time, or I don't like this idea, I can't come up with anything. And so there's, there's sometimes people that don't like to embrace it in the same way and that's okay. And, and I think it's about kind of giving them that say, say, hey, like let go of all of your preconceived notions. Open yourself up and just trust the process. I find myself saying that phrase quite a bit in workshops, trusting the process because I think it really is important and they'll slowly start to see it. So just continue to help them understand like, hey, it's not supposed to be comfortable.

Sometimes there are people that maybe kind of take over the workshops and kind of don't stick to times. And this is something you should basically be saying at the end, the beginning of every workshop is, hey, like if you feel like someone is not following the rules of the workshop or going off track or bringing up things, it's like a three strikes. You're out <laugh>, which I know feels kind of childish, but you don't want one person to kind of take away from this workshop that you've spent time constructing and bringing people all together and finding time with everyone. So there should be a set at the beginning. Hey, if I ever feel like we're not moving forward in the best way and there's a person that's not really following along, I'm gonna ask them to leave. So that's <laugh>. That's definitely some, some of the challenges that in the past I have faced.

I think there's also something that happens in some of these workshops where you feel like you don't get a good result. So in whatever you're supposed to be doing, maybe it's like as a team you're supposed to be making a user flow or you're at that stage you're like, okay, this is like the path user takes and maybe no one feels very confident, the timer up, you have to move on, but you're like, this doesn't feel right. Again, embrace that it's not completely correct, but also embrace that look at what you accomplished in such a short time and just run with it. Just keep going and seeing what happens. I think there's a lot of times where it's like you're left at the end of the time we're feeling like this just is not where it's supposed to be, but you just have to keep pushing on because you gotta get to the next exercises to get to that final result.

So I think those are some of the most common challenges outside of the time challenge we already talked about. Okay. This last question is super interesting. How can you measure the success of a DI design workshop? Great question. So, the main point of a workshop is to get to a solution that is what, why you're scheduling this workshop. So at the beginning of the workshop, you need to make it clear the goal of the workshop and it should be like a final decision, a final deliverable, whatever the scope of that workshop is. And you should have a game plan for it. So it should be, okay, by the end of this workshop, we're going to move forward with the best idea to solve this problem. And then it's really up to that leader, the owner of that, to really take that and make sure that it's built out and you actually follow through with that.

But I think it's very important to make it clear what success looks like at the beginning of the meeting. And it's usually a deliverable or a result like a decision made. What are some of the ways to gather feedback from participants? I think this was in line with kind of measuring success is like making sure all the participants are participating <laugh>. And I think the opportunity of working alone together gives everyone that time to come up with those ideas. And then it's also that time where you're like, everyone shares the ideas they came up with. So that's giving everyone the time and space. If you feel like the conversation is not flowing as it should or you feel like people are stuck or they're not really opening up in the way that you were expecting, it's definitely up to you to kind of ask those questions.

And I think that a good thing to do is to give yourself permission to call on specific people. You have to get that conversation flowing. Everyone's here to share. So you have to kind of be like, okay, hey Diane, open up. Like what do you think about this? And keep kind of probing and facilitating those conversations so that they happen and that you are not wasting time. So I hope this short little FAQ gave you guys some information about workshops and how to run your own workshops and be successful. And stay tuned for the next episode of Pixelated. Perfect. Thanks everyone.

Dianne Eberhardt

Dianne Eberhardt

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