More often than not you’ll be facilitating workshops during the Discovery phase of your projects. These workshops are essential and lean heavily on the producer to fulfil his or her role, the sessions aim to understand the client's strategic needs to subsequently propose relevant yet ambitious creative solutions.
We’ll talk about Discoveries later in the course, where I’ll provide my template for running these workshops. Now to the essentials of workshop facilitation.
Creative workshops often run in 3 phases.
The opening phase of a workshop is about taking the first step into an ambiguous place. The focus here is on framing and describing the bounds of the empty space and then jumping in. The purpose of this phase is to foster the spark that produces a large and diverse set of ideas.
- How would you define the problem?
- What kinds of things do we want to explore?
- What are the biggest problem areas?
This is also the stage where information gathering and idea generation occur.
An activity that can be used in this phase is the Brainwriting Activity, which involves 6 people/rounds with 3 ideas each, lasting for 5 minutes and potentially generating 108 ideas in 30 minutes.
- Focus: Framing and describing the bounds of the empty space and then jumping in
- Purpose: Foster the spark that produces a large and diverse set of ideas
You set the premise for ideation to be grounded in a meaningful direction, that will help solve the client's problem.
The exploring phase is about navigating, combining, interpreting, and otherwise working with ideas to discover something new. The focus is to make and break patterns. The purpose is to discover new ideas. One of the processes that can be used in this phase involves three steps:
- Brainstorm: Using an established concept or prototype, groups brainstorm answers to: “What mistakes can or will be made?”
- Rank and Prioritize: Rank and prioritize worst-case scenarios from the list of generated mistakes.
- Address Scenarios: Do: Change the design to avoid the problem. Redo: Provide a means for course correction. Undo: Provide a way to undo an action.
It's important to make ideas feel welcome and to indeed explore, we can filter out technically unfeasible ideas during the phase but it is nevertheless good to entertain them - maybe another similar idea or simpler alternative will come!
The closing phase is about making decisions, the focus is on bringing things to a conclusion. Producers tend to enjoy closing and the risk is often accidentally interrupting the previous two phases too early.
The purpose here is to find an endpoint through prioritization, voting, comparison, and alignment. Facilitation is key!
- Focus: Bringing things to conclusion
- Purpose: Finding an endpoint through prioritization, voting, comparison and alignment
Facilitation involves using tools to create participation, provoke, inspire creativity, clarify, and uncover new perspectives. Let's look at some key concepts.
Serial Position Effect
Here’s great video on how to structure your workshops so that people remember the essentials, taking into account human memory and our tendency to remember things from the beginning and the end of a conversation.
The typical participant personas
Whether you're juggling colleagues or clients, there are often different personality types in ever workshop.
- Backseat Driver has a habit of telling others what to do
- Broken Record repeats the same thing over and over again
- Loudmouth tries to show his or her importance
- Know it All has been at the organization a long time and shows off knowledge
- Interpreter interprets what others say
Strategies to mitigate conflict
It’ll be your responsibility as the facilitator to ensure everyone can contribute effectively, sometimes the most silent individuals have the most important context or constraints to communicate.
- Have ground rules agreed to at the beginning of the session and remind participants of them as needed
- Point back to the group purpose and timeline
- Encourage equal participation
- Ask the participant to write his or her issue on a sticky note and put it in the parking lot for later discussion
- Have a one-to-one offline discussion
Steering the conversation
Some example questions to escape rabbit holes, clarify ambiguous ideas, remove unrealistic input and stay in line with the original strategy:
- How can we prioritize these options?
- What’s feasible?
- What can we do in the next two weeks?
- Who is going to be responsible for that?
- Did I understand this correctly?
- Should we table this for now?
- Does the goal we set earlier still make sense?
- What are the pieces and parts?
- Can you give me an example of that?
- Can you give me a real-life scenario?
- What else works like this?
- What if all the barriers were removed? What if we are wrong?
Look at the sample questions I’ve provided for a series of Discovery workshops in the templates and decide on a tool you’d like to use to run the workshop remotely. I’ve added a few options for you below, you can then prepare your canvas for the workshop.
Figma: The Collaborative Interface Design Tool
Figma is the leading collaborative design tool for building meaningful products. Seamlessly design, prototype, develop, and collect feedback in a single platform.
Mural is the visual work platform for distributed teams | Mural
Level up your teamwork with an intuitive digital whiteboard built for teams to do their best work together. Make it a mural, not a meeting.
The Visual Collaboration Platform for Every Team | Miro
Scalable, secure, cross-device, and enterprise-ready team collaboration whiteboard for distributed teams. Join 50M+ users from around the world.
If you want to dive deeper into workshop facilitation I recommend reading the book Gamestorming.