The first weekly reflection of what I have learnt this week as a Digital Product Designer

Liz Hamburger

Is it really a workshop if you don’t have post-it notes on a whiteboard?

My first reflection of the week! I don’t really have a structure or a plan how I will write these weekly articles so please bear with me as I refine it.

This week I had a new client project to work on. This project consisted of planning and facilitating the first of many discoveries and ideation workshops, therefore there was excitement mixed with some apprehension due to not being familiar with how the client likes to work etc.

So let me start by saying — I’m not suggesting that you don’t plan your workshops and just wing it. But what I am saying is that you could spend 2 days, 5 days or a month planning a single day workshop but you get to a point where the time spent doesn’t increase the value that you will get back.

On reflection, I probably spent a day or two too long on planning and editing the workshop plan. In future, I will set myself a maximum time frame of 3 days so that I stop getting bogged down in the detail which isn’t really improving the core activities.

If you look online there are so many ways that you can approach a workshop (Check out IDEO’s Design Kit as they have plenty of methods and tools there) and within that, there are so many activities that you can do to uncover information or generate ideas with your client.

The issue arose for me when I was trying to pick the right one. Obviously, there isn’t just one right activity, so to make sure I didn’t make the wrong choice I tried to include 3 or 4.

Upon reflection, I know that one solid discovery activity and more time spent on focusing on the idea generation stage would have been more useful for this particular workshop. That said we came up with a large number of issues and concerns that we can work on in future sprints, also we shouldn’t have to cover the same ground as we did in the initial workshop.

Similar to the above point when you hold a single day workshop, realistically you only get around 5 hours productive and focused time if you exclude coffee breaks, lunch and tangent conversations. That is really not much time at all, therefore it’s really important to focus on a clear goal, which leads me on to…

As this was the initial workshop with the client who I hadn’t met before I wanted to make sure that my team and I were well informed about who the client was, what their business proposition was and what they wanted to achieve with their product.

We spent a solid part of the morning looking at their product, understanding where the idea came from, what the features and benefits were, concerns they had with the product and listening to any anecdotal feedback they had recieved. Though this part of the session was useful, it did use up a lot of time when really our goal was to focus on one area of the app which currently wasn’t working too well.

I’m not suggesting that in future I wouldn’t include a section to understand the background of the company or the problem, but I will focus that activity into a more succinct period of time. Perhaps using an hour of time would have been beneficial as spending 3 hours on the subject.

During the workshop there was one question that caught me off guard, I was asked how the particular activity that we had done in the early afternoon related to what we were doing now.

I kind of had an idea why it felt like a logical step, also the workshop I had created was based on Jonathan Courtney’s Lightning Decision Jam, but I hadn’t really considered the why or how this method was useful in the context of my workshop and my client.

In future, I will ensure that I explain the purpose of each activity, the goal of what it will achieve and how it will help the client before carrying out the task in the workshop. Not only will that remind me to focus on the purpose and outcome, but it will also ensure the client can get on board with the ideas and solutions that we generate.

I also need to remember that User Experience methods and processes are almost second nature to me now, whereas my client may not be so familiar. There’s a balance to strike between making assuming that a client has never done such a workshop before, but at the same time not patronising them incase they have.

Though I had spent a long time planning this workshop and I had a printed agenda that was timed down to the minute, at one point I had to make the decision whether to stick to the plan or just change direction.

Being flexible with how you are running the workshop and having a plan B when something isn’t going well or if you discover something that is actually more important than the initial goal; it’s key to be able to let your plan go and sometimes let the workshop take its natural course.

There are times you can tell when a workshop or the activities are just going off on an unproductive tangent, but there are times that if you rigidly stick to your plan you’ll end up at a point where the tasks you’re doing aren’t adding any value.

So I would say that this was one of the biggest things I learnt this week — as someone who likes to know exactly what happens and when, and generally doesn’t like the idea of being spontaneous, this was a big step for me to just let the workshop flow somewhat organically without me being in full control constantly. It turns out things can still go well, even it wasn’t planned.

As I’ve mentioned already I tried some new activities and a new strategy for this workshop, though it wasn’t the perfect workshop, it wasn’t a disaster at all which means I should continue to try new things.

I’ve done a couple of workshops before, and it would have been really easy to rely on past activities and a structure that I knew, but it means I wouldn’t have learnt everything I spoke about above. Plus what has worked before for one client, doesn’t mean that it’s going to work well for this one.

There was a lot that I learnt planning and facilitating this workshop, and on reflection, a lot went well too. Though some of the plans changed during the day, overall the workshop kept to time and at the end of the day, we had a clear plan of what we wanted to test the following week and generally what our wireframes had to include in that test.

I also learnt that I am actually a lot more confident than I thought. I have this perception of myself that I’m not someone who likes to talk in front of a group of people — this may be down to previous incidents where I had to talk at my previous university to third-year students about my work and what I did… I was so nervous standing there I could barely get my words out.

That said it may be that I’m just 4 years older now and I also planned a lot better than I could speak with mostly conviction about what I was doing.

And finally

This week was a really good week for learning, there is a lot of things I can work on ahead of the next workshop I organise, and it was a good experience as during the workshop I found that people were engaged, productive and I think they had some fun too. I really hope that the client found the experience to be a refreshing and new way to look at design problems.

Have you run a workshop before? How did you find the process? What was the biggest thing you learnt this week? Let me know!

If you want get in touch you can find me on Twitter as @lizhamburger