Facilitating collaborative design workshops
Collaborative design workshops allow you to get decisions made in an inclusive, rapid and multidisciplinary way. They ensure that there is a shared understanding and ownership on a new project, and that it is set up for success right from the start. If you have never facilitated before, do not be fooled, it is much harder than it looks. Make sure you prepare yourself well, and before undertaking any critical workshops, give yourself a chance to get plenty of experience beforehand. Being a great designer does not qualify you to automatically be a great facilitator. There's a whole bunch of skills to develop and to fine tune before you can manage even the hardest of groups. In a collaborative design workshop, you:
- Define the MVP of the project so that everyone know what the requirements are and what the scope of the project is
- Map the customer journey so that everyone is aware of the user flow
- Sketch out the various screens that will be needed against the user flow
- Take notes of any changes to existing screens and how those will be done
- Make lots of decisions together
- Align as a team before you start building
Collaborative design is a ensures that design, dev and the business are working together and iterating quickly, so that we have a better result due to better alignment and shared information and knowledge. We also fail quickly and as a result we all learn a lot more. Collaborative design allows us to rapidly prototype things. Prototyping is is better than talking: it is thinking with your hands. It forces us to try things and learn from them rather than talking about them and trying to make to decisions based on assumptions. We move past long-discussions in meetings into action fueled, effective workshops.
The wall is the new desk:
Get your group working together at the wall, whether it's displaying and discussing design, or creating a user journey, or brainstorming. Get them to make all work visible. Also working together at the wall means that they will be physically active, which keeps the energy up in the room.
Running these workshops is fun for the group, and also a lot of hard work. As a facilitator, there are a bunch of things that you need to do to ensure the session runs well, and that you get the most out of your time together.
Your role as a facilitator:
Think of yourself as a group nurturer and a process guide.
- Support everyone to do their best thinking
- Encourage full participation
- Promote mutual understanding
- Reach inclusive decisions
- Cultivate shared responsibility
- Reach the goals you set out to achieve
- Have breaks
How to run your session:
You need to prepare. It's really important to have a clear understanding of the goals you have for the workshop, and that you plan activities that will enable you to get to the outcomes that you need.
- List your top 3 goals for the session (More than 3 in 2 hrs is usually difficult)
- Work out what you need to accomplish to get there
- Decide on activities that will allow your group to achieve these things
- Carve up your time into activities, time boxing each one meticulously (schedule breaks, introductions, ice breaker and a little spare time)
You will have a well prepared collaborative design workshop all ready to go. Making sure that you have time for each activities is really important. If you don't timebox well, your session will be rushed, out of focus, and ultimately won't allow you to succeed. If what you want to do won't fit into the time you have, then you need to be realistic and cut down on the number of things you;re trying to do in the session. It's always better for morale to have 2 shorter session than a whole afternoon in a workshop.
- A kitchen timer (nothing works better than a big red tomato...don't use your phone, people will ignore the ring)
- Lots of sharpies of different colours
- Sticky spots or stars
- Index cards
- Post-it notes
- Large roll of paper or butchers paper
- Whiteboard markers
- Water and snacks
2 - Workshop time
There are a few things that help when running these workshops, and starting with ensuring everyone understands the point of the session and knows how to behave during the workshop is really important. Never assume people will be ok to follow you blindly, you'll need to make them feel comfortable before they trust you to get them where they need to be.
- Spend 5mins introducing the session and its rules:
The parking lot (keep the team focused by writing all out of scope ideas on cards that are placed in the parking lot wall).
The timeboxes (Show then your timer, and explain why you are timeboxing and how its helpful to them).
Workshop conduct (No talking over others, no shouting, no closing down other people's ideas, no chatting during brainstorms...).
Write the activities you're going to run on the whiteboard, along with the goals of the session, and how much time is allocated to each one.
- Run an icebreaker
This is especially useful if you have a large group who don't know each other well. For groups who do, it's a great warm up. An ideal activity is giving them a sheet of paper with circles on them, and asking them to fill in each one to represent a different thing in 5mins. It gets them drawing and doesn't give them time to worry about it. Get everyone to share how many they managed to complete and show what they drew. It usually leads to some giggles and sets you off in a good atmosphere.
- Run your activities
This is where you all get to work hard. As a facilitator, it is your job to keep everyone within the allocated timebox, to keep the group energy up, to ensure everyone is heard, and that all of the ideas are on the table for consideration. You'll also need to deviate from the plan sometimes, yet still get the right outcome in the allocated time. Interrupt people when they are off topic and ask them to use the parking lot, which you will sort at the end of the session. Encourage the group to work together, support individuals who are struggling for whatever reason (shyness, intimidation, bad behaviour, etc...) and keep control of the session. If you allow the group or any individual to not play by the rules, your session will flounder very quickly.
Don't tell them what you think, help them get there themselves by asking a lot of the right questions. It will have a lot more impact and you won't have to explain everything. The best facilitators can keep it fun and focused at the same time. Practice makes perfect.
- Close the session
- Photograph all the walls and whiteboards
- Throw away paper that has served its purpose
- Roll up and keep any that you need for further work
- Wipe whiteboards
- Tidy up
- Write up the workshop outcomes together with photos of the work on a collaborative space for everyone to refer to
- Have a well deserved cold drink and kick back
Become a design leader in your organisation (Surface digital)
Design thinking and the facilitation process (Patrick Glinski)
Facilitator's Guide to Participatory Decision-Making (Michael Doyle)
Make Space: How to Set the Stage for Creative Collaboration (Scott Doorley)