How to create an online workshop | Guide
Obviously, from the reality we have experienced during the last year and a half, many work dynamics have changed from being done in person to being done remotely. Among them, one of the most important is the joint work sessions through the generation of virtual spaces that allow us to exchange ideas and help us devise, iterate, or define objectives.
Organizing distance workshops may seem complex at first, as not only do facilitation skills need to be honed, but a digital environment presents new logistical challenges, technical considerations, and, of course, the human capacity to attend in a changing and disruptive environment.
How to create an online workshop?
To create an online workshop, five essential elements must be taken into account:
- The objectives of the session should be clear and participants should be aware of them prior to the session.
- Participants may not be fully engaged or may feel that their input is unimportant.
- New collaborative tools can be intimidating and decrease participation in people who are not familiar with them.
- You don’t have the same attention span to do a longer workshop or a long meeting.
- It is always advisable that there is compensation for participating and contributing, for example, breakfast, tickets, being able to leave the office earlier one day, it does not have to be tangible or immediate compensation.
With these factors in mind for how to create an online workshop, all that remains is to find the type of workshop that best suits us.
Synchronous workshops are in practice very similar to the meetings that we usually hold virtually, with the difference that their approach is productive, i.e. they are working sessions in which a correct introduction to the dynamics must be made, a clear and orderly agenda must be set out and it is usually very positive to let the participants introduce themselves before starting, explain their role in the company and what they expect to contribute to the session.
These details help to understand what each of the people participating in the session is doing and also help the participants to empathize with each other and respect each other. Once we have a list of those invited to participate in the session, it is time to define agendas, possible dates and send out the invitations.
At this point, the technical means necessary to carry out the session correctly must be informed at all times: minimum connectivity necessary to access the tools, use of headphones if the participant is not in a quiet environment, and use of the video camera if possible.
Scheduling and agendas
- Videoconference: In the proposed invitation to schedule the session, information about video conferencing should be included so that participants can see each other and communicate in real-time. (Videoconferencing will also increase accountability by preventing people from multitasking).
- Collaborative tool: We will need a tool to collect ideas and observations in a combined form so that people can record their contributions in real-time.
At this point, it is important to note that if users are not familiar with the tool, it is advisable to provide them with information related to its basic use or a small “Ice Breaking” exercise to help them understand how the tool works.
For this purpose, in the “Ice Breaking” a task can be proposed that requires them to perform the basic actions they will need for the session, but in a reduced form as an example.
Asynchronous workshops (where people contribute independently, on their own time) are best suited for teams with too many competing meetings or workshops where a quick turnaround is not required.
Therefore, we should work more on the methodology and the practical way to carry out the task so that it is easy to contribute and, at the same time, it is done quickly and does not take too long.
It is also recommended to conclude with a meeting with those involved to share the ideas, thus obtaining a clearer context and avoiding possible errors of interpretation.
- A timeline by which the project must be completed: Procrastination is the bane of non-presential collaboration. If you can always do it tomorrow, you will never do it unless there is a deadline.
- Collaboration tool: There is still a need for a space to submit their ideas and comments. Version control (or the ability to see the history of changes) is a crucial element.
That said, the common denominator of all remote workshops is the digital collaboration tool and the correct preparation of the dynamics to create an enriching and collective result.
Generative or “Ideation” Workshops
The objective is to generate and organize a large volume of contributions (observations, ideas, perceptions).
The characteristics to be taken into account are:
- Visually organizing large amounts of “flat” information. In these workshops, a lot of information is generated with little or no hierarchy. A way to organize and make sense of this information without assigning priorities must be considered. Therefore, we should discard grid-based applications and instead opt for applications that can create diagrams showing the relationships between elements (maps, diagrams, charts, graphs, etc.).
- Easy to modify, reposition and edit. The more difficult it is to edit or alter a diagram, the more the changes will be perceived as “final.” As a result, the people involved may feel anxious or tense about their contributions.
To encourage creativity and a high level of contributions, it is advisable to use a tool that allows you to quickly and easily modify, reposition or reformulate any element or group of elements.
Some examples of tools according to their complexity are:
- Low complexity: Google Draw, Google Slides, Microsoft PowerPoint (Office 365).
- Medium complexity: Visio, Sketch
- High complexity: Mural, MIRO
There are three possible sessions: Affinity Diagrams, Empathy Maps, and Ideation.
The key is to express the problem. A question of what or what the problem is will be posed.
- Analysis of ideas: Each member will present their opinion on the subject in no more than one minute, without discussion or criticism. These ideas will be posted one by one on a wall or blackboard, and the author of the concept will explain its meaning aloud. Repeated ideas will be eliminated.
- Clasificación: Classification: The participants, in silence, will group the adhesive postits into groups without entering into conflict. Only the notes will be moved, and the conductor will duplicate the idea and put it in two separate groups if this happens. Then, cards will be created to head each group (the group’s title will be agreed upon). Groups can be included at a second level within each group and even at a third level, if necessary.
- Relate ideas (Cause-effect): The team will study and evaluate the possible relationships, links, or contradictions that can be found among its elements. These relationships will be represented by arrows and evaluating their greater or lesser importance.
The empathy map is a format that seeks to describe the ideal customer of a company through the analysis of 6 aspects related to human feelings. It can be done through questions that help understand how to get to know the customer and tell him.
- What do they see: This first quadrant refers to the visual stimuli your person receives. Try to answer questions such as: What is the world the person lives in? What are their friends like? What is the most common thing in their everyday environment?
- What do they listen to: Here, think about what your person hears, not only in the sense of sound, music, or conversations but also influences from various sources, such as the media. You can seek to answer questions such as: What people and ideas influence them? Who are their idols? What are their favorite brands? What media products do they consume?
- What do they think and feel? These are the ideas that your product or service awakens in the consumer’s mind: How does the person think about the world? What are their concerns? What are their dreams?
- What he says and does: This point refers to the consumption of the product or service, from when the person decides to buy it. To understand what your “person” talks and does, pay attention to his behavior: the speech he makes and what he practices. Answering questions such as these can help: What does he usually talk about? At the same time, how do they act? What are their hobbies?
- What are their frustrations: Corresponds to the doubts and obstacles that your public must overcome to consume your product. What are they afraid of? What obstacles must they overcome to get what they want?
What are their needs: This is related to what you can put into practice to surprise your target audience, showing the possibilities. Ask about: What is success for your person? Where do they want to get to? What would solve their problems?
The ideation process takes shape in several ways: it can be done alone or in a group, in person, or remotely. The session can be short or span several hours, it can be done in a single event or formalized as a regular meeting, and it can be formal or informal as needed. There are no limits to the problems or design challenges that can benefit from creativity, such as adding a new product feature or redesigning a specific part of a single page.
There are three main characteristics of each ideation session:
- Ideas are not evaluated: The fundamental characteristic of an ideation session is that all judgment is postponed so that each participant feels comfortable, without fear of being considered. Evaluation stifles creativity.
- Ideas are recorded, and the session is documented: Recording can be as simple as taking notes with paper and pencil or include materials such as whiteboards, markers, sticky notes, glue, cardboard, scissors, old magazines, or other documents to cut up – anything that helps capture the idea before it dissipates. These items tangibly record all thoughts within the session and ensure that none will be forgotten or dismissed once it is time to stop the evaluation stage. In addition, having these visible elements to refer to during the ideation session can serve as inspiration for further ideas.
- Collaboration stimulates diverse ideas: While an individual can undoubtedly ideate toward their success, working in a group often generates a more significant number and variety of ideas. A large group runs the risk of being unwieldy but brings a more diverse set of backgrounds, experiences, and areas of expertise to produce a broader set of ideas. Allowing others to share their thoughts in this open environment also benefits team building and can strengthen the final design because everyone can contribute.
The objective is to delimit, evaluate and prioritize a set of elements.
Characteristics to take into account:
- Voting: Ensure that vote is not only possible but also democratic. Although voting can be done in many ways (by annotations or comments, upvotes, forms, or markers), the most important thing is to ensure that votes are democratic, i.e., that they do not vary in size, shape, color, or importance based on functionality or age. Depending on the subject matter, it may be best to maintain anonymity.
- Prioritization Matrix: This format allows, once the voting is done, the teams to visualize the priorities established by voting. However, it should be noted that, if you are short of time, you can have participants vote or provide information by other means (conversion, mails…). And afterward, this information can be contributed to the matrix after the workshop and updated asynchronously.
Examples of applications according to the complexity of the tool:
- Low complexity: Survey tools such as Optimal Workshop or Google Forms.
- Medium complexity: Discussion boards such as Teams, Google Groups or Slack.
- High complexity: Mural or MIRO (you have templates for prioritization matrices).
There are three possible sessions: Dynamic Voting, Prioritization Matrices, Backlog Prioritization.
As a general rule, voting by points should be used if:
- It would be best to focus the discussion on a subset of alternatives within a large set.
- The conversation around a final decision is full of friction and angst.
- Diverse viewpoints are needed, but only a few opinions are heard.
- Group decisions need to be made quickly and in a short amount of time.
Point voting can be used to move a group toward collective consensus in almost any situation, but it is beneficial for one of the following purposes:
- Choose from several potential research criteria
- Evaluate users’ views for further exploration
- Narrow down design ideas
- Rank ideas in a discussion or workshop
- Gather information before creating a prioritization matrix
And some general tips are:
- Make voting digital to make it anonymous and unbiased.
- Dictate the voting order and change it in reverse in the middle of the session.
- Rank the points, try to establish essential guidelines.
- Color-code votes to indicate different voting criteria
Priority matrices have been used for decades in many different fields in many different ways. Many time management matrices are based on the Eisenhower method: “I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent ones are not important, and the important ones are never urgent”.
With this method, activities are assigned to one of four quadrants: important/urgent, important/non-urgent, not important/urgent, and not important/non-urgent. Following this, it is necessary to:
- Establish the elements that frame the matrix.
- Allow each user to vote under their expertise and criteria.
- Draw a graph and use the votes as a basis for placing the items.
- Discuss and negotiate where each contribution is based on the axes and theme.
- Share the results and drive the follow-up and achievement of the actions a posteriori.
Agile teams often face a dilemma: Should they use a backlog that includes UX work or use a dedicated UX backlog separate from development user stories?
Both methods can be successful, depending on the matrices and how they are implemented. Understanding how your team works and how much stakeholders influence the backlog is key. Let’s look at some pros and cons of a standard backlog model:
- UX-related backlog items tend to be large, general tasks rather than small, specific ones, suitable for designers trying to visualize an entire workflow or interaction, rather than just a tiny part of it. User stories in an agile backlog tend to be specific and complete in a single sprint.
- However, we often need to think about UX work at a higher level to ensure that we maintain consistency across the application and that our designs fit into the broader application vision. Using UX-specific backlog elements does not limit the scope of UX work.
- Stakeholders can de-prioritize UX elements in favor of new features, especially if they don’t see value in UX research. Suppose we find that stakeholders are constantly de-prioritizing UX-related backlog items. In that case, a separate backlog model should be considered, and each team should work on their own based on their tasks.
- It can be more challenging to keep track of dependencies. Some specific UX items may affect other items in the backlog, which means you will have to determine what needs to be completed first. If you use tags or categories in your product management software, it may be easy to do that tracking. * However, special attention should be paid to dependencies to prevent development from working on a backlog item before good UX work can be done on it.
The objective is to trace a user journey or business process through a series of steps or phases.
The main feature to keep in mind is quickly aligning and adding rows/columns. When mapping, a tool that can quickly align elements and keep them aligned when new targets are added. It is imperative that we can also nest objects within objects (i.e., scale service plans and travel maps) quickly and smoothly.
This capability is not crucial for real-time workshops, as it can consume valuable time. Still, it can make a big difference in asynchronous workshops, as it helps provide context and allows people to refer to related research and other outputs.
Some examples of applications depending on the complexity of the tool are as follows:
- Low complexity: Google Sheets, Microsoft Excel (Office 365).
- Medium complexity: Visio, Sketch.
- High complexity: Mural, MIRO, Smaply, UXPressia.
There are three possible sessions: Customer Journey, Experience Map, and Blueprinting of services.
What are the key steps of a Customer Journey, and in what order should they be completed?
- Aspiration and allies: Creation of a core cross-functional team and definition of the scope of the mapping initiative.
- Internal research: Gathering existing insights and analysis on roles and users across the organization.
- Hypothesis formulation: Formulation of a hypothesis about the current state of the journey and planning of additional customer research.
- External research: Gathering new user data to validate (or invalidate) the hypothesized journey map.
- Narrative visualization: Combining existing insights and new research to create a visual narrative that represents the customer journey robustly.
A customer journey map must be delimited at the moment when the user makes the journey through the product to be analyzed, compared to other mappings that we will see below, this case helps us to explore the specific path of a functional flow from start to finish.
An experience map is a visualization of a complete end-to-end experience that a “generic” person goes through to achieve a goal. This experience is agnostic to a specific business or product.
It is used to understand a general human behavior (as opposed to a customer journey, which is more specific and focuses on what is related to a particular business):
- It is not linked to a specific product or service.
- It is divided into four main lines: phases, actions, thoughts, mindset/emotions.
- It offers a general human perspective: it is not specific to a particular type of user or product/service.
- Represents events in chronological order and can integrate several moments of contact with the service/product. Prior “desirability,” during or post.
And the question arises as to when to use it:
- Before a customer journey to gain an understanding of general human behavior.
- By converging multiple experiences (tool and user-specific agnostic) into one visualization.
Technically, a Service Blueprint is a diagram that visualizes the relationships between the different services and components of a business – people, places, objects, and processes – directly related to the points of contact within the specific customer journey. Precisely, it corresponds to the particular journey made by a single user and the objective associated with the same trip, so when drawing it up, it must be taken into account that:
- It is essential to be very clear about the target audience and the different steps to follow within the journey.
- There can be as many Service Blueprints for the same journey as target users.
The applications of a Service Blueprint go beyond designing or improving the user experience of a business:
- To transfer information and establish a context: Diagrams through which transferring knowledge to the team and new members is faster and more efficient, thus ensuring that everyone starts from the same base.
- To clarify roles and processes: To reduce inefficiencies, delimit where specific techniques begin and end to be assigned to the corresponding personnel.
Its benefits are:
- Provide strategic benefits.
- Allow to know and discuss weaknesses.
- Identify optimization opportunities.
- Unite efforts between different departments.
- Provide a means of communication and discussion among all team members.
These diagrams are updated throughout the project, so you can add, delete, change stories and add comments to them, as they bring flexibility to the project.
Factors for conducting an online workshop
When deciding how to proceed with an online workshop, the following factors should be taken into account:
Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Workshop
As mentioned above, synchronous workshops require participants to be present and actively engaged during a scheduled session. Therefore, having multiple collaborators contributing and editing real-time will be a higher priority feature than an excellent template nesting deliverables.
On the other hand, conducting an asynchronous workshop will mean that participants will be presented in the workshop tool with minimal context or configuration, so they will need the ability to establish that context with links to other deliverables or use annotations or comments to ask questions or clarify their ideas rather than a live discussion.
Some tools have incredible UX diagramming capabilities and templates, but they are complex and challenging to learn. If your team has a long-term goal of increasing the number of workshops and mapping activities, then it might be worth the time investment to learn these tools. That investment of time can improve the quality of the results.
In the absence of funding, you can make universal productivity apps work for you and your team. Google Suite and Microsoft Office templates exist for expected UX deliverables. However, as your deliverables become more complex, the time required to create them without specialized tools will increase (and time is money – money that your organization and team will spend creating deliverables rather than on the skills you were initially hired for).
Time and creativity
After all these series of premises and general information on how to work the approaches of a remote workshop, I would like to emphasize that what can make a session of this type succeed or on the contrary be unproductive is the time=carefulness of preparation of the same.
Bad management of the expectations of the participating users can be the origin of the fact that the objective is not understood or that the session may seem banal, especially if the attendees are not familiar with this type of dynamics.
Therefore, it is necessary to dedicate sufficient time to convene the attendees with enough time to avoid disturbing their agendas, to explain clearly what the session will consist of by attaching information to the call itself, and to remind the guests at all times to attend the session without prejudice. Only in this way will the users, whether they are colleagues from your company or external to it, internalize the perspective that they have been invited to provide creative solutions and make it clear that the tool is, in any case, the support, but never the specific solution for the dynamics.