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Last updated on 6/30/20

Define the Purpose and Prepare the Agenda

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Workshops can be used to achieve a variety of outcomes so it's important to define your purpose or goal before getting started.  In addition to giving clarity to you, the facilitator, on how to shape and direct the workshop, it helps if everyone is working toward a common goal.

Host workshops for any situation

Using a design thinking model or GV style sprints are just one way to structure workshops within your design process. Here are some other ideas that you may want to consider building a workshop around:

  • Building empathy: Understand a problem by inviting members of that community to participate. 

  • Defining a problem and objectives: Build team collaboration across departments.

  • Understanding the user journey: Compile research conducted by different researchers across different countries/markets.

  • Putting the user at the center of UX design and getting stakeholder buy-in for the value that research brings: Involve stakeholders in usability tests.

  • Home in on key issues: Create a shared reference point for stakeholders and designers. 

Define the purpose

Workshops can be exploratory or focused on a single issue which means:

  • you take a general approach and explore a theme or idea.

  • you go deeper into the design process and closely examine a specific feature, concept, or approach.

Knowing what you want to achieve from the workshop will help determine your approach. Here are some questions that will help narrow the purpose of your workshop:

  • Do you want a specific outcome?

  • Do you want to generate new ideas?

  • Are you hoping to refine an idea?

  • Are you looking to integrate other voices and feedback into the process?

  • Are you looking to build/develop new features?

  • Will the workshop be on a small scale, or does it strive to connect hundreds of community members?

  • Are you using the workshop to refocus a project or change its direction?

Framing the problem with the question "How might we...?" helps provide structure and a reason for exploration. (For example, in the second part of the course we will address the question, "How might we re-imagine the cinema-going experience?). This question should spark ideas right away. The goal in design thinking is not to come up with immediate solutions, but rather to explore the ideas in ways we may not have considered before. We're striving to shake things up and be open to alternative approaches.

IDEO.org uses "How might we...?" (HMW) to frame the problem so that it's not too wide or specific.

How Might We from IDEO.org [0:50 min]

Prepare an agenda

Creating an agenda for the workshop is a valuable tool to help work towards addressing the initial problem you've defined. This detailed agenda should only be seen by the facilitator and assistants.

To start, assign headers such as phase, time, activity, objective/notes.

Screenshot of agenda, where headings are visible, and breakdown of info.
Sample of a section of an agenda.

Defining phases

Dividing the agenda into phases helps break down the day (or week) into digestible chunks. The activities will help define the pace of the day (more of these throughout the chapters to come). It's helpful to assign a time to each activity to make sure that you're not being too ambitious - even if it is a guess, Chances are you'll have to make some adjustments once you're in the workshop, but the agenda will serve as a guide.

Timing and pacing

Consider breaking up the day into 15 minute increments. 🕒  Some activities may take longer. The time blocks will help ensure that nothing goes on for too long. Don't underestimate the impact that a short (3 minute) activity can have.

You'll want to pace activities in a way that favors variety over monotony. Design thinking workshops are meant to be interactive and not long lectures. Plan activities so that no one is sitting for a long time. The longest any one person should speak is 15 minutes (shorter is better). Early kick-off exercises should be short, leaving more time for the "meat" of the day: ideation and prototyping. Participants should get a break at least every 90 minutes. You want to make sure they have energy throughout the day and don't get burned out early.

The beauty of many design thinking activities and exercises is that they benefit from quick interactions and lack of time. Particularly in exploratory workshops, sometimes it's more about getting teams working together and thinking in new ways than producing a specific deliverable.

Preparing and guiding participants

One pre-workshop option is to assign participants homework a few days before to get everyone thinking about the theme. This could include sharing an article to serve as a conversation starter, providing a prompt to encourage brainstorming for the kick-off exercise, or having them conduct an interview before the workshop. It all depends on the participants so don't rely on everyone to do the work before they come. As a general rule of thumb, keep it simple. Even a reminder email a few days before the workshop can be a beneficial way to help get everyone on the same page and thinking about the topic at hand.

In addition to preparing the agenda for yourself (the facilitator or host of the workshop), you can also consider providing one for the participants. The participants do NOT need the official agenda, which has far more detail than they need to see.

The participants really only need a general schedule for the day including when they get bathroom/ caffeine breaks and lunch.

Print out of a spread sheet agenda, and half-sheet agenda for participants with diagrams and simple breakdown of activities.
Example of a facilitator agenda, and the more fun, visual agenda created for participants.

You can share the participants' schedule for the day on a slide, post in the room, or distribute in a handout. A handout gives participants something to write notes on and take with them at the end of the day. If there are participants who are new to the design thinking process, include diagrams or resources for them to refer to throughout the workshop. The schedule can be as simple as dividing the day into phases and stating the break times. Distributing the schedule after the kick-off exercise can make the day feel less formal and stodgy.

Adapting and staying flexible

It's not uncommon to have to detour from the agenda or improvise a bit during a workshop. Make a note of your objectives and goals for each activity. This will help when you have to make adjustments to the schedule. If need be, you can always get creative and combine a couple of activities. Design thinking is about experimentation and not being afraid to try new things – the same goes for the facilitator as they "design" the workshop. You won't know if something is going to work until you try it. This is why time is built in at the end of a workshop for reflection and future improvements. It's a continuous learning cycle.

Let's recap!

  • Define the purpose of your workshop so that you know what you're working towards.

  • Design thinking workshops can be used to explore ideas or to focus on a specific problem.

  • Choose a problem that is inspiring to participants so that it's something they will want to solve.

  • Be conscious not to propose solutions when presenting the problem.

  • An agenda can help ensure that you stay on track and cover all of the key steps.

  • The facilitator's agenda should be more detailed than the participants'.

Next up, think about who should participate in your workshop!

Example of certificate of achievement
Example of certificate of achievement