Remote Workshops

Documenting, Sharing Knowledge and Structuring Remote Workshops

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I’ve written in the past on the topic of Workshops and specifically on sessions revolving around Ideation/Iteration/Review that are an essential part of the Design Thinking process (you can read those articles here and here). For the purpose of this article, I’m going to be specifically focusing and demonstrating a process that I typically utilize for running remote sessions, something that has become all the more prevailing since the devastating effects of the Pandemic. The article, unlike the previous ones, will focus on the documentation aspect of these workshops, leveraging tools and hierarchy of information to build a narrative that can be easily perceived by all participants. This will hopefully create a common ground where an understanding of the overall process and its outcomes can be perceived, while simultaneously functioning as an ongoing documentation hub.

Organization. Before any Product or Feature initiative occurs, there are a few important steps that Designers and their peers need to collectively take, in order to not only prepare for the journey ahead, but also to understand logistical challenges in terms of attendees, timelines, deliverables and eventually integration efforts, all of which are an integral part of this process. This preparation hopefully comes as no surprise, since Design Sprints have by now become a pretty widely used, discussed and taught mechanism, where in the space of a week, a Product or Feature is conceived by a series of team members, all united in understanding the problem statement, and attempting to parse through information, in order to formulate something that can eventually become a viable solution. No matter what shape these workshops take, co-located or remote for instance, the fact still remains that Designers should strategize what needs to be documented, the essential materials/information which will be worked through, in order to distill the solution that is being sought after. This strategy typically means obtaining data through Research (which can be manifested through Metrics, Market Research, Reviews and Ratings, Customer Support Interviews, Usability Testing that has been performed, Customer Interviews), and just as importantly, how different team members can and will participate in this collection of materials, including Product Ownership peers, Development peers, Sales and Marketing, Customer Support, to name but a few.

Identifying who’s going to be a part of the journey is equally important, clearly defining and establishing roles and expectations, from the perspective of participants being active contributors in running the sessions, stakeholders who will propel the activities further with their insights and additional context, business peers who will also establish boundaries & constraints. At this point, it’s also crucial to define a timeline for all these workshops to occur. While many Organizations have the bandwidth and resources to seclude teams of designers and their peers in week-long efforts to go through some of these ideation exercises, many Organizations do not. Due to their size, limited resources, client demands, many professionals simply can’t be pulled away from their tasks, as willing to collaborate as they may be. In such situations, it’s important that when organizing and structuring these initiatives, Designers are flexible, and essentially deconstruct these sprints into smaller sessions that occur during slightly more dilated time periods. This process is just as applicable to co-located and remote design sessions. On the topic of Research and complimenting what has already been written on the topic, it should also be documented everything that builds a common knowledge base for all participants of the sessions, which on an atomic level includes glossaries of terms, and on a macro level, includes information on the Industry/Technology/Vertical that is being focused upon.

Tools, Building a Narrative and Documenting the Process. This past year saw an increase in the usage of Remote tools for not only Design initiatives, but simply put, collaboration in general. The remoteness of the workforce precipitated this event, and as a direct result, tasks and initiatives such as Design Sprints/Workshops/Ideation sessions, suddenly pivoted from a co-located stance, to one where virtual boards exist and dominate. Tools such as Figma, Sketch, Adobe XD, to name but a few, have improved and amplified their market footprint, by allowing working documents to be collectively shared in sessions where multiple attendees can actively participate in the tasks that are taking place. For workshops/ideation sessions in particular, tools such as Mural, Miro, Invision Freehand, Microsoft Whiteboard, to name but a few, have gained exponential recognition, and have become part of the essential toolkit for any product design team (and Marketing/Sales/HR, and the list goes on). Virtuosity of the specific tools aside, and each one has its own, when it comes to documenting the Design Process, for both new products and features (master and otherwise), I started utilizing a standard that I created, which through testing with different teams, has proven itself to be of an easy learning curve, paired with efficiency and also memorability. Many of these virtual board software packages actually have templates for different initiatives that are taking place (branding, diagrams, flows, brainstorming, among many others), but invariably I’ve come to realize that some of these templates when chosen & applied, are often enough either too prescriptive, or at times fairly intimidating. As I’ve stated earlier, I devised a process which allows for the teams to understand, collaborate and add whatever information they deem fit, without losing grasp of the narrative being told. The Board, as illustrated in this case by the example and template I built on Invision Freehand (which by the way, is applicable to any of the other tools on the market), is composed of what I define as 4 Quadrants. Below is an itemized description of what each one of them contains. As a footnote, all these quadrants are applicable to any type of industry, team size, initiative and are of course, scalable.

1st Quadrant: The Problem & Opportunity. Just recently I wrote an article on the importance of defining problems efficiently (which you can read here). When teams embark on solving problems, when scenarios are exposed, as well as opportunities, team members can easily lose track and perspective of what originally was the intention when the problem was defined and who was it being solved for. The first quadrant of the board, documents that aspect of the journey. It essentially captures and illustrates the problems that have been identified, alongside Opportunities (business wise, innovation wise, user adoption wise), and Tasks currently being handled. This quadrant also contains information that substantiates not only the “what” of the journey, but also the “why” and “whom for”. Therefore Characters and their definitions appear here, with as much detail as needed. There are different levels of detail when it comes to showcasing character traits, basically who’ll be using such a solution, but the goal is always to humanize and create an actual representation of individuals who will not only utilize the solution, but hopefully be delighted by it. This quadrant also contains essential and supporting information for this journey, namely Glossary of items, Legend pertaining to the utilization of the board itself, and another crucially important detail, and part of a substantial exercise, the Pitch Statement, where the essence of the solution is hopefully distilled in a succinct, substantial, specific and sincere manner. This quadrant will hopefully have a distilled impression of the trifecta of Problem/Opportunities/Innovation Stance.

2nd Quadrant: Journeys, Maps, Flows. The second quadrant consists of expanding the narrative around different Characters and specifically their journeys. Documenting and detailing the different steps users go through, before, during and after product/feature usage, the essential flows which define the application, and of course, different types of user mapping, including empathy maps, customer journey maps, to name but a few. The goal in this quadrant is to get a deeper understanding of the habits, the sequence of steps users go through when making decisions, and how all these factors have a profound impact on the product journey itself. It’s at this level where some behaviors should be documented and expectations from users as well, though this component will also be enriched by the information and synthesis that is gathered from the third quadrant.

3rd Quadrant, Research, Research, Research. This quadrant is just as fundamental as the previous ones. If the previous quadrants build a portrait of the situation and the people who inhabit it, this section depicts the context in which they exist, what fuels expectations, and what patterns are immediately recognizable. This component essentially documents Market research, which includes direct and indirect competitors (and team members should always keep in mind the Law of UX, Jakob’s Law, which loosely states that users are accustomed to using other products, and they come to expect yours to act similarly). It also documents legacy approaches to solutions, metrics which provide a deeper knowledge of how a product/feature is utilized, there should also be highlights from Customer Interviews and information gathered from Sales and Customer Support groups, and if possible, any usability testing that has been done on a particular product or feature that bears a resemblance with what is being created. This aspect of research is fundamental to this process, since its digest allows for the identification of Patterns which are recognized by users, while also potentially identifying gaps that the current solution being devise can fulfill.

4th Quadrant, Sketches, Early Ideation, Bringing things to Life. Another fundamental component of this journey is represented in the 4th quadrant. This is where sketches that manifest what the solution is going to potentially be, come to life. Not only sketches of the feature or product, but also sketches of exercises that are conceived during the process itself. The goal is to document the crystallization of ideas into something palpable, which can be discussed, analyzed, iterated upon, and become a launching pad for both early validation testing as well as solution refinements (which will also be tested). These refinements can and will become more detailed from an atomic/molecular/component/page level, but the essential flow of the solution, with its essential virtuosity needs to be contemplated here. It’s of paramount importance that this quadrant captures not only the essence and direction the solution is walking towards, but also the feedback that is attained from different stakeholders, collaborators, peers, who are on this collective journey. The feedback shapes the direction, and will in turn allow for the early validation to become more substantial and relevant when discerning what is actually going to be built. I just recently wrote on the topic of early validation, which can be read here.

Reality Check. The structure I’m showcasing is intended to document and become a shared hub for all the intervenient and participants of the Design Process. Whiteboard tools allow for notes, drawings, templates, among other media elements, to be easily added to the board, and this in turn becomes a powerful narrative building process in itself. That being said, teams and Designers in particular, should curate and organize these boards, in order to make them easy to parse through and understand, particularly since they can become quite comprehensive. Also, much like any type of documentation, these boards should be always kept alive and maintained. Capturing data pertaining to the Customer Experience journeys, post launch experiences, makes a document of this nature invaluable.

I’ll conclude this article with a quote on the topic of collaboration from Charles Darwin:

“It is the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) that those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.”

Documenting, Sharing Knowledge and Structuring Remote Workshops was originally published in UX Planet on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.