Running a product design workshop

bring together different teams to synchronise views and chart a product road map.
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In any product development effort, there are different parties involved – the designers, developers, marketing team, managers and other personnel in the company needed to take the product from conceptualisation to the final release and get it to the customers. Successful collaboration from the start is key to ensure that the product gets to solve the problem that it targets, and that it meets the business’ goals. A product design workshop brings together the different teams to synchronise their views and chart a clear path forward.

What is a product design workshop

A product design workshop is essentially a grouping together of individuals involved in the production process, to coalesce their visions. The focus of the workshop is to identify and define the core features of the product, getting agreement from the different stakeholders of what features will be included in the product, and prioritisation of features.
Probably one of the most important aspects of a product design workshop, and critical to the success of any product, is that the target audience is also defined, with their user preferences being discussed.

The goal of the product design workshop

By the end of the workshop, the team will have the materials needed to start with the product design. This includes the list of ideas that have been agreed and voted on, sketches, prototypes or other items that are needed for the product to be developed.

Why a product design workshop is needed

Collaboration problems during the development of a new product can lead to critical issues with the quality of the product later. Friction with the teams involved with the development, your understanding of the behavioural signals coming from the product team – what they are saying and doing, as well as the facilitation of the process all have an impact on its success.
The following is a list of examples and situations that will highlight when a product design workshop is required:
You may find that you’re experiencing scenarios like the developers and management having different approaches to how to solve a particular problem. The approaches may each be valid in their own right.
For instance, the developers may be pushing for a scalable system which will be stable but can take longer to be developed, while management may be pushing for a simpler solution that can be released more quickly but will be less stable.
In a scenario as the above, holding a product design workshop will help identify and isolate the exact business case. It’s know point designing and implementing a scalable solution for something that potentially be completely under used, or having a buggy solution for a highly used functionality.
Getting all parties to understand and agree on a common path, is paramount to the success of your product.
When the product team reaches a critical juncture where important decisions need to be made – like when there is a conflict caused by differences in the time and resource allocation for the product, as well as the opinions revolving around the original solution that the product was to provide, it leads to frustration and halts the progress of the product development.
When the stakeholders involved are pulling in different directions, it can derail the product development in its entirety. From the design and development team, the marketing crew and those in management – when they are each coming in and calling for different corrections with the product, each taking a stand based on their single point of view, it dampens morale. Having a workshop pulls them together to harmonise the desired features and functionalities of the product that is being developed, in line with the goals set out for it.
Individuals have different personalities, and usually, when handling a team, there are those who stick out as bold and confident when contributing to the ideation and planning, and the quieter members who tend to get drowned out – yet they can make valuable contributions to the process. A workshop comes in to enable the less confident team members whose voices are getting lost in the process to add their insight to the task.

How to run a product design workshop

Getting the most effective output from a product design workshop relies on working strategically on a plan, organisation and facilitation. Based on our experience the quality of the results are in direct comparison to the quality of the input.
The key in this phase is to be specific as possible, and be as clear as possible on the goals of your workshop
The designers should explain the product features and development challenges to the marketers and managers
The managers should explain the business needs and how the product plays into the roadmap of the company
Marketers bringing forward user-feedback and complaints that need to be addressed by the design team
Defining the product requirements and creating a plan for the project
Next up is setting tangible deliverables from the workshop. These range from documentation or a draft that has product design specifications, a design concept, or a summary of the ideas that will be brought forth during the brainstorming.

who are the stakeholders involved with the project?

This will vary based on the company in question, and the product that is being developed. Basically, you want professionals whose positions are needed in addressing the challenge being faced. This includes the personnel building the product, those who engage the customers and are thus well placed to know their preferences and pain-points, business area experts, as well as the decision-makers in the company. As such, participants in the workshop can include the UX designers, marketing crew, executive sponsors, managers, and even actual customers. This is to give you different perspectives on the product, its features, consumer needs and market reception.

Who will lead the workshop?

This is a critical decision, since the individual selected will be responsible for organising the participants, documenting the process of the workshop, controlling how much time the participants have when making their contributions and other aspects to ensure that the workshop goes on smoothly.
Keeping the workshop lean will help to get meaningful contributions. Generally, around 5-10 people should suffice. Every participant in the workshop should play a specific role in the company that is directly tied to the product, whether it is the designers, those who know its history, the sales team, personnel signing off the budget for the process, or the customers who will eventually use the product.
This looks at the logistics of the workshop. Where will it be held, and what will be needed? Is it a physical meeting? Getting a room that is spacious enough to handle the participants will be necessary, as well as essentials like whiteboards for them to convey their points or sketch out their ideas. For cases where data will be presented, or concept diagrams created with 3D visuals, a projector or screen may be needed.
Items like notebooks, markers, a pad of papers for drawing, pens, and sticky notes will come in handy. In case the workshop is projected to last for hours, then make arrangements for drinks and snacks to be availed for the participants.
This looks at the logistics of the workshop. Where will it be held, and what will be needed? Is it a physical meeting? Getting a room that is spacious enough to handle the participants will be necessary, as well as essentials like whiteboards for them to convey their points or sketch out their ideas. For cases where data will be presented, or concept diagrams created with 3D visuals, a projector or screen may be needed.
For the online meetings, the platform selected should have the capacity of handling the number of participants attending the meeting, with a “share-screen” feature for presentations that are to be made.
You do not want things running off course. Divide the workshop up into several sections, each with their specific questions, activities, and time-frames. Allocate the different roles to the participants and ensure that you have created a document that defines this, then send it to the participants. That way, they will know what is required of them, and allow them to prepare for the workshop.
Allocate some time for off-topic discussions. These will result from questions and ideas that will pop up during the workshop.
With a print out of the agenda, the participants knowing what is expected of them from the workshop, and location ready, things should run smoothly. The workshop gives your team the opportunity to brainstorm on different aspects of the product.
The following are some issues that you may look at during the process:
This is the target consumer of the product that is to be developed. What are their expectations? What frustrations do they face when they use the current or alternate versions of the product? What will make them pick you over the competition? Dissect their demographics, defining the goals and challenges of the consumer.
How do customers find the product? For instance, if it is an app you are dealing with, how are the log-in and search actions on it? For the ecommerce platforms, aspects like the buying and checking out processes are integral to the user experience. The customer journey also comes in here. The goal is to look at things from the customer’s point of view, paying attention to their thoughts and feelings along the different parts of the process. e.g., when making an online order for a clothing item off your website, you want to look at the purchase process, the order confirmation via SMS, payment modes used, all through to the delivery.
Now you want to focus on the improvements that can be made to enhance user experience and bring you closer to meeting the product goals. You can take a two-pronged approach, having the participants highlight a challenge faced, and the opportunity arising from it.
Get the participants to jot down the ideas that they have separately, then share them with the team. Given that discussions will routinely drift off the subject, ensure that you bring it back on track quickly to preserve the workflow.
Having breaks will help with the ideation. For instance, you can break off after an hour, allowing the participants to take some drinks or snacks, before getting back on the horse.
Laying down rules for the workshop will minimise disruption and make it more fruitful. Some of these include:
The simple action of placing phones in silent mode will reduce disturbances during the workshop. Laptops can also be left out of the room – unless they are required for making presentations.
Encourage the participants to listen actively, including allowing points that they disagree with to be raised nonetheless
No one should hog the limelight. Keeping the points being raised by each individual brief will provide others ample time to voice their ideas.
A fun workshop is more effective. Avoid shooting down ideas or allowing arguments to manifest. Everyone’s opinion is welcome, and a participant should not force theirs onto another.
Be strict on time. Sure, workshops rarely start right on the hour – but a 10-minute window should suffice. Participants arriving in the middle of the workshop will find it difficult to catch up, especially after missing out on the background information.
Everything that has been sketched or written down and agreed upon should be digitized, and the product design plan finalized. Put together the whole product picture and analyse it with the group. Next, define the requirements of the different participants and teams that will be involved in the product development process, and address issues that will crop up in their fields of responsibility.
all the stakeholders get to understand the personas of the target audience and their needs, and the issues that the product is being created to address. By working together, they get to have a common direction and vision of the product. The ideas brought forth during the collaboration also result in maximising the value of the resultant product, with optimal features for the consumer.