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How to Run a Concepting Workshop

*** Originally Posted on the Adaptive Path Blog ***

Awhile back I wrote a post about how to run a workshop, in the general sense. I thought that I would write out the steps for a concepting workshop in particular. Concepting workshops are ones that we do a lot at Adaptive Path. They are great for when you need to generate a lot of ideas around an issue in a short amount of time. They can be done with large or small groups, with designers, developers, and managers.

1. Create the agenda for the day. Determine what it is you will be sketching and what your goal is for the end of the session. For a full day workshop, say from 10-4, plan on 20 minutes of sketching, then 30-40 minutes to discuss what was created. You might have four sketching heats in a day, each focused on a different topic or nuance of the issue. Be sure to include a hour for lunch and a break in the morning and afternoon, as people do get tired.

2. Gather your materials. You are going to need lots of Sharpies or markers, drafting dots or tape to hang the sketches up, sticky notes, and the paper to draw on. Give participants options with different colors and sizes of markers and different color sticky notes.

3. Use a Sketch Sheet. I've found that having stacks of Sketch Sheets (PDF: 12 KB) work really well. They are a half-sheets of paper, so they aren't as intimidating as full sheets. They include room for the sketch as well as a description (in words) of what it does and what it's like. This is very helpful since sometimes it's hard to tell what is going on in a quick sketch. You can certainly use blank paper for sketching too. Just be sure to always have participants title their sketches. It helps to focus the sketch and remember it later.

4. Capture the discussion on the board with the stickies. After everyone sketches, have them paste their sketches up on the wall. As a group go through and talk about them. Capture the discussion on sticky notes as you talk. You'll want to include things like descriptions for how the sketch works and additional ideas or concerns that are raised in the discussion.

5. Review and refine after the workshop. Once the workshop is over, the real work for you begins. You'll want to review all of the sketches and refine or redraw the most promising. Duplicate ideas can be redrawn into a single representation. You might also want to work in ideas from the conversation to strengthen the sketch.

6. Create a concept book. Not all of the sketches you produce in the workshop will make it into your design. But you don't want to lose the good ideas that were generated. Document all the sketches that were created in a concept book. Scan in the sketches and then add annotations to explain what is happening. This provides a great resource that you can refer to later.

How To Plan a Workshop

*** Originally posted on the Adaptive Path Blog ***

We do a lot of workshopping here at Adaptive Path. It’s a great way to get the client teams involved in the design process and invested in the results (since they helped create them). We are always trying to adapt our workshop process, with different activities and outcomes. But I have found that there is a basic structure that helps ensure that the workshop will run smoothly.

1. Determine the goal of the workshop. There’s nothing worse than gathering a bunch of people together for 3 hours without knowing why they are there. Be clear on what you want to get out of your workshop time together. Workshops are great for generating lots of ideas in a short amount of time. They are bad for just talking at people. Focus in on what ideas you want to gather and the form you want them to take.

2. Write up a Workshop One Sheet. I like to create a one-page document that outlines all the major components of the workshop. This includes the goal, a detailed schedule and materials list. I print it out for each member of the team. I refer to it throughout the workshop to make sure that I’m keeping everyone on track and on time. It also includes the top-line steps for each activity so I can remember what we are doing.

3. Schedule it all out. I like to plan all the activities out, sometimes to the minute. I always start with a 10-minute introduction and stage setting. Activities generally go for 45 minute to 1-hour chunks, e.g., 2 sketching sessions with discussion in an hour. A rule of thumb is 10 minutes of sketching time means 20 minutes of discussion. If your workshop is longer than 2 hours, put in time for a break. It’s also good idea to have a short break between activities so folks can mentally transition. And always include 5-10 minutes of buffer time. If you don’t need it you can always end 5 minutes early.

4. Don’t try to do too much. The larger the group of participants, the longer things take. Group discussions are great, but you need to keep them moving or they can drag on. You also need to remember that idea generation is tiring and people get worn out. Sometimes two shorter workshops is better than a big marathon session.

5. Staff appropriately. Great workshops don’t just happen. You have to plan before and manage during. Select one person on your team to be the workshop lead (it doesn’t have to be the project lead). This person will do the introductions, explain the activities and moderate the discussions. Depending upon the size of your workshop, you will want 1-2 other folks there to help the workshop run smoothly. They will be floaters during the activities, answering questions, getting more materials, and helping to prep for the next activity.

6. Know it’s going to change. While it’s great when workshops go according to plan, many good ones veer off course. Sometimes you have to adjust the activities on-the-fly depending upon how the group dynamics are or how long certain parts are taking. If you are getting good results, the conversations are enlightening and people are engaged, that’s more important than sticking to the plan.

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