Making your product design collaborative
A framework for ideation workshop
One of my favorite exercise is a homemade workshop to build the product interfaces together in less than 1 hour.
If you have to improve your product, find a solution to resolve a problem your users meet, and you want an efficient way to do it, this exercise is made for you.
If you want to avoid time-consuming roundtrips between tech, strategy and UX constraints to validate your solution ideas and wireframes, you have to test it!
Here is the framework of this workshop:
When to do this workshop?
This workshop is made to find/build a solution to improve your product. You need to complete a problem discovery first. It is important for you to know:
- What problem to solve
- Who are the final users
- What are their real needs
- What are theirs habits and behaviours
- What are the product strategy and business constraints
- What are the KPI of this solution you’ll build
- The time and costs constraints
Who has to be in?
- The product manager
- The product designer
- At least one of the developer who will work on the project
Define a scope
Most of the time, the product manager and the designer identify a panel of problems to solve. Here, you will have to choose one solution to work on during the workshop, because you cannot solve everything at the same time in only one ideation workshop. So it is important to define the solution you want to focus on during the exercise and also what you don’t want to focus on for now.
Provide some background
You’ll have to start this workshop by giving some background to your team so that they’re aligned with your knowledge. Benchmark, surveys, datas, users researches, etc. You’ll have to share in a few minutes the essential with the team. Prepare an efficient presentation: pin your benchmark on the wall, display visual data, make your persona sexy!
Invite the participants
Participants should be your entire team if you are less than 5–6 people. If you are bigger, at least the product manager, a designer, and one or two developer(s) who will work on the project should participate.The product manager has the business and product vision knowledge, the designer will care about global user experience and emotions, and the developers will be able to respond about the technical feasibility. And all together will build a full user experience.
This is the usual team we have for this workshop at PrestaShop, but you are free to invite anyone who could help you to build your solution. This is not a fixed format. If you are a start up and your stakeholder are very involved in the product, you can invite them. You could also invite someone from the support department for example, from marketing or even a final user… It’s upon to you to build the most efficient team. But keep in mind that stakeholders can influence other team members or have the power to force their own decisions, final user will think for him not for everyone… Some people with a large ego or strong responsibilities can create a bias. So screen your participants first.
- Send invites to your participants at least one week in advance.
- Book a room for the workshop with a paper/whiteboard and material to share your background information.
- Prepare sheets of paper, colored felts and stickers
Step 1 | Alignment — 20min
This step is crucial if you want an efficient solution idea generation.
- Give the context.
- State explicitly the problem(s) you’re trying to solve.
- Share your knowledge (personas, survey results, data, KPIs, customer journeys, experience map, etc.).
- Make it efficient and visual. Storytelling can help. Visuals on the wall can help too.
- Let your team ask all the questions they have on the subject. It is a sharing moment, so it should be dynamic.
- Share a benchmark of solutions. It will help people to start ideation.
Step 2 | Sketching ideas — 10min
Allow 10 minutes to the participants to sketch all their ideas on how to solve the problem. The more ideas, the better. Sketches should be self-explanatory.
“Make it self-explanatory. Ugly is okay. Words matter. Give it a catchy title.” Jake Knapp, The Design Sprint book
I suggest you to print screenshots of the benchmark and pin it on the wall because it is a good starting point for ideation.
Repeat the problem to solve and the scope: what you have to build and what you don’t want to build for now.
You can do a Crazy eights exercise, or let the participants free to sketch as they want. It depends on your team.
Step 3 | Vote — 5min
Once everyone is done with sketching, give a set of 3 or 4 stickers to each participant.
Without any presentation, let each team member discover each other’s sketches and ideas. Each person will then vote with her own stickers for the full idea or just a part of the idea they prefer.
Do the vote before starting discussion to avoid endless debates. Avoiding the discussion will also prevent a bias towards ideas from people who are natural good story-tellers.
The stickers will highlight the most preferred ideas and help the group to focus on a global solution.
Step 4 | Define the ultimate solution — 20min
After voting, the designer (or any other volunteer) will make a sketch on the paper/whiteboard of the ultimate solution, mixing the group ideas. This ultimate flow/wireframe should materialise the group’s vision.
If there is a disagreement between people, the product manager has the final say on the vision.
This ultimate idea will be prototyped and tested later during user-testing sessions. You will have to make a choice of what should be tested or not, but don’t forget to stay lean and agile.
Traps to avoid
Forcing someone to participate
People should be volunteers. The success of the workshop is based on the emulation that the group will generate. Forcing people can ruin the exercise because someone angry or negative will impact the entire group.
Too much information during the alignment step
Giving too much information can create confusion. This step serves as an onboarding: it makes sure all participants are on the same page. Go straight to the point and give visual elements, as they are easier to memorise.
The workshop should be lean, quick, and efficient. It is not a meeting. Endless debates are unproductive and exhausting. During the ultimate step, when you define the ultimate solution, if there is an unsolvable disagreement, the product manager is allowed to stop the debate and make a decision. But she has to explain clearly to the group why she made this choice and how she will check that it was the good one.
Trying to solve everything at once
It is simply not possible. If you don’t define a clear scope and try to solve everything at once, your workshop will last 3 hours and no one will follow you the next time you’ll organize another workshop.
Timekeeping is the key for an efficient and dynamic workshop. You can ask anyone in the group to be the timekeeper. Set it as a game rule from the start.
Forgetting to be lean
Ideation workshop is part of lean methodologies. It is made to focus on the essential. Think of your ideas in scalable minimum viable products*. It will prevent you from losing time on useless-nice-to-have-sexy-features which could generate endless debates and consume energy for nothing.
* “A minimum viable product (MVP) is the version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.” Eric Ries, The Lean Startup
- 1 team / 1 vision
Product design becomes collaborative and the team will have the same product vision.
- Increased UX expectation
If everybody in the team is involved in product design, then UX becomes the entire team’s responsibility.
- Better understanding between teammates
This workshop allows teammates to build a solution together. It will improve the team internal communication by highlighting each person’s context and constraints, bringing more understanding in the end.
- Time saving
This exercise also avoids useless iterations, endless debates, conflicts and roundtrips. You build one solution in one time together.
It’s your turn!
Now you have the methodology, it’s your turn to improve it. Feel free to test, transform and reappropriate this framework and give us your feedbacks!
Thanks to my professional soulmate Guillaume, who built this framework with me.
Big up for my team partners who helped me to write this article: Alex, Xavier and Pauline.