The Workshopper Playbook — A Summary
As a fan of the amazing YouTube channel AJ&Smart with great videos on Sprints, Design Thinking and processes, Product Design, tips, and reviews on Design books and tools, I was really looking forward to getting my hands on their new book: The Workshopper Playbook. It comes with the promise that it will teach you the framework for running any type of workshop.
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First, let’s set the stage with an explanation for the innovative term: workshopper. A workshopper or workshop facilitator is a person armed with the skills of leading a team through a set of exercises with the goal of solving a problem. The facilitator is one critical factor in the success or failure of the workshop as he or she is the one that leads the democratization of the creative process and accelerates the progress of teams by an insane amount. This is deeply rooted and mostly used in Design but is also applied in different fields such as Marketing, Management, and Leadership Coaching, you name it.
How it all started: Design sprint
“Learning the Design Sprint was huge for me and it completely changed my life by showing me there was a new, and much better, way to work. What the Design Sprint did for me beyond this was to open my eyes to the world of workshop” — Jonathan Courtney
Design sprint: a five-day process for solving problems and testing new ideas
The big idea with the Design Sprint is to build and test a prototype in just five days. A design sprint is a focused, 4 or 5 consecutive-day process with a team of people from different backgrounds that meet to discuss big problems, find potential design solutions, and ready a prototype for usability testing on the last day. By the end of the sprint, the team knows if their idea is successful or partially validated if they need to pivot, and which direction is best for the product. All this means that the team saved months of design and engineering resources.
This framework started at Google, and its success inspired the creators to write a book and create resources for others to replicate the process effectively. If you aren’t already familiar with the Sprint framework, I recommend reading Sprint by Jake Knapp.
3 fundamental workshop principles
From his vast experience in workshop facilitation, Jonathan presents in his book “Workshop playbook”, three key, tried and tested principles that make any workshop a success.
Even though a group of people — the team — are working together at the same table, they are doing their individual work. The team has a common goal that they are trying to reach, but they are not talking to each other and negotiating the best solution to move forward with. The workshop has to be an inclusive method that gives everyone the opportunity to contribute to the final design by bringing their expertise and skills to the table.
Everything is anonymous
The advantage of this principle is that it removes any bias team members might have towards a certain solution, and it encourages the participants to be more courageous with their proposed solutions.
Creativity is nice to have but not essential
A well-designed workshop is providing an environment and step-by-step guidance that allows participants to experiment with creative, interesting, and innovative solutions ideas.
Once the reader has been introduced to the mindset and they are truly convinced of the power of workshopping, the book starts presenting the 4C’s framework alongside a real example and the exercises used to solve the presented problem.
The 4C’s s framework is presented by the author as the structure that can be used “to design any type of workshop, regardless of the topic, length or outcome”. The method has the following 4 steps: Collect, Choose, Create and Commit.
The activity has to start with a phase of information acquisition, a phase in which the team collects data, ideas, challenges, and inspiration. This first step is about quantity over quality as we want to generate a large volume of information here.
🎯 The goal of the Collect phase is to collect and visualize the data and challenges from a team and to set the scope of work for the project.
After the collection phase, it is time to choose what the challenges the team should focus on are and what are the ones that will be ignored. The choose phase is all about prioritization and selecting the challenge the team will be focusing on.
⚠️ It is very important that there is no confusion and that the entire team really knows exactly what they are working on so that they don’t create solutions for the wrong or irrelevant challenges.
🎯 The goal of the Choose phase is to help the team determine what to work on, what to focus on, and what will be ignored for the time being.
“One of the biggest myths of creativity is that only designers and “creatives” can do it.” — Jonathan Courtney
This is the step where the team has to work on their solutions. The solutions do not have to be final at this point, or even that elaborate, as it is more about creating a mass of solutions. At the end of the Create phase, the team should have a handful of prioritized solutions.
“To have a good idea, you must first have lots of ideas.” — Linus Pauling
🎯 The goal of the Create phase is to generate a mass of solutions to the problem that has been prioritized in the Choose phase.
This is the last phase of the framework, the phase in which you make sure the ideas will turn into reality. It is crucial that after this step, the participants have tangible next steps and expectations.
🎯 The goal of the Commit phase is to create a plan of action for the prioritized solutions, making sure that they are actually going to be implemented.
One observation that I would make here in regards to the 4C’s framework, now that we got a glimpse of what it means, is that it follows the double diamond method, having 2 divergent phases that require the participants to create choices and two convent phases that require them to make choices.
Divergent thinking (Collect & Create) — a creative way of probing the future and creating new possibilities.
Convergent thinking (Choose & Commit) — a practical way of deciding among existing alternatives.
If the convergent phase of problem-solving is what drives us towards solutions, the objective of divergent thinking is to multiply options to create choices. — Change by design, Tim Brown
The Workshopper Playbook is a light read for anyone that wants to learn more about the art of facilitation. The book presents concrete examples and methods used in each one of the steps, and you can find more articles and guides on the topic at: