Remote Workshops Using Miro: What I’ve Learned So Far

Nick Tune
Nick Tune
Jun 21 · 10 min read
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Recently I ran a fully remote, 2 full-day, Strategic Domain-Driven Design workshop using Miro. This was necessitated by Covid. All my private and public trainings until March this year had been in-person.

I knew that I didn’t want the online workshop to be a poor version of the in-person training. I wanted it to take advantage of everything digital tools can provide. So I teamed up with Gien Verschatse in April because I knew she would bring a different perspective and a different flavour of creativity.

In this novel space of online workshops have the creativity of two different people allowed us to produce an experience unrecognisable to what I could have produced alone.

Now I’m going to share all of the things we tried out. I hope you find them useful.

Visualising Progress

The theme of our workshop was to teach Strategic Domain-Driven Design using the Bounded Context Canvas as a visual model to aid learning.

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The Bounded Context Canvas

As we progress through the workshop, we add more information to the canvas. Gien got excited about making the canvas a puzzle and she had tremendous determination to make it work. At first I wasn’t sure, but when it all came together I could only grin in amazement.

The canvas starts off as an empty, grey template:

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As attendees progress through the workshop they are given puzzle pieces to complete and then add to the canvas:

Puzzle Pieces
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Pieces added to a partially-complete puzzle

I love this idea because it gives a sense of progress, it visualises the progress, and it removes everything else from focus that could be a distraction.

Could We Do This Without Miro?

It would be significantly more effort to replicate this in an in-person workshop for a few reasons, most notably a lack of wallspace and the effort required to acquire and prepare the materials. With Miro it’s just a few clicks — devastatingly easy.

Put The Core Concepts At Centre-Stage

Each group had their canvas right in the middle of their Miro board. It was large and visible at all times as a reminder of what they had done so far: the topics they’d learned about and the discussions they had also. And also, the placeholders of what to come next.

Not only the puzzle, but in the centre of the board, we also had a visualisation of the process we were following during the workshop.

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As attendees zoomed in and focused on specific topics, the overall workshop flow was always clear. How does this concept relate to the previous one? Why are we doing things in a certain order? What happens next? The answer to these questions was always visible next to their progress. The big picture was always loud and clear.

Could We Do This Without Miro?

In a large room with enough wallspace, it might be possible. It’s also possible to print out copies, or use booklets. But all of these things require fortune, good planning, and conscious effort to maintain by all attendees. In comparison, Miro is almost zero effort.

Visualise The Journey

One of the advantages of Miro that I just cannot get enough of, is the ability to visualise the journey of the workshop. Here’s what I mean:

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The journey starts in the top left with a start icon, moves clockwise around the centre-stage and ends at the finish icon almost back at the start. Each activity is covered with a grey rectangle which is removed when it is time to complete that activity.

When we were designing the workshop, I said to Gien that I like the idea of a puzzle, and it would be great to have it large and always visible, but how can we do that when there are a number of exercises? I couldn’t see how it was going to have so much content all on one screen while keeping the centre-stage always visible and clear.

Then she showed me this clockwork concept and I had to pick my jaw up off the floor. When I saw it, I knew straight away that this ticked all of the boxes. Simple but beautiful.

The core concepts are always visible. The progress is visible. The journey is visible. Attendees can zoom in and out of topics and not lose sight of the big picture or forget what they had already done.

Can We Do This Without Miro?

I can’t envision a way to achieve this without Miro. To lay the exercises out, and have them always visible would require a huge amount of wallspace for each team, or it would involve endless flipping back and forth on a flip chart. It’s possible with exercise booklets and other hand outs, but there is a high preparation and discipline cost involved, and it never works out that well.

Digital tools like Miro allows us to design workshops as interactive journeys. This is exciting and I cannot wait to see what improvements the futures brings in this space. So much potential.

Rich, Fully Self-contained Exercises

One of those impossible-feeling challenges as a workshop facilitator is designing practical exercises that are clear, easy-to-follow, and not confusing for attendees. No matter how well you design an activity, not everyone will understand what you want them to do. But with Miro, you now have superpowers.

Each activity we designed on the Miro board came with all of the information we thought attendees would need. Any questions or confusion we thought they might have, we added visual cues directly on the board, like:

  1. Instructions
  2. Tips & advice
  3. Examples of what good looks like
  4. Information about the activity, and clarifying terminology
  5. Visualisations of the problem
  6. Laying out the template

With all of these things taken care of, the accidental complexity for attendees is reduced immensely. They can focus more on the activity itself, and less on wondering “are we doing it properly?”

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In this exercise, teams break up the large domain into sub-domains. The activity contains a title and rationale at the top. It contains the instructions (blue box) with arrows pointing from the instructions to the parts of the exercise they refer to. There is a visualisation of what good looks like, and right at the bottom there is a tops box providing heuristics for finding boundaries.

Can We Do This Without Miro?

To do this without Miro is very hard. In the past I’ve created booklets and printed them out before the workshop. One booklet with exercise instructions and another booklet with tips and advice.

Booklets are a faff to prepare, print, and transport and they’re clumsy for attendees. Attendees have to remember to look at certain pages at the right time.

The ability to design exercises in Miro is out of this world. And I sense what might be coming in the future is going to be out of this galaxy.

Fully Pre-prepared Exercises

During my workshop, there are a many of activities which require me or attendees to setup some kind of workspace — a business model canvas, a bounded context canvas, some sample scenarios to review. This preparation is a distraction, accidental complexity.

It would be great to have all of these things pre-pared before the workshop, but it’s not possible because of physical limitations like not having access to the room and equipment, and only having one whiteboard.

With Miro, you do have access to the room, and you have unlimited whiteboard space. So not only can your exercises be fully self-contained, they can be fully pre-prepared and laid out before the workshop.

Fewer logistics and distractions for facilitators to worry about during the workshop, and more time working with attendees to help them get the best from the experience.

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In the example shown above, we had a collection of scenarios mapped out, and each team had their own copy to review and discuss. Next to the scenario was a space for their thoughts and some of our analysis which could be revealed.

These scenarios were all prepared 100% before the workshop. We didn’t have to do any cleaning of whiteboards or handing out of paper, and so on. All attendees had to do was uncover the exercises at the relevant moment.

Can We Do This Without Miro?

In physical workshop we can print out small exercises like the one above. The attendees would put their answers on a separate sheet of paper of the analysis could be provided on another sheet of paper. So it’s definitely possible to achieve, just more effort to prepare, and challenging to keep all of the workshop artefacts organised (hello bits of paper strewn across the room).

For activities which require a larger flipchart sheet or whiteboard, then it’s not so easy to prepare. You’ll need to ask for permission to clear the whiteboard, take a picture, find a pen that actually works, then draw out the activity or attendees will do this in groups and waste time trying to draw the template correctly (always happens).

These aren’t huge problems, but lots of small things that can sometimes really get in the way of delivering the core workshop content. Miro eliminates this whole category of problems.

Clearer Sketches With Custom Notation

Whiteboards are great for brainstorming and sketching out ideas quickly, but during my in-person workshops, architecture diagrams quickly become messy. This then becomes problematic because it is hard for us to do group reviews and critiques.

With custom notations and some clearly visible rules, the clarity of the architecture diagrams in the digital workshop was far superior, making it easier for the other teams to review.

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The notation above was simple to create and I think fairly easy to use, without overly-constraining teams. It‘s not quite as easy as scribbling on a whiteboard so there is a little bit of friction there.

Something else cool about the digital version is that everybody was able to zoom in and out of the diagrams created by other teams. Not squinting their eyes at a piece of paper being held up at the front of the room.

Physical diagrams also get messy when people start crossing out mistakes. With the digital version, however, it is easier to modify the diagrams by removing a line or reorganising the shapes and maintaining clarity.

Can We Do This Without Miro?

In physical workshops, we can use colour-coded post-its nots as a form of custom notation although it’s hard to enforce. To make it easier to modify drawings, use a whiteboard instead of a flipchart — however, then you lose the ability to keep a physical copy.

For zooming in and out, try to ensure people draw diagrams on large paper, and then ask the whole group to huddle as closely together at the front of the room as possible.

My conclusion: simple with Miro, achievable in-person but comes with many headaches and the result is not consistently as good.

Full Copy For Everyone To Take Home

At the end of the workshop we can export the Miro board to a backup file or a PDF and each attendee gets their own copy, for almost 0 effort. At any point in the future, they can open the file and have access to everything they produced during the workshop including the exercises and tips.

Can We Do This Without Miro?

It’s possible to take lots of photos of scribbles on flipcharts and take home workshop exercise booklets. Does this compare to rich digital artefacts that contain everything and do not take up any physical space? I haven’t been able to find anything to take away this powerful.

Some people will say “the learnings and conversations are the most important things and the artefacts don’t matter”. I will disagree, both are important. Having artefacts to take away from the workshop can reinforce what you learned by allowing you to reflect and absorb the content over a longer period of time.

Conclusion

Six months ago, the idea of running my in-person training in a remote setting seemed impossible. Now, I’m scratching my head wondering how I’m going to recreate many of the benefits provided with Miro when we’re back to in-person training.

I’m also sorry to all of those people who asked for remote training in the past because they could not travel and were told it’s not possible. We were all wrong, it definitely is possible.

I love being able to design my workshops with Miro. To prepare almost everything up-front, and then be able to focus on working with attendees during the workshop was a great experience.

There are many things I miss about in-person training. But there are many things I love about remote training and there is still a whole world of possibilities waiting to be discovered.

From now on, I’ll always be open to both formats. I love in-person training and I love remote training, too.

Nick Tune’s Strategic Technology Blog

Domain-Driven Design, Organisation Design, Continuous…

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