One hour collaborative workshop framework

Chris Compston
Jan 15 · 7 min read

Whether there’s a need for introducing, or even practising, collaborative cross functional team ideation or tackling a small but particularly thorny user problem where speed to market is key then this framework will aid in that endeavour.


One hour is a tight timeframe and there’s only so much that can be done. This format along with a strict and forced tight brief actually alleviates the pressure of conceptualising the ‘right idea’ first time and can aid in building an understand of continuous experimentation

Through the process of divergent and convergent thinking participants have to react quickly, even subconsciously, to a user problem. Accessing thoughts and ideas that may have been dormant or even previously denounced.

Another great thing about this framework is that getting buy-in from people in the business is going to be relatively easy compared to longer workshop. In traditional low Agile/Design/Product maturity companies trying to get the attention of business leaders for a full week Design Sprint or even a day for ideation is an unenviable, if not impossible, task.

This framework can very easily be used to prove that including those people that are not often privy to the positive output of cross functional ideation has a huge benefit to the team process and understanding, the product and it’s customers. There is also residual affects of increasing the aforementioned maturity, giving the team new business avenues to explore and deeper access to ongoing business understanding.


Workshop Preparation

Due to the incredibly tight timeframe it’s important that facilitators are fully prepared upfront. They should not only know the framework inside out, which should be relatively simple, but people and team mix should be decided beforehand and the problem statement identified and confirmed by a Product Manager to ensure the workshop is focused.

Next steps should be outlined early; is this workshop merely to introduce collaboration or is there an immediate user problem that needs a potential solution? The outcomes will differ based on why the workshop is required, the latter will require a plan to build an minimum viable product (MVP), it may require more analysis, design and usability testing before the experiment goes live.

It’s also important that the facilitators are relatively experienced as participants are definitely going to push the time boundaries and focus. If there’s business stakeholders involved it might also be the case that some feel like they are creatively lacking or uncomfortable presenting ideas and they’ll need support with this.

The simple things are often forgotten so make sure the right size of room is booked upfront and has all the necessary equipment, which thankfully for this workshop is just pens and paper. Make sure everyone invited is available and aware of the purpose of the workshop and if it’s possible share the problem statement upfront (unless there’s a reason to manage how people react to an immediate problem).

Although the actually workshop exercises are just one hour it’s definitely worth booking time either side. With a problem statement that requires further context sharing before the workshop or the team need to be creatively kickstarted then book no more than 30 minutes before. Include maybe 10 to 15 minutes at the end of the workshop to discuss any next steps.

With this kind of ideation speed is the key so use something like Crazy 8s to draw out ideas, focus participants minds and keep them within both time and ideation constraints. Sketches are always preferred but some people may feel more comfortable with story boarding or simply writing bullet points and that’s fine.

Each participant and group will have set times to present their ideas, these should be succinct explanations of their conceptual work without getting hung up on any specific functionality details or how it might be delivered.


People and Teams

The most effective way to run this, indeed any kind of product ideation workshop, is ensuring a cross functional and diverse view by including people from across the spectrum of product development teams, business stakeholders, subject matter experts and if possible even end users.

Depending on the number of problem statements, bandwidth to work on any potential solutions and number of facilitators available the participant numbers can be flexible. Teams should be groups of no less than three and no more than five people, each facilitator can manage two to three groups dependent on experience and each group will have one idea at the end.


Getting in the mood

Having been successful in ensuring a cross functional element to the workshop it’s worth highlighting that some of those people may not be completely comfortable in the situation. Not everyone is accustomed to working in diverse teams or dealing with end user related problems, some may be relatively nervous in open discussion about, even critique of, creative ideas.

Using a Chindōgu session, the ‘Japanese art of inventing ingenious everyday gadgets’, can alleviate some of that pressure and helps to get everyone, regardless of their creative confidence, in the right mindset. It should prove that ideas are fast and free flowing and that some ideas once iterated could have real customer value.

The session is supposed to be fun and a bit silly, expect some laughs!

Facilitators preparation

  1. Identify multiple random objects.
  2. Print pictures of the objects.

Chindōgu

  1. Split the groups into pairs of 2–3, each pair is given two random objects.
  2. Within 1 minute they must combine the two objects to create one new one.
  3. Present the new object to the group and call out potential customers.

Example

  1. Glue Stick + Butter = Butter Stick
  2. Umbrella + Tie = Umbrella Tie
  3. Ok you get the idea, find more here

Problem Statement

Identify an actual known user problem for the groups to focus on during the ideation. Without this the session won’t have much value and although some interesting creative concepts may come out it’s not going to be obvious what problem they’re actually solving.

The statement should following the ‘How might we…’ (HMW) format and be based on actual user research findings, data driven themes or insights. The HMW format allows the group to both understand that there is a problem to solve and also helps to start the discussion that will frame their solutions.

The group should also agree that this is a problem worth solving. The intention is that everyone involved comes to the consensus that solving this problem for users will have a certain degree of impact to the customer and result in business benefit.

Depending on the number of participants and groups there could be more than one problem statement provided, with each group taking one or with a particular persona in mind.

Example

How might we increase the number of related articles a logged in user reads on a particular visit?’


The Framework

Based on 2 groups of 5 participants.

1. Divergent Ideation
10 minutes; 5 minute individual exercise, 5 minutes for presentations

  • Present the problem statement to the groups.
  • Provide any personas that each group should focus on.
  • Each participant has 5 minutes to come up with as many ideas as possible.
  • Each participant then presents their ideas to the group.
  • Make sure that everyone is listening attentively, the skill of active listening will play a role in the next section.

2. Cross Pollination
15 minutes: 10 minute individual exercise, 5 minutes for presentations

  • Advise each participant to take one of their ideas and an idea from someone else in the group.
  • Individually work on these ideas expanding on the concepts further.
  • Make sure not to discard all first round ideas outright, they could still be useful for the last part of the workshop or in the future.
  • Each participant then has time to present their ideas back to the group.

3. Convergent Ideation
15 minute group exercise

  • The group can now converge and take 1 or 2 of these ideas further.
  • Together decide which ideas have the most opportunity to solve the problem.
  • Work on these further by adding more functionality or filling in any of the blanks.
  • Highlight any assumptions the group might have about their solution.
  • Highlight any elements that are unknown whether that’s regarding technology feasibility, customer desirability or business viability.

4. Team Presentation
20 minutes: 5 minute presentation, 10 minute group discussion

  • The group now presents their solutions back to the rest of the participants.
  • State what the idea is and how it aims to solve the given problem.
  • Include any potential measures of success or further research or experiments.
  • Groups can ask any questions or cover any further discussion points.

Identify Next Steps

The crucial decision on which, if any, ideas should go forward can either be taken by the groups involved or by the Product Owner or Manager separately later. Regardless of which solution is taken further it’s key to identify what a potential MVP could be.

It’s important to remember that the concept of an MVP comes in two distinct flavours — to validate riskiest assumptions by understanding what the market wants or to deliver limited functionality for fast customer value and business benefit.

The former might simply be a paper prototype to test with users, a survey to gain further insight or a concierge or Wizard of Oz MVP. It might need no development work whatsoever and it’s not a basic ‘first release’ with defined future releases already on the backlog. The purpose of this is to ensure that the team can validate their assumptions before spending any further time or effort to build a real feature.

The latter can again be a concierge or Wizard of Oz MVP, but equally it could have further analysis, design work and rapid development to get it into the market quickly. This is more useful if the assumptions are less risky (i.e. the team are more confident they’re doing the right thing based on prior knowledge or experience) and speed to market could bring greater business benefits.

If you’re looking for more about product, Agile, Lean and design you can follow me on Twitter @ndxcc or read more on Northern Dynamics

Northern Dynamics

Product / Experience / Strategy

Chris Compston

Written by

Lead Consultant — Product Design at ThoughtWorks

Northern Dynamics

Product / Experience / Strategy

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