To say we’re not a fan of meetings would be a mild understatement… People scrambling in late, half the people in the room not knowing why they are there and the ones that do wish they weren’t. Sound familiar? We’ve been long-standing proponents of canning meetings altogether and replacing them with workshops.
To gain maximum value from a workshop, however, you’ll need a great facilitator. These arbiters of truth oversee proceedings to ensure the right people are in the room to have conversations that solve actual problems.
It can be a tricky business, but here are the top seven simple mistakes I’ve seen facilitators make and that you should avoid!
1) Pretending to be an expert on the topic.
The clue is in the title: ‘facilitator’. Unless you are an expert in the particular field or industry, don’t pretend to be!
Your job is to facilitate or guide the real experts in the room through the discovery process to generate conversations and ideas. Faking knowledge can ultimately reduce the trust people have in you and even lead outcomes in the wrong direction.
2) Letting people in the room run the session.
Too often I’ve seen facilitators lose control of the class, so to speak. Remember, you are there to guide the session to achieve the best possible outcomes for the participants. Upfront communication is key to make sure everybody knows why they are there. Make sure agendas, purpose statements and expected outcomes are shared before any session.
*If the conversation starts to wander, use a creative “car park” to capture ideas that can be discussed later.
3) Not sticking to the plan.
There are so many different processes/ styles to facilitate a workshop and I’m not going to pretend to know them all. Whichever you choose, trust the process to get the outcome everybody wants. Don’t be tempted to chop and change on the fly otherwise the session can become confusing and ultimately less constructive. If it’s clear something has to change, take a break and reassess.
*I facilitate a lot of workshops and they can often feel like they’re not on the right track (particularly at the start), but each time I’ve trusted the process and there have been some incredible outcomes.
4) Forgetting to keep time.
Facilitation 101. Make sure you track the time for every step of the conversation. If you don’t, discussions will drag and before you know it your workshop has descended into another fruitless ‘meeting’. The imaginatively named Time Timer (https://www.timetimer.com/) is one of the best apps for timekeeping.
5) Illegible or tiny handwriting.
How will people understand what’s going on if they can’t read your notes? Exactly. ALWAYS WRITE IN CAPITAL LETTERS ON POST-IT NOTES SO EVERYONE CAN SEE. Ideas will be flowing like fine wine so it’s important people can quickly refer back to notes. “What does that say?” is an awful waste of time. Once you become more experienced, you’ll quickly become more efficient at capturing what someone has said in just a few words.
6) Lacking communication &/or preparation.
People should arrive energised and excited for a workshop. I love to share a short two-minute video with project summaries prior to the day so people know exactly what the purpose of the workshop is and what to expect. Arrive early on the day, set up tables, pens, paper, water… You’re the facilitator, everything should be in order so when people arrive the magic can begin.
7) Not inviting key decision-makers.
The purpose of workshops is to get **** done! Decisions will often need to be made on the spot before pursuing certain ideas, particularly with design sprints. The last thing you want is for an idea to go all the way through to prototyping before a senior team member shoots the idea down. It’s a quick way to waste a week. ‘Decision-makers’ may be short of time, so just make sure they’re present for core decision touchpoints for a thumbs or down. If it’s down, you can quickly pivot. Pivot!
So there you have it, 7 simple mistakes to avoid when facilitating a workshop. If you enjoyed this, you might also find our 10 Tips To Workshoppin’ Like A Pro helpful.
For any further questions, or if you’d like me to facilitate one of your workshops, don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Book a free session today to explore how we can help you achieve better outcomes.
Freelancing has often been mooted as the future of work, with professionals seeking more control of their work and organisations benefitting from the greater flexibility of a transient, highly specialised workforce when reacting to evolving markets.
For many, it still remains a game of risk vs reward.
Having spent much of his career as a freelancer, Jason is here to answer your most searched questions about freelancing.
A memorable – if not a little disturbing – simile once used by an industry legend during his seminar.
Sensing the discomfort of the crowd, he frowned & bellowed, “Well, you know what I mean, right?” Not a clue, but you certainly have my attention… “It’s like being able to tell the gender of a baby chicken just by looking at it.”
Apparently it’s a subtle art (in the loosest sense of the word) developed with many years of experience, one you can attain to determine chicken gender, or, more usefully in our line of work, developer quality.
I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t know anyone that has the ten thousand hours required to master that skill.
Anyway, we’d prefer to hire whole coops, sorry, teams of developers for a number of reasons.
- The developers already work together so have a quicker startup time.
- Cross-functional teams will be able to fulfil all the roles required for project delivery – UX, development, QA, DevOps & so on.
- They usually have a project project manager, scrum master or coach who’ll take responsibility for helping the team organise their efforts, report on progress & deliver the project.
Hiring teams is a completely different proposition to a single developer – we can’t make them all do whiteboard interviews. Here are some of the things we look for & ask at Digital Village when hiring great development teams.
Show us what you’ve done (please)
Stand & deliver. We’re technology agnostic & focus on the best processes for delivering reliable value in. In short, we spend less time looking at tech teams work & more looking at the projects they’ve completed.
Are the projects ‘significant’ & did they challenge the team’s ability? ‘Significant’ is of course subjective, but we’re looking for teams with strong capability & ambition.
Are the projects accompanied by glowing testimonials? Unfortunately self-assessment can be a little, let’s say, biased from time to time.
Now let’s talk about it
A curated brochure of past products is nice, but we aren’t window shopping here. We need to dig into things a little (lot) more. A good ol’ fashioned interview with some representatives from the team is a perfect way to find out:
- What challenges the team faced while building one of their showcased projects & how they resolved them.
- What they enjoyed about the project. Seriously, we’re all supposed to enjoy this or what’s the point?!
- Which projects they’re most proud of & why (forgetting pride is of course a Sin).
Abiding by the old proverb, “it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it,” & without dabbling in amateur psychoanalysis, there’s a lot more you can take away from the interview.
Are they excited to talk about the projects? Do their eyes light up when explaining technical triumphs. Perhaps an eye-roll when describing the challenge of containing scope with an ambitious client?
Honestly, the last thing we want to see is ambivalence. We want to see anything to show a deep engagement with all the challenges (technical & otherwise) that arise during a complex project.
If they pass both stages with flying colours, hire them & give them everything they want.
Ok, just kidding. I’d feel very hesitant to hire a team purely on this basis. So, I hear you ask, what are the key questions Digital Village asks before engaging with development teams..?
How do they know they’re building (whatever it may be) correctly?
A simple yet serious question. How do they know what they’re building works as it should? It’s an opportunity to understand their practices, processes & also attitude towards producing quality software.
The answer, of course, should involve a seven letter word that causes more headaches than most: ‘testing’. But what kind of testing? QA staff are great & will pick out errors like a sniper, but automated developer tests are also important.
The bravest programmer you’ll meet (& the one you want to meet) is running a gauntlet of unit, feature & integration tests. “Does my change break anything?”, is just an automated test run away.
Adopting such methods allow teams to stride quickly & ambitiously because the safety net of automated testing is always waiting to catch them after a misstep.
How do they know they’re building the right thing?
At least this one’s simple… “it’s what the client asked for”. Get out.
Every project is a big investment for a client, so how can we be sure the investment is going to pay off?
At Digital Village we have a huge range of clients: start-up to enterprise, tech wizards to non-tech founders. With each client, we assume full responsibility for helping them understand if the proposed project is going to make their business more successful.
If not, we can steer them in a better direction even if it means having difficult (but always positive) conversations. Clients come to us looking for guidance & it’s fundamental to our service that we find the right solution.
So our question for any team is, “how will the client know if what they’ve asked for is what they really need?”
If they reply, “the client agreed to the specification, if the code meets the spec then they’re getting what they want,” they’re not the kind of team we personally like to work with.
I’d love to hear how the team proactively validates work delivered to a client, their strategies for eliciting feedback & how they manage that moment when a client says, “wait a minute, this isn’t going to work”.
So, where is everyone?
Long gone are the days of expectation & necessity for singular locations. We’ve worked with all kinds of teams: onshore, offshore & a hybrid of both. So far, we’ve found each model brings its own benefits & challenges.
If a team has offshore members, great! Some of our current teams that contain offshore members produce incredible results at a fantastic price-point.
Traditionally, communication is seen as a potential pitfall for offshore teams, but our success is due to amazing team leads who are responsible for communicating with project stakeholders locally & team members offshore… a conduit, if you like.
So let’s hear about who is responsible for communicating the client’s needs to the team & relays the team’s questions, concerns & suggestions.
What’s the silent killer of projects?
To be clear, I’ve never asked anyone, “what’s the silent killer of projects?”. One, because it’s over dramatic, & two, there are always symptoms.
I would love to know, however, what the team thinks is most likely to derail a project. Although answers will vary, if this were a game of Family Feud I’d expect “communication problems” to be a top answer.
As Bernard Shaw, a man that revolutionised comedic drama, said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place”.
So what are their individual thoughts regarding communication? How could they be sure a client has understood them (& vice versa)? Perhaps most importantly, will they be willing to take on the commitment to communication that Digital Village does?
Dev teams are often missing one vital piece of the puzzle. The client. Now we aren’t expecting 40hrs a week, but we always try to bring clients & users into the project team. Invite clients to join meetings & the same communication channels as the rest of the team.
The last word(s)
So, a case study & an interview. We’re hardly rattling the established pillars of HR & recruitment with this one, are we? But what it all boils down to is can we answer the following questions with a reasonable degree of certainty:
- Is the team proficient enough to produce technically sound work?
- Do they care enough about their client to provide them with results that make them more successful & do it in a way that makes the client feel empowered during the process?
I’d be happy to work with anyone who can do that.
Along with words & the predictability of stupidity, never underestimate the power of a good workshop. In fact, I’m a firm advocate of replacing (often pointless & frankly irritating) meetings with them altogether. Why? I hear you say. Strap in for some truth bombs.
Why workshops are better than meetings:
- Rather than a vague discussion, they have clear & defined goals/ objectives that you are trying to solve during the session & create clear actions.
- They are structured in a way that benefits from each person’s skills & encourages ‘outside the box’ thinking.
- If run correctly, they can solve problems in the shortest amount of time. Problem to tested prototype in just 5 days? Oh, go on then.
Running a good workshop, however, can be hard, & if you’re not careful can descend into the futile wasteland currently occupied by meetings. Following a process is simple enough but controlling the team, managing the content & ensuring you hit the goals/ objectives can be tricky. Here are some quick tips to have you running workshops like a pro.
1. The 6 Ps Of Success
Proper planning prevents piss poor performance. Some prefer ‘fail to prepare, prepare to fail’ but I’ve always been one for alliterative acrobatics. Prepare the agenda, practice (even into a mirror) & get advice from others you work with to agree a structure for the session.
- Set a timeline
- Set your clear focus objectives (remember, we’re here get sh@t done)
2. Think About The Logistics For The Meeting
Yes, this sounds bleeding obvious but you don’t want to be wasting valuable time scrambling around looking for things.
- What do you need for the meeting (pens, white boards, post-it notes….)?
- Do you have a room booked with the right number of chairs and enough space?
- Do you understand your audience (names/positions)?
- How will you get to the workshop if it’s offsite and you have a lot to carry?
3. Communication & Attendance
Almost as important as remembering to bring pens… The last thing you want is for the wrong people to turn up or, more realistically, key decision-makers not attending. Although everybody contributes, they get the final say.
Make sure you send out a confirmation email to everyone confirming:
- Their attendance (provide the full list if appropriate)
- The purpose of the workshop,
- the goal of the day
- and the agenda
4. Trust The Process
You’ve followed Rule 1 meticulously & are on course to prevent piss poor performance. You know what your goals & objectives are & you have chosen the right workshop process to match the outcome needs. Trust the process.
Don’t let people in the room make you deviate from the stages you need to go through to get the end result. If people challenge this, be open and honest about the needs of the process and inform how it will achieve the end result. Communication is key.
5. Use Ice-Breakers.
We’re embarking on a creative process so use ice-breakers to get the juices flowing. It helps to break down any barriers & encourage collaborative thinking within the group. Ice-breakers are also darn good at waking people up after a long morning or resurrecting people from a lunchtime food comma.
If the workshop is particularly long then use them intermittently to break up the day & keep everyone thinking. I’ll be releasing a free Ice-breakers eBook in the near future filled with jovial jaunts. Ninja, Tiger, Grandma, anyone?
6. Set The Rules From The Start
Anyone participating in a workshop should be just that, participating. We’re really on collaborative input to solve a problem quickly. Some rules I like to follow are:
- No laptops or mobile phones (yes this is a tough one for people to accept)
- Don’t talk over other people (common courtesy)
- Never ever any name-calling (this ain’t the playground)
- No question is a bad question (within reason
- No one is wrong (the earth isn’t flat)
7. Utilise A Car Park
No, not to settle disputes. Sometimes conversations & ideas pop up that are not constructive to the process. Well, not this process. We don’t want to lose these ideas. Take note of them in a separate place on the wall and let the team know that you’ll come back to these ideas separately.
8. Focus On People & Don’t Make Things Up!
One of the best bits of advice I was given for managing a workshop was to remain mindful that it’s not all about you (the facilitator), it’s about the people in the room and how they feel.
Make people feel appreciated for their questions: “What I’m hearing is…..? Is this right?” & thank them. Never get defensive; appreciate what they say and table the question.
And be honest with the responses. If you don’t know the answer, don’t try and make it up. Trust me, the audience will see right through you & you’ll instantly lose all credibility (& look like a %@3*)
9. Dealing With The Trolls…
Ah, the troublemakers. Unfortunately you will have people occasionally have people that just don’t want to be there. They’re either not paying attention, talking too much or acting inappropriately. So how do you deal with these people? Straight to the car park, I jest.
Not Paying Attention: These people are annoyingly rude but are also the easiest to deal with. In these instances here are some things you can try:
- The whole room is your stage (as the facilitator). Walk & talk. All eyes are on you as you present & will also be on the person *&@£ing around on their phone as you stand behind them. That usually does the trick.
- Remind everyone (without calling out names) the rules about devices and attention.
- Sometimes you just need an earlier break to keep attention.
- Between breaks politely ask to have a private conversation with them & talk about how you can help them be more present in the room.
- Go full highschool teacher & ask them to share what they’re doing with the room.
Loudest Person In The Room: This is very common when you have a room with potentially “junior” team members and a few “senior” members. Unsurprisingly it’s often the senior leadership that talks the most. So how do you deal with this?
- As the facilitator, sometimes the easiest thing to do is to ask them to deliver their thoughts. So if someone isn’t saying much, give them the confidence & opportunity to speak.
- You can utilise a talking stick. So only people with the stick are allowed to say anything. As the facilitator, make sure the stick is passed around the room.
Inappropriate Behaviour: Probably the hardest situation to deal with. You’re all adults & the expectation is that everyone behaves like one. Unfortunately there are some people that still struggle to do so. So how do you deal with these difficult situations?
- Shift the process from conversations to quiet actions/note-taking.
- Call a break & ask to speak with the person about their behaviour (politely).
- End the meeting all together as it could be causing more issues than good.
10. Feedback! Always.
You never improve if you don’t learn from what you’ve done. Always ask for feedback at the end of the workshop. Every workshop you run is training for the next one you run. If it didn’t go as well as it could have, don’t take it to heart, explore why, & understand how you can do better next time.
7 Mistakes People Make When Facilitating a Workshop
- They try to be an expert on a topic
- Let people in the room take over the narrative
- They don’t trust the process
- Don’t time keep
- Write with small handwriting so no one can see
- Lacked any preparation or communication
- Didn’t invite the key decision maker
Creating & maintaining change, on both a personal level or a larger scale, is hard. CRED. aims to educate & enable individuals to take small daily actions to create sustained change & be part of the larger collective good. DV transformed the CRED. app to allow individuals to create, record & measure their own personal transformation.
Watch the full interview with CEO & Founder Ronan Mac Domhnaill.
Founder & CEO, Ronan Mac Domhnaill, wanted to create a scalable tech team & unlock expertise to expand the reach & functionality of CRED.. Hiring a team of 10 professionals, however, is obviously expensive & largely unattainable for companies within their formative years. They had explored off-shoring during the early days of the company but admit struggling to find a value-aligned tech partner.
The difficult conversations are always the most important…
The initial intention was to add additional functionality to an existing app built on hybrid mobile development tool FuseTools. During an initial analysis, the existing app was found to have issues regarding scalability & further development. CRED.’s DV Producer Jithesh suggested that replicating the functionality with a new design for a native application would be beneficial for the long-term goals of the business.
He spoke very openly & candidly about what he believed our business needed & where we were at from a digital perspective,” says Ronan. “…[it] was very difficult to hear because he made some suggestions that were going to require reinvestment. As someone that had invested a number of times in the technology it was not what I wanted to hear, but he did it in such a way that I listened to him & we built trust right away.”
Having agreed to the proposed roadmap, Ronan & Cred. began their first 20 day sprint. 20 days, fixed costs & fixed outcomes.
Module 1 // Rebuild: The first 20 days was used to rebuild the app with a new UI and the same functionality in native Android & iOS. Rebuilding the app with zero documentation for the existing system was a challenge, but was completed by the development team within the first module.
Module 2 // Additional Functionality: Users were able to record feelings at any point of time, record the target values for each of their actions and self-registration of users through a web link.
Module 3 // Additional Functionality: Weekly progress summary graphs & statistics were added & users were allowed to personalise their actions rather than be assigned them by the program administrator.
CRED.’s challenge accepted in the US…
CRED. recently completed a 30-day mental health & well-being challenge with 30 students across four different colleges in the United States with overwhelmingly positive results. An independent evaluation commissioned by their US partner revealed 85% of participants were either likely or extremely likely to continue actions after the 30-day trial.
The challenge aimed to provide students with a platform to navigate a time of uncertainty & build new, sustainable habits through three areas: Focus, Move & Connect.
Focus: Individuals were encouraged to become more conscious of their ability to focus at points throughout the day & record their energy levels.
Move: During times of stress, exercise & self care is one of the first things sacrificed. Users were encouraged to exercise or ‘move’ 30 minutes a day & record their activity.
Connect: Supporting others is key to living a better life. Users connected to others outside the programme to ‘check in’ & see how they’re doing.
Armed with their revamped app & valuable insights, Ronan & CRED. are going from strength to strength & looking forward to the next round of sales. Customers & potential partners alike are now expressing interest in working alongside CRED. to create sustainable change.
The busiest time of year is approaching and you’re running ads to increase acquisitions and revenue…
Let’s say you acquire two new customers at an acquisition cost of $20 each. Luke spends $50 & Jason just $25. Luke, therefore, represents a better ROI, right? Well, initially yes, but perhaps we’re thinking too short term as Jason returns at a later date and spends another $100.
Instead of focussing on short-term ROI, businesses should consider a customer’s lifetime value. Businesses need both Lukes & Jasons but by focusing on acquiring high-value customers revenues will increase, your business will grow and all shall be donning ear to ear grins.
If lifetime value does not exceed cost of acquisition, however… you get the picture.
So how do businesses identify, target and acquire high value customers while inspiring long-term loyalty? Well, we provide a tailored experience using RFM segmentation: Frequency, Recency & Monetary.
Imagine you’re the proprietor of a coffee shop (the kind that sells drinks prefixed with too many adjectives) & want to introduce a 50% discount voucher. Ok, great. Offering a discount to customers with a low frequency may be a great way of enticing them through the door.
Now consider a customer that religiously purchases their dirty, skinny chai latte each day without fail. Their frequency is already high so a 50% discount is probably the wrong approach. Instead, you could give them a free hamper on their birthday; you already know what they like.
In DV STREAM: LIfetime ROI, Suraj Pabari discusses how you can develop a strategy to retain high-value customers and increase loyalty with low-value customers.
Whether you’re a start-up, small business or established enterprise, the need to move fast, fail faster and adapt in today’s market is crucial. Design Sprints allow you to solve complex problems in just five (or even four) days and unlock the benefits of Agile.
Agile methodology is an iterative, incremental response to the inadequacies of traditional software development and allows companies to move faster and meet the requirements of customers. The principles of Agile and the wider application of organisational agility (there is a distinction) have swept throughout Silicon Valley as businesses continue to race from idea to market.
Although I wholeheartedly think if you’re not adopting the methodology (at least somewhere in your innovation process) something is wrong, Agile is not a “silver bullet” solution… nothing is. Testing and cooperation are integral to the customer-centric principles of Agile and validating an idea can be, well, time-consuming.
Cue Design Sprints.
Developed by Jake Knapp out of Google’s Venture division, The Design Sprint is a pressure cooker, collaborative process that can take you from idea to tested solution inside of five days. Yes, really. In fact, organisations like AJ&Smart have released a 2.0 version that streamlines the process to just four days.
By the end of the Sprint, you have a tangible, tested prototype that you built together. Think of it as a crystal ball into the future: you’re able to gain valuable customer insight without committing the time and capital of building a real product. With a little bit of experience, you can also utilise the process to develop everything from complex marketing strategies to kickstarting a new business.
So what does a Design Sprint look like?
First things first, you need somebody dedicated to driving his new way of thinking. You need a facilitator. Regardless of their involvement in the business, they are able to provide an outside perspective and guide you through the discovery process. The ideas are in there, they just need to be extracted and ordered.
Next, you need the commitment of your team for the intensive (but short) process. Dedicating time can be one of the biggest challenges for any business, big or small, but consider the potential wasted months developing the wrong product.
Day 1 // Definition
Kick off the first day by unpacking the problem space and validating the idea. These structured conversations are the foundation of the Sprint as we define your “North Star”. This unwavering definition of purpose will be a constant point of focus to ensure you’re solving the problem.
Who are your customers? What do they need and what drives this need? Begin to build out a simplified customer journey and kickstart the magic of the sprint process. Using a simple “how might we…” process you can begin to source opportunities and create the basis of your new idea. Through voting and a process of elimination you’ll decide which ideas to take to the next stage.
Having considered your customer segments, now is the time to start organising your 4-6 test subjects for the final day. Remember, the aim of the Sprint is to have a tested prototype so subjects are crucial to the process!
Day 2 // Sketch & Decide
Firstly, we want to make sure we’re happy with the idea we’ve chosen. Validation throughout the whole process is crucial to success so key decision makers must be in the room (or can drop in and out as the days progress.
We all see things differently. In fact, the collaborative effort and combined creativity of Design Sprints make it such a powerful tool when building new ideas. Lightning demos are a great way of inspiring creativity and gaining the most from the ideation stage. Take time to find things relevant to the idea that inspires you and share with the group.
It’s time to bring the idea to life. Utilising the process of Crazy Eights, everyone in the room will begin to turn their ideas into written (or drawn) product pieces and share them via a personal two-pager storyboard. Another round of voting begins…
The team reviews all the ideas and ultimately votes on which one to take to prototype. Make sure the ‘decision maker’ is in the room as unsurprisingly they have the final say. Decision made.
Now start to visualise the solution and transform the personal storyboards into blueprints on the wall. A facilitator will begin to draw out the idea, frame by frame, as everybody discusses how it should look.
Day 3 // Prototyping
With the blueprint complete, it’s time to create something tangible that can be tested with real customers. It doesn’t need to be a complete solution, just enough to take the potential customers on a journey and communicate the idea. The team can utilise pieces of paper to develop the prototype, or if possible, translate it using tools like Miro and Figma.
Day 4 // Test & Learn
Your customer was defined at the start of the process and should now be in the room with you. It’s the moment of the truth. Present your idea with the prototype and gather feedback. Was the feedback positive? If so, great! You can start developing the project utilising the agile methodology previously mentioned. Was the feedback average? Is there a way to pivot the idea and refine the solution? Hopefully so.
Was the feedback, let’s say, less than average? Maybe it’s time to scrap the idea and try something different. Trust me, it happens. But at least you didn’t invest months into R&D to discover it wasn’t what the customer needed!
Chris Sinclair is a Digital Experience Designer & Strategist responsible for working with start-ups and organisations to develop products and go to market strategies utilising agile & design sprint methodologies.
Connect with Chris.