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How Workshops Work For Us

When starting a project there’s a million things to do but little time. Productive meetings are tough at this stage. At a previous client site, a colleague and I went from zero knowledge to having a comprehensive set of features for a mobile app in a single day. Over the course of that day, our group of ten people discussed perhaps hundreds of small features, came to consensus and decided on the relative importance of each idea. After the workshop, participants were enthusiastic and energetic. Someone even said that the day flew by. Here’s how we did it:

Don’t call it a meeting.

The point isn’t to meet, it’s to work.

The right people.

We were very thoughtful about who was in the room, seriously considering what each participant brought to the table. They were chosen to have diverse expertise, be open, and have opinions.

The right space.

Teleconferencing doesn’t work for complex, interactive, fast-moving workshops. For our day-long workshop, we brought healthy snacks, coffee and juice to keep people energized. We took frequent breaks and littered the room with art, toys, and books to inspire new ideas.

The right process.

We used interactive exercises to avoid debates. For most topics, we would get participants to jot down thoughts on stickies, describe the idea in a few words and put it on the wall. The next participant could elaborate, clarify or question the original idea, but only by adding a sticky note of their own. We intentionally stifled discussion, using collaborative creation instead. By doing this we avoided getting stuck on a topic or bogging down in details.


Boyle’s Law (from Dennis Boyle from IDEO) states “Never attend a meeting without a prototype.” By accelerating to prototype as quickly as possible, discussion is tangible and focused. By having something to point at, participants can communicate more effectively, gaps become obvious, and conversation is constrained to realistic ideas.

When you need to get a lot done, make workshops work for you. Many of my ideas came from the Google Design Sprint. Check it out for more detail or drop us a line.