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Featured image: How To Run Remote Design Thinking Workshops
Idea Management | Innovation Culture

How To Run Remote Design Thinking Workshops

Like everyone these days, we are experiencing challenging times when it comes to activating and engaging relationships with our customers. As seen all over the world, we decided to close our office, stop traveling and work from home instead.

This leads to a couple of difficulties, especially when you are scheduled to hold an interactive and Design-Thinking-inspired workshop format that could neither be postponed nor be executed at the client facilities.

However, as a company with innovation in its name, it was natural for us to accept the challenge and find some creative approach. Here is our “How to” for a digital collaboration solution that I would like to share with you.

The Situation

As mentioned, the objective was to set up a client workshop regarding the design of a business case and KPIs of the ITONICS software with a German insurance provider. We decided to use an approach that is inspired by Design Thinking to deep dive into the use case of the client. In particular, the workshop format design allows to empathize with the different stakeholders, to define what kind of expectations they could have for the management of innovations and to derive ideas on benefits and related KPIs, that the software-driven solution provides for their specific use-case.

Everything had been prepared, templates had been drawn and the team was ready to travel to the clients’ facilities a couple of days later. Unfortunately, our new and not so much loved companion Covid-19 forced us to change course as traveling to the client facilities was no longer possible.

So what do we do now? A 3-4h lecture-like workshop didn’t seem to be a reasonable option either. I know that there are tons of digital tools available to interactively design a digital workshop. I personally do have good experiences with Klaxoon for example. But neither was one of those tools part of our tech-stack yet, nor did we have the time to set up a tool, figure out how it works and create the approach at such a short notice.

Luckily, my colleagues and I came up with an easy-to-deliver solution!

The Challenge

We all knew what we wanted and the parameters were very clear: a workshop with interactive elements, no lecture-style monologue, and active client participation in working with us on the future of our partnership. But how would you deliver this, remotely, yet productively?

In our experience, good workshops persist from the possibility of everybody in the group being enabled to express themselves, relating to ideas of others and visualization of key results of the meeting. Prepared with some methods and frameworks, normally, Post-Its tend to be the weapon of choice since they allow us to visualize and cluster ideas quickly.

The Approach

So the key question was: how to use Post-Its and custom frameworks in a virtual environment seamlessly? The solution constituted a workshop prototype based on Google Slides. It provided some major advantages compared to other digital formats.

Google Slides is pretty similar to Microsoft PowerPoint, requiring no in-depth technical preparation for the client.

The software enables us to work simultaneously on the same document.
Presentations are a very visual way of working together on a topic.
Google Slides enables you to draw every kind of framework you want to use and you don’t have to follow any major design guidelines like in predefined tools.

The Prototype

As a next step, we adjusted the methods of choice within a Google Slide presentation and did a try-run internally. This helped us uncover some major difficulties within the setup:

In an on-site workshop, methods and frameworks tend to be printed or hand-drawn. So nobody should be able to interact with the method itself.
Discussions can get quite intense and it is more difficult to moderate this remotely.
It can be difficult to figure out who added which point to a discussion if you are not able to see the client.
A clock for timeboxing a workshop in order to speed up the process needs to be displayed somehow.

You can see a screenshot from the prototype setup here:Remote Design Thinking Workshop

The Solution

In order to tackle and resolve the above-named challenges, some things had to be done differently than in a normal workshop setup, which translated into the following best practices:

  • Use the slide master editor to create your methods, frameworks or canvases to keep them in the background. This way, participants of the workshop can't interact with it and won’t be disturbed by selecting the wrong element. 
  • Utilize Brainwriting followed by a guided discussion (by each participant) as a method instead of the traditional brainstorming and similar more communication-based formats. 
  • Predefine Post-ITs with customer names on it. This allows for more transparency within the workshop as it is visible who contributed which idea. This way, you as a moderator are always on top of things. In order to cluster ideas and give advice, you and your team need to have your own colour as well. 
  • The moderator shares his screen in order to give advice on what to do. We also build a supporting presentation, for explaining methods and giving additional information.
  • Display timing and countdown on the moderators shared screen.

    Remote design thinking workshop

Additional Preparation

To counteract potential roadblocks during the real meeting we took some measures beforehand.

  • invite the users of the client to test some functions of the set up, using the share feature of Google slides before the workshop. Providing a service like this, you have to be sure that you minimize the risk of technical issues.
  • outline some instructions on how to use Google Slides, how the format of the workshop will be and how you plan to cover different topics.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure if this new setup will be a great success and I had concerns about the limited ability to interact with the client like I am used to. However, in our 4h workshop, we managed to achieve very good results for the client and received great feedback on the virtual format.

In order to maintain our high security standards while using this service, we accessed confidential information only separately via screen share, converted the presentation into a locally saved PowerPoint after the meeting and deleted the original file.

Running remote design thinking workshops: Summary

So does the actual situation stop you from delivering interactive workshops? It should not! As much as you need to be creative in the way you build your workshops, you can be creative in the way you deliver them. I am sure that the actual circumstances force society to experiment on the way we interact with each other. Consequently, organizations might shift more and more interactions into the digital world. This is not necessarily a bad thing, considering the impact travelling has on both our environment and our working hours.

Nevertheless, I am looking forward to my next on-site meetings and consulting workshops, once this crisis is resolved. Until then, I know we can successfully run interactive client workshop formats in a completely virtual manner.

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