Product design

My ✨ 3-step ✨ technique to facilitate epic design thinking workshops everytime


By the end of this article, you will have understood the following:

  • What is a design thinking workshop?
  • Who facilitates this workshop?
  • Why should you consider conducting a design thinking workshop?
  • How do you conduct a design thinking workshop?

✨ What is a design thinking workshop (DTW)?

A design thinking workshop (DTW) is a collaborative meeting between multi-disciplinary team members. It aims to work through ambiguity and generate clear user-centred solutions 👌🏽

You can hold these workshops at any point within the design thinking process. It depends on your objectives and the problems you are trying to solve through it.

A DTW can last between 1-3 days and involve team members from various disciplines.

Some standard exercises conducted in a DTW include user journey mapping, user persona building, storyboarding and card sorting.

✨ Who facilitates this workshop?

You can facilitate a design thinking workshop. Usually, you are from a design and research background. You could be a UX designer, product designer or UX researcher, but even if you are not part of any of these disciplines, you can still facilitate a design thinking workshop.

Your role as a facilitator of a DTW is to plan the workshop, help participants during the execution phase, document the workshop and share findings with your team of participants and stakeholders.

Through your guidance, participants can challenge their assumptions, align together on user problems, come up with innovative solutions and prioritise these solutions to build a future roadmap.

✨ Why should you consider conducting a design thinking workshop?

Consider conducting a workshop if you want to achieve any of the following:

  1. Improve the team's collaborative problem-solving skills
  2. Build empathy towards the users' needs, goals and frustrations in your team
  3. Describe and solve small and big problems quickly as a team
  4. Define new directions for a product, feature or solution

✨ How do you conduct a design thinking workshop?

I follow these 3 steps to ensure that I always run a productive 🌈 design thinking workshop:

  1. Plan
  2. Execute
  3. Document

👉🏽 Phase 1: The Planning Phase

This phase happens before beginning the workshop. It helps you to lay out rules and requirements on how you will conduct the workshop and what the results could look like at the end of the workshop. What do you want to achieve through this workshop?

1. Start this phase by defining your objectives

➡️ New ideas
➡️ New opportunities
➡️ Understanding user needs

To explore these objectives, plan to spend about 3-4 hours (approximately half a day) on each topic during the workshop.

2. Define your team, time and location

➡️ Team: You need to have decision-makers, users/user personas and technical experts on your team to get a broad perspective.

➡️ Time: Depending on your objectives and the size of your team, the time can vary from 1-3 days. If your team is small and you want to explore specific opportunities, spend 1 day on the workshop. If your team is big and you want to explore broad topics, spend more days on your workshop.

➡️ Location: You can conduct a workshop online, offline, or combine both. To conduct an offline workshop, consider a large area with ample walking space, walls or easels with markers, post-its and erasers, a large display, water, coffee and snacks.

3. Understand what has been done so far

➡️ This is the main objective of Phase 1.

➡️ Collect data to answer the following questions before the workshop begins using a pre-workshop assignment.
  1. Who are we designing for? Explore both existing and potential users by creating realistic user personas.
  2. Which data are we working with? Use executive summaries and raw data to set benchmarks and guide future exploration.
  3. How will we measure the success of the product? Set KPIs concerning the user, the business, the environment and the society—for example, the number of downloads, sales, accessibility and the product's carbon footprint.

4. Create the agenda

➡️ Depending on the number of days and deliverables, work backwards to identify what should be on the agenda.

➡️ Add time for introductions, coffee breaks and lunch.

➡️ Define design methods and activity for each step (Define, ideate, prototype and iterate)

➡️ Add a recap, a conclusion and the next steps.

➡️ Create a timeline for the workshop. Use a PDF document.

➡️ Create a facilitation presentation deck that reflects this agenda.

➡️ Send the agenda email before the workshop.
In the agenda email, include the time and location of the workshop. Include a summary of the agenda and timelines, share the pre-workshop assignment, and ask for design inspirations.

✨ Congratulations! You have completed Phase 1 ✨

👉🏽 Phase 2: The Execution Phase

Based on the agenda, you should check all the boxes within the time limit that you set. Here is an agenda breakdown for you.

➡️ Introduction: Welcome and introduce the participants. Use coffee and icebreaker activities to make everyone feel comfortable in the room.

➡️ Warm-up: Use a design warm-up activity that lets participants draw, write and fold while working together.

➡️ Statement of opportunity: Although you have outlined the workshop's objectives, it is essential to draft this statement with your team to align everyone to the workshop's goals.

Spend some time and a few rounds of brainstorming to perfect this statement. This statement is like a research question for a research paper and will act as a north star to your workshop.

It answers 3 critical questions: what, who and why.
  1. What is the problem?
  2. Who are you solving for?
  3. Why is it a problem?

➡️ Review what's been done so far: Use this time to explore pre-workshop research to determine current user experiences, bottlenecks and other constraints. This exercise aims to align the team on the present scenario and outline primary roadblocks.

➡️ Understand users' personas: Discuss with participants the user personas created using pre-workshop research. Do these personas resonate with real users? What are their frustrations and goals?

Use this exercise to generate user stories that answer the who, what and why in a single sentence.

➡️ Discuss design inspirations: All team members would have the stage to share their design inspirations in a collaborative environment. It gives a direction to the design of the product.

➡️ Prioritise solutions and define what is minimally viable: Sort all the explored user stories and design inspirations into categories such as fundamental, nice-to-have and not essential. It will give you a list of all necessary features the team can prioritise.

Then use these fundamental solutions to define a functional feature or a product that you can put together using a minimum number of solutions.

➡️ Conclude with a recap: To bring everyone on the same page, use this time to summarise all critical points you discussed during the workshop. Conclude with a future roadmap of the project as possible next steps.

✨ Congratulations! You're so close to the finish line ✨

👉🏽 Phase 3: The Documentation Phase

It is the last and most crucial phase of the entire workshop.

➡️ Collect all data produced during the workshop from all the team members. This data can be in the form of notes, photos, worksheets, drawings, etc.

➡️ Consolidate and distribute the data into relevant sources. Divide it into discussion, execution and decision.

Put everything the team discussed, like notes, areas of interest, information gaps and disagreements, in the discussion folder.

Put everything the team created, like photos of card sorting, whiteboarding and worksheets, in the execution folder.

Put everything the team decided in the decision folder, like product priorities and features of a minimum viable solution.

➡️ Create an executive summary of the workshop that lists the objective, process, possible solutions and future roadmap.

➡️ Compile everything in one document/folder and share it with all participating members.

✨ Congratulations! You have now successfully finished facilitating a design thinking workshop ✨

Pro tip 👉🏽
During team discussions, it is easy to lose sight of who you are finding a solution for. Whenever possible, realign your team to focus on user needs and problems.

✨ References ✨

  1. IDEO's Design Thinking Courses
  2. How to Run a Design Thinking Workshop by Konrad
  3. Career Foundry's How to Run an Awesome Design Thinking Workshop

© Anushka Shukla. 2022