The old work-alone, hyper-hierarchical way of getting things done is dead. Especially if you are focused on shaping or re-shaping the UX of your products and services. There is no space for wasting a lot of time and money on the wrong problems and solutions, for endless discussions, meetings without clear goals, or projects without a clear user problem to solve. 

Companies need to be fast in delivering value for the users, learning from the markets, and iterating. In the agile world, workshops, design sprints, co-creative sessions and even MVPs are some of the best ways to work efficiently and de-risking the process. They provide the right tools and methodologies to understand if you’re addressing the right problem, if your solution is desirable for the users, how to capture value, as well as how to scale your business.

What to read in this featured project?
In the following, two PUXies are sharing their central insights they have gained from creative sessions and their essential tips and tricks. To better understand how creative sessions as workshops, ideation sessions, and co-creation can be used and are being used at TX Markets we have asked several externals to share their thoughts. Four product and UX experts from different companies gave  us background information about how they use creative sessions in particular projects,

I am a huge fan of creative methodologies. I am not (just) telling you this because we get excited when we see post-it notes or because some of us just came from a 5-day Design Sprint at Car for You. No, I actually believe they help organizations, teams, and individuals to envision and achieve change in a rapid and co-creative way. These approaches have already proven to be an effective way to get the most out of teams within time and budget constraints. Plus, large and small companies the world over are successfully using them (Google, IDEO, Slack, AXA, General Electric, Salesforce, IKEA, LEGO, Zalando, Swisscom, Migros, Swiss Re, ...).

If you are still skeptical, you need some good evidence about the effectiveness of workshops, or you are trying to convince your boss, here is our 5 point list that we have developed in our team and that we like to look at from time to time:

  1. Workflow efficiency and velocity for small and big challenges. Design sprint resulted in 7x time savings over doing work the normal way (AJ&Smart Agency)
  2. More team creativity, motivation and engagement, and better quality of outputs. 82% of companies believe there is a strong connection between creativity and business results. (Creativity At Work) 
  3. Improved level of consensus, alignment, and confidence. 71% of organizations that practice design thinking report that it has improved their working culture on a team level. (Parsons New School)
  4. New ideas and opportunities of innovation. 69% of design-led firms perceive the innovation process to be more efficient with design thinking. (Parsons New School)
  5. De-risking and saving money. Doing a design sprint can save half of the budget that would have been required in a normal workflow (AJ&Smart Agency)

After this list, you should now know why it's good to switch from unorganized meetings and open discussions, to workshops and co-creative sessions with your team.

Here I have gathered a couple of tips if you are planning a workshop by yourself:

  1. Don’t underestimate the preparation time: a good schedule, planned activities, and tools are crucial for your success.
  2. If you don’t have experience in organizing and conducting workshops, consider asking an expert to facilitate your session. Also make sure to involve decision-makers to define the final directions and steps.
  3. Ask the team before and after the session to tell you their expectations and give you feedback to improve. Plan small breaks in between sessions for this.
  4. Don’t forget to follow up with the next steps after a workshop.

Ideation, co-creation, and workshops from a research perspective.

Organizing creative sessions is more of a hobby for me. I like to use sessions to align together with colleagues, give everyone an opportunity to express themselves, and see how it fits in what everyone else is thinking. This happens most of the time on post-its together in one big overview.

Creative sessions as a research method

Using workshops for research is a different story (still great, don’t get me wrong). Co-creation is often discussed by different researchers, and it often comes back to the opportunity to trigger each other to think further. Take context mapping for example - a co-creative research method. First, synthesis material is handed out(think about booklets for a diary study for example). During the session, the participants are asked to create collages. Most of the time easy canvases are used, like a metric with two axes (future versus past, and liked versus disliked). Sessions are interesting for many purposes, from a specific product (usages of a toaster), context (breakfast with your family), to even exploring a  role (work as a Researcher). It all depends on the scope of the topic of course. The insights are not found in the collages or in the booklets, no it is all about what kind of conversations and discussion the work triggers within the group. In the end, the discussions offer the fruitful insights.

Validating research results

Workshops can also be used to validate a product or research results. Take for example a new app, and have users add post-its on every screen about what works and doesn’t work. Or ask them to think about when in the day they use it, what the purpose of that moment is, and what is going well / not so well. 

However, make sure to know your audience, sometimes people will just not be interested in touching a sticky note at all. In that case, you have to improvise: take post-its and a marker yourself, and write/draw/post-it down everything you hear. Why? Because you make the items explicit, create an overview, and create a trigger to continue the conversation and dive deeper.

Validate research results can be done by taking a journey, personas, and other insights generated from explorative research, and invite users to reflect on it. Hang the posters and ask to add post-its on what is right, what not, add dot stickers on priorities, etc. Again, the discussion is probably more valuable than the specific creations.

 Is a creative session always the answer?

That completely depends on your view on what a creative session is, but no, actually in my opinion not. Let me give a very brief overview of situations and focus points to reconsider.

  • Post-its? Only when there is a need to ‘reclusters’ the written outcomes, for example for  changing priorities or creating categories.
  • A whiteboard? Definitely not for generating specific content and going into details.
  • Brainstorm? Are there any introverts in the room, or very loud shouting extraverts? You probably need to adjust some things to give everyone an equal chance to speak their minds, be heard, and be taken seriously.
  • Only a win for you, and nothing ‘in it’ for any of your participants? Think again if this is also worth their effort - big chance that, until the benefit is there and clear for every participant, there are very little amount of post-its touched.
  • Is there no clear stakeholder buy-in? Then there is a high chance that the outcomes will have no follow-up. Prevent to just drag colleagues/users in a room to get on the same page, when actually the stakeholder is on another and has the final saying.

If you still need help or guidance, we are happy to help you in coaching, organizing, and facilitating workshops, design sprints, and co-creative sessions with your team or your users! Or just have an informal chat about sessions in general over a beer or coffee! Hit us up!

In the following you can read the answers of product and UX people who have conducted workshops, ideation or co-creative sessions in their companies:

The first Design Sprint at Car For You

“Increase trust in Car For You”. With this challenge and a +70-point list of possible improvements, we needed to start building the foundations of trust. We decided to run a 5-day, by-the-book Design Sprint, because we knew that it is an effective way to solve big and small challenges creatively within a limited time frame, validate them, and prepare for future work. Another reason to do a 5-day sprint is that it allows a first time-sprinter to become familiar with the process in detail at a more relaxed and moderate pace than in a 1- or 2-day intense session. During the 5 days, the team appreciated the collaboration and sharing between different disciplines, being involved early on in the ideation process, and the involvement of the management team, who provided valuable feedback. Thanks to the Design Sprint and the feedback of the decision-makers (CEO & CPO), we developed and planned out two new ideas that we validated in user tests as valuable for the user and a differentiating factor from our competitors.

Q: What was the problem?

A: We needed to pivot our product strategy and roadmap within a constrained amount of time and find ways to solve problems quickly for our new pillar structure (Transactions; Trust; Dealer Activity).

Q: Why did you decide to do a design-sprint?

A: It was hard to grapple with all the facets of a large and esoteric topic like “trust.” We decided that the design sprint methodology was the best way to do that in a collaborative and cross-functional way.

Q: What was the impact/value of the session?

A: We were able to identify and define 70 improvements that were directly related to “trust.” Following that, the team, which included Engineering, Sales, Business, Product and Marketing, prioritized and has already begun implementation of the most impactful changes.

Q: Would you do it again?

A: Yes, we have already started planning for the next session.

The team included: Lucas Cotta, Marta Andreoni, Benito Circone, Victor Sanjuan Abanades, Luka Krstev, and Luis Pena.

Olmero's Innovation Sprint

With the central question "how can we motivate contractors to become and remain part of the Olmero network?" Olmero launches a Design Sprint.

Q: What was/is the problem to solve in the session?

A: At Olmero we do an "Innovation Sprint" (as we call it) each quarter. We use the Design Thinking method and directly involve key customers to get direct user feedback. How we do it: day 1 vision and interviews; day 2 screen flows; day 3 and 4 clickable prototype; day 5 user testing. In the last Innovation Sprint, the central question was: How can we motivate contractors to become and remain part of the Olmero network?

As always the team was very diverse. We had people from almost all areas with us: from the customer service and sales team for contractors, of course, but also from the other service & sales teams, marketing, app development, product management, UX design, and engineering. What was special this time was, that due to Corona we could not do an onsite workshop: We had to do it completely remotely. We used the new tool Miro for completely digital collaboration.

That was very new for us but worked out surprisingly well. Some participants even preferred the remote setting, because they said they could take more out of it and enjoyed the collaboration with the miro board.

Q: Why did you decide to do the session?

A: We decided to do Innovation Sprints and involve people from different departments that usually do not have an active part in software development because we sometimes want to get an outside view on a specific topic. This leads to more creative outcomes. The last session we did, because we wanted to redesign our product for contractors to better use up- and cross-selling potentials. We wanted to do the session in order to get input for product design and direct feedback from our customers regarding our prototype.

Q: What was/is the impact/value of the session?

A: We created a prototype for the contractor module with ads built into the processes. We also showed this prototype to some of our key customers and got very valuable feedback and inputs from them. We are using those outputs now in our product development.

Q: Would you do it again? why (not)?

A: Yes certainly. We do at least one design sprint each quarter for upcoming topics in our product roadmap that still need some input, clarification, and creativity. We also like to get direct user feedback on our ideas. Also, our employees like the innovation sprints very much and the feedback we get internally and externally is very positive.

So no reason for not doing it! a workshop to prioritize a 6-months Research plan

With the UX Research team, the PUX team planned and prioritized research topics for the next 6 months… with many sticky notes and dot voting!

What was the Problem?

A: As usual, we had lots and lots of potential research topics on the table. We needed to decide where to best invest our resources for H1 2020.

Why did you decide to do workshop?

A: Bringing the whole team to the table ensures that we consider different perspectives and that nothing slips through the cracks. Even more so, it is quite beneficial for the buy in and motivation of the team. This is where the „IKEA-Effect”comes in handy: You value more what you’ve built yourself.

What was the impact/value of the session?

A: Within approximately 2 hours we collected all potential research projects, clustered them, prioritized them, estimated the necessary resources and put them on a timeline. Voila, we had our research plan for H1 and everyone was excited to get started with their first projects of the year.

Would you do it again? why (not)?

A: Absolutely. We have our planning workshop for Q4 coming up next week!

Homegate does a quarterly retro

On the theme of agile co-creative sessions designed for continuous improvement, the consumer team at Homegate runs a fun and creative quarterly retrospective session.
We’re actually planning an edition of continuous improvement of teams and the methods used by different companies soon  so stay tuned…

Q: What was/is the problem to solve in the session?

A: To share how the segment performed in the last quarter, to identify areas where we can improve and to discuss what we can do to follow up on the most pressing issues.

Q: Why did you decide to do the session and why quarterly?

A: It gives us a chance to learn and grow from our experiences as a team. As we work in a quarterly planning cadence, the consumer segment retro is run once every 3 months.

Q: What was/is the impact/value of the session?

A; It gives us a chance to have a look back at the last quarter, to celebrate what we achieved and share what went well. It also provides us with an opportunity to identify areas for improvement within the segment or across the business. During the retro, we break up in to smaller groups to discuss the most common themes and create action points to follow up on.

Q: Would you do it again? why (not)?

A: Absolutely, it helps to connect the segment and gives a chance for every individual or team to share their opinions in a safe space. We have a fun icebreaker at the beginning to lighten the mood and we always get great feedback on how we can continuously improve.

In the monthly Product and UX letter the PUX team shares insights about projects, interviews with product gurus and personal anecdotes inside and outside the TX group:

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