“ Workshop /ˈwəːkʃɒp/ - noun: a meeting at which a group of people engages in intensive discussion and activity on a particular subject or project. ”
~ Merriam-Webster Dictionary
|This article is a precious part of the hybris Project Patterns series.|
Large number of stakeholders, complex requirements, distributed teams and elaborated business setups – all factors that make one project a real endeavor full of desires, surprises and strategies.
How do you channel the interactions of the parties involved? How do you structure discussions with all individuals that have a vested interest in the project? What would be the best way to collaborate, create, innovate or produce?
This is where Workshops come to rescue.
Complex project setup, complicated requirements, distributed business teams, cultural differences – significant project factors, which obscure the communication, the flow of information and the process alignment.
Plan a series of Workshops to establish a medium for inspirations, collaboration and decision-making.
In the initial enthusiasm of the project, organization of work becomes a major drive for the overall delivery. Experienced Project Managers know that organizing their teams, channeling the discussions and enabling interactions are the right ingredients towards successful implementation.
In respect to collaboration, the most effective manner to convey information to and from the teams is the face-to-face conversations. Business and development need to work together, on a daily basis, to supply the information required when building the new application.
Rational behind Workshops
An old proverb teaches:
“ If I give you my apple and you give me yours, we would still have one apple each. But if I share with you my idea and you share yours, we would both have two ideas!”
A workshop is a form of a gathering, which enables people to brainstorm, to generate ideas or to clarify existing ones, regarding the project goals.
Use the Workshops to establish certain formality in your communication with the Business Client. The Workshops will be a place where you would understand their industry, establish a common vision and guide them towards a suitable solution.
It is the Workshops where you can build trust and confidence. Therefore, it becomes essential to utilize all aspects of the Workshop in order to form a constructive dialog with measurable outcomes.
To ensure higher effectiveness of the meetings, in few projects we defined also certain house rules about conducing the workshops. These were additional guidelines we wanted to institute in order to emphasize our goals and desire to stay on track - like the ones below:
Workshop strategy and planning
Information gathering and management needs structure in order to succeed. A good way to start is to plan your workshops. Here is a fail-safe technique to enable your workshops.
In collaboration with the team:
- Create a proposal how you foresee the overall information exchange process
- Identify major topics for discussion
- Recognize information sources – people or documents
- Identify profiles of people who need to participate
- Indicate time-frames
- Signify expected results and deliverables from each meeting
- Initiate a workshop plan
Finalize your efforts by drafting a Workshop plan, based on the items above.
Respecting the timeline of a project, one of the first workshops I conduct with the Client is a Project Kick Off – for consolidating our understanding of the current project. So, together, we:
During the Kick Off meeting we would usually present the Workshop approach. We explain that the initial Workshop strategy will evolve into a reliable Workshop plan, once accepted by all parties.
As with all forecasting activities – what matters is not the plans, but the continuous planning. Hence, after the opening proposal, we would still adapt the Workshop plan and improve it to achieve the final goal – collaboration and clarification.
Here is an example of an early Workshops planning for a common e-Commerce project with corresponding topics:
Before, During and After
Preparation of the workshops is as important as the expected outcome of them. Having a plan is merely a part of the success. Unprepared and misguided discussions can frustrate participants and turn your workshop into a work-shock.
Therefore, to optimize the results of your Workshops, define a list of achievements to be accomplished before, during and after the workshops. The goal is to enable a modus of “working-together”, so tackle that goal by identifying activities, responsibilities and deliverables for each phase.
Now that we have seen what is to be done before, during and after the workshop, let us zoom into the Workshop happening itself.
Provided that every workshop is a meeting between people, it commonly has the following elements:
- Agenda, with clear goals
- Participants, who have interest in achieving the goals
- Date, Time and Duration
- Context, in which the goals could be achieved i.e. "End-user shopping experience"
- Input, which is required to commence the workshop i.e. research, documents, opinions, decision, etc.
- Discussions, which help to take decisions and achieve the goals of the meeting
- Deliverables, matching the goals, such as documents, decisions, agreements, etc.
- Next steps, to define continuation
If properly guided, the Workshops unlock rapid progress in projects and unite people, nurturing high levels of confidence and comprehension.
The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas.
Workshops enable brainstorming and inspirations. In our hybris project, one agenda point became a permanent element to the Workshops – the Demo. When discussing a particular topic, initiating the meeting with a demonstration of the supported, by hybris features, serves as an expectation catalyst.
The demo allows business people to understand the capabilities of the platform and envision the realization of their requirements. Frequently, business processes shown during the demo inspire the Client to re-consider their current working approach and align it with the best practices offered by the hybris suite.
Very often the Demo has the “Wow” effect, because it makes the future solution close and tangible.
Here is an example of our theme-oriented Workshops:
Workshops do not always need to be formal. They could also be in the form of spontaneous face-to-face events where people discuss work in progress.
The point is to get into the habit of preparing, performing and following up each discussion with your team or with the Business Client. This brings essential quality in your work.
Workshop is at the Centre
Workshop is a central pattern for all future activities because it facilitates communication, inspires and motivates. It provides a structure of a working process and leverages transparency. All other patterns would rely on Workshops to organize their aspects and operational habits.
The Workshop is your rudimentary planning element - fundamental project activities and plans would depend on it.
Particularly applicable when having a multi-cultural aspect in your organization, use the workshops to streamline the communication and empower the trust between the teams.