How to adjust the workshop to customers’ needs, i.e. the Lean Workshop

How many times have you, as trainers, heard from the group “It was fun, but that was not what I was after”. I assume, at least once. So how to adapt the workshops to the needs of the participants? Lean is here to help.

First of all, you should ask yourself which projects/issues you are training on. If these are simple topics – predictable and easy to agree (e.g. training on the basics of using WordPress), then you can assume in advance what should happen during the workshops. Similarly, if it is a workshop on general knowledge (e.g. the basics of economics). However, if you are creating workshops on complex or difficult topics – such as product or facilitation workshops – where the requirements are high and the subject matter unpredictable, then you should be able to continuously assess the needs of the participants during the workshop.

Image based on: Strategic Management and Organizational Dynamics by Ralph Stacey in Agile Software Development with Scrum by Ken Schwaber and Mike Beedle.

Investigate the needs

The overriding principle of the lean approach is to provide the customer with products/services of value in the simplest and quickest way possible. So we should ask ourselves how to make the workshop as simple as possible to respond to the needs of the participants. Often, however, we do not have the opportunity to do tests before the workshop. It may also happen that the needs examined change during the workshops anyway. So how to do it effectively?

  • Before the workshop, prepare a set of initial tools and exercises that can be used at work during the workshop. But don’t get attached to them. Of course, the more tools you know, understand and apply, the better – in complex projects you are not able to predict which of them will turn out to be useful in the workshop.
  • Investigate needs before and during the workshop and constantly improve your knowledge of them. Ask questions and explore the subject. Gather expectations and problems. The more you immerse yourself in the world of participants’ needs, the better and easier it will be for you to answer them.
  • Do not set up rigid scenarios and workshop paths. Workshops based on complex and difficult topics are characterised by a high degree of unpredictability. Ready-made plans usually do not work. But that doesn’t mean you might be unprepared – preparation is essential, so focus on knowing the methods and tools you will use in the workshop, not on putting them into one scenario.
  • Experiment. The more aspects are tested during the session, the greater the cognitive value for the participants. Don’t hypothetise, don’t assume, focus on current problems and needs.

In simple terms, organise a workshop in which you will provide value to the participant in the easiest way by responding to their needs and using your know-how and knowledge of the workshop tools, rather than implementing a predetermined scenario.

Lean Workshop – a case study

A month ago I had the opportunity to co-organize a workshop for a group of initiators of a new idea for a system for the hotel industry. The team came to us with a need, which at the beginning was “We have a product, we do not know what to do with it next. Does that make any sense at all? Help us.” Knowing that the product belongs to a complex group with difficult requirements and fast changing technology, we decided to use the Lean Workshop method.

Where did we start?

When we entered the workshop we had prepared Lean Canvas as a basic tool, which often works well with ideas at their early stage.

However, instead of going straight to the tool – we asked a few questions about the project’s genesis, how the team defined the problem they solve and the target group to which they direct their product. We quickly felt that the team was having trouble identifying its target group and matching the product to the market. So instead of using canvas and working on e.g. cost structure or business model elements, we started with the simplest tools that helped us define our target group hypotheses and plan how we can quickly validate them.

I’m sure you know the rule – if something’s for everyone, it’s useless. That’s why we started with a simple question: Who should use your product and why. Of course, it turned out that not all hoteliers will be interested in introducing a modern product to their facilities. There are two main entry barriers in terms of costs and the degree of sophistication of the new technology. If someone does not use modern solutions and sees no value in them, they will not pay for them. The group of our customers has therefore narrowed itself down only to those who in their business rely on new technology – innovators.

You know Rogers’ curve? During the workshop, we jointly put forward a hypothesis that a product with a moderately innovative character will first of all meet with the interest of a group of recipients at the meeting point of innovators and early adopters.

This was the starting point for the development of the so-called proto-person, i.e. the initial person of the “innovative hotelier”, which will later be used for user research (UX research).

A sheet of paper went to the table, and markers went into the hands. We started to create a map of associations and features that represent such a person. This way we knew whom we were looking for and where we could find them. There were two leads – hotel websites and hotel groups on Facebook. Three founders, not much time, but a lot of work, so we decided to divide the tasks.

  1. One person created a database of contacts to hoteliers looking for them on websites. The key was any innovation in the hotel (e.g. capsule hotels, blockchain). Additionally, we checked the rankings of the most hipster and innovative hotels and searched for a database of hotels using cryptocurrencies.
  2. The second founder prepared a list of Facebook groups of hoteliers and published questions about the technological innovations used in their hotels to find potential users with whom to conduct research.
  3. The third person had already created with our help a script for an interview for UX research.

Having a list of potential users who corresponded to our proto-personnel, we contacted the first of them. One of the participants of the workshop made a phone call and it turned out that it was a bull’s eye! Thus, the first interview within the UX research was arranged (the principle of going out of the building fulfilled!).

We did all this in just four hours. The three-person team, which came with a great unknown, came out with established proto-personnel and research scenario, which will allow for the validation of their hypotheses concerning the persona and target group, as well as a list of potential recipients. Additionally, the first interview with the potential user and the action plan (CTA) were arranged.

How does one of the participants evaluate the workshop?

I think that in these 4 hours we managed to find a way to solve our most important problem (winning the first customer) and determine the next steps. Now it’s time to act 🙂

The workshop, however, would certainly not be a success if we wanted to organize it according to a predefined scheme and using tools that are not tailored to the needs of the team. There are no good or bad tools, all of them are useful if we use them well. This will be the case when they help to solve problems and meet needs. Operating on a living organism, on a real problem of the workshop participants allows solving problems and teaching in practice, that is… very effective!

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Katarzyna Golonka
In business for five years, during which she managed a team of over a dozen people, created cycles of business events, co-created and managed the company. Currently, she specializes in Content Marketing and Personal Branding.

She helps companies to find their own "I" in business and to communicate it externally (marketing & business strategy).

Involved in numerous social activities. She is a certified Business Coach. She conducts workshops on the overlap of strategy & marketing. Author of texts for industry portals, including New Marketing, Marketing in Practice, E-commerce & Digital Marketing.

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