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’s not what I meant.” I assume that at least once. So how do you adjust the workshops to the needs of participants? Lean is coming to your rescue.

In the first instance, you should consider what projects/ issues your training is about. If they are simple issues – predictable and easy to agree (for example, training in WordPress basics), then you can assume in advance what should happen during the workshops. Similarly, if this is a workshop on general knowledge (e.g. basics of economics). However, if you create a workshop in complex or complicated topics -such as product or facilitating workshops – which have high requirements and the theme is unpredictable, then during the workshop you should monitor the needs of the participants up to date.

Graphics on the basis of: Strategic Management and Organizational Dynamics by Ralph Stacey in Agile Software Development with Scrum by Ken Schwaber and Mike Beedle.

Examine the needs

An overarching principle of lean approach is to provide customers with products/services of value in the easiest and fastest way. So we need to ask ourselves, how to create a workshop so it fits the needs of the participants in the easiest way. Often, however, we have no way of doing the research prior to the workshop. It may also be the case that the examined needs will change during the course of the workshop anyway. So how can we do this effectively?

  • Before the workshop, prepare a set of initial tools and exercises that can be used at work during the workshop. However, do not get used to them. Of course the more tools you know, understand and are able to apply, the better – in complex projects most often you are not able to predict which of them will prove to be useful in the workshop.
  • Examine the needs before and during the workshops, and constantly deepen your knowledge about them. Ask questions, and explore the issue. Gather expectations and problems. The more you delve into the world of participants’ needs, the better and the easier it will be to answer them.
  • Do not lay down rigid scenarios and paths for the workshop. Workshops based on complex and complicated topics are characterized by a high degree of unpredictability. Ready-made plans are not likely to work. However, this does not mean that you can be unprepared – preparation is the key, focus on knowledge of methods and tools that you will use for the workshop, instead of arranging them in one scenario.
  • Experiment. The more aspects will be tested during the workshop, the greater cognitive value for participants. Do not hypothesize, do not assume, lean on current problems and needs.

In simple terms – organize a workshop which will allow you to provide the value to a participant in the simplest way responding to their needs and using your knowledge and familiarity with workshop tools, rather than following an established scenario.

Lean Workshop-a case study

A month ago, I had the opportunity to co-organise a workshop for a group of initiators of a new idea for the hospitality industry. The team came to us with the need which initially was “We have a product, we do not know what to do with it next. Does it make sense at all? Help”. Knowing that the product is a complex one with requirements that are difficult to agree and with rapidly changing technology, we decided to apply the Lean Workshop method.

What did we start with?

To start the workshop, we had Lean Canvas prepared as a base tool which often worked for ideas on their early stage.

However, instead of moving on to the tool straight away – we asked some questions about the genesis of the project, how the team has defined the problem that it wants to resolve and the target group which it directs its product to. Very quickly we felt that the team was having problems with identifying their target audience and fitting the product to the market. So instead of using canvas and for example working through the cost structure or elements of a business model, we started with the simplest of tools that helped us define our hypotheses about the target group and plan how we can easily validate them.

Surely, you know the principle – if something is for all, then it serves no one. Therefore, we started with a simple question: Who will benefit from our product, and why they should do it. Of course, it turned out that not all hotel owners will be interested in the introduction of modern product to their facilities. There are in fact two major barriers to entry concerning the cost and the level of advancement of the new technology. If someone does not use modern solutions and cannot see the value in them – they would not pay for them. Thus, we have narrowed our target group down only to those who rely on a new technology in their business – innovators.

Do you know the Rogers group? In the course of the workshop, we hypothesized that a product with a moderately innovative capacity will first raise the interest of the audience on the border between innovators and early adopters.

This was the starting point for the development of the so-called proto-persona, i.e. the “innovative hotel owner” which later will be used to research the users (UX research).

A piece of paper was laid down on the table and markers were grabbed. We started to create an associations and characteristics map that will represent the persona. Thanks to this we knew who we were looking for and where we could find them. There were two clues – hotels websites and hoteliers groups on Facebook. Three founders, little time and a lot of work, which is why we divided the tasks.

  1. One person was appointed to create a database of contacts for hoteliers looking through their websites. The key was any innovation applied in the hotel (e.g. capsule hotels, blockchain). In addition, we checked the rankings of the most hip and innovative hotels and we searched a database of hotels using cryptocurrencies.
  2. The second founder compiled a list of groups on Facebook involving hoteliers and published there questions about technological innovations used in their hotels, to find potential users with whom it would be possible to carry out the tests.
  3. The third person, with our help, already created a scenario of an interview for UX research.

With a list of potential users who answered to our proto-person, we contacted the first one. One of the participants in the workshop made a phone call and found out that it was a bull’s eye! This way, we had the first interview within the UX research arranged (principle of going out of the building was satisfied!).

And we did it all in just four hours. The three-member team that came with a great unknown, came out with determined proto-persons and research scenario which will allow to validate their hypotheses about the persona and audience, as well as a list of potential recipients. In addition, they were appointed for the first interview with a potential user and plan of action (CTA).

And how has one of the participants assessed the workshop?

I think that during the 4 hours we were able to find a way to solve our most important problem (gain the first customer) and determine the next steps. Now all they need to do is act 🙂

The workshop, however, certainly would not have ended successfully, if we wanted to organize it according to a an earlier arranged plan using tools mismatched to the needs of the team. There are no good and bad tools, they are all useful, if only we use them well. And it will be so when they will help to solve problems and meet the needs. Operating on a living body, on a real issue of workshop participants allows to solve problems and teach in practice, that is … very effective!

If you are interested in other case studies of our workshops, or you’re interested in how we conduct consultations based on the lean value, please write to me: kate@projectpeople.pl

Sounds interesting?

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Katarzyna Golonka
Swoje doświadczenie w dziedzinie biznesu i marketingu budowałam na stanowiskach koordynatorskich i zarządczych. W biznesie jestem od czterech lat, podczas których zarządzałam kilkunastoosobowym zespołem, kreowałam cykle wydarzeń biznesowych, współtworzyłam firmę i nią kierowałam. Jestem zaangażowana w liczne działania społecznościowe. W biznesie promuję humanistyczne podejście, które realizuję w różnych obszarach, również w obszarze technologii.

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