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  • BD #23 - Art of the Possible Workshop - Part 2

BD #23 - Art of the Possible Workshop - Part 2

A workshop that'll change the way you collaborate with end-users.

This week we will continue our walkthrough of the best tool I’ve developed for driving end-user engagement and codesigning solutions with business users. If you missed it, the Art of the Possible Workshop was introduced here.

To recap, this workshop is designed to take a group of stakeholders from any area of the business, arm them with ideas about what data and analytics can achieve, and then get them to agree on a list of opportunities for further investigation.

Where we left off

The previous article finished just after we’d presented some relevant case studies to get the group thinking about what data and analytics could do for them.

BTW I got a great response from a reader regarding good sources of use cases for larger organisations:

Check out what other internal groups are doing to spark interest

There’s plenty more to do - the remainder of this workshop gets the attendees collaborating, prioritising, and loosely committing to a list of potential projects. The sections are as follows.

  • Opportunity discovery

  • Discussion

  • Themes

  • Ideation

  • Prioritisation

  • Commitment

Opportunity discovery - 30 minutes

Now that folks have seen what’s possible in similar spaces, it’s time to start getting thoughts together. At this stage, we want to keep things problem-focused. Tell the attendees there’s plenty of time to solutionise later.

Give everyone some post-it notes and markers (avoid permanent ones as you’ll inevitably get someone writing on the whiteboard with it at some point). Ask them to write down as many issues, risks, and opportunities as possible.

It can be difficult for some people to frame great ideas as challenges and not jump straight to the solution (especially if they’re techies). Introduce them to “How Might We” statements - a great tool to ideate the right way.

Encourage free open thought here - nothing is off limits, and there are no bad ideas. Quantity and breadth is the goal at this stage.

If people start grouping their thoughts and expanding on others, then great. Let whatever comes naturally to the group happen.

Now, you can do this stage asynchronously with a bigger group that can’t make the meeting. Just send out some leading questions in something like Forms and collate them before the event. If you’re doing this, I will seed the whiteboard (either digital or physical) with as many of the summarised form responses as makes sense. If the team has already done this, I’d shorten this part of the live workshop to 10-15 minutes and introduce it as a “Warm Up” to get them used to the tools (essential if you’re using a digital whiteboard).

Start moving similar post-its into clumps and keep notes on what the group focuses on.

Discussion - 45 minutes

Don’t be too worried about this section bleeding into the first. This will happen naturally. In this stage, start by going through the items on the board and getting the group to talk openly about them.

We’ll want to get some loose categorisation going. I like to draw three horizontal lines on the board, creating the following sections:

  • Affects one role - capture the challenges that are only specific to a particular role here

  • Affects the team - things that are specific to one team or function

  • Affects the broader company - challenges that cut across teams

  • Strategic enabler or blocker - large items that could affect the whole company enabling or blocking significant projects

Don’t worry too much about this; it’s a guide for later prioritisation. The value is in getting the team to discuss their challenges openly. Have them refine, update, or remove post-its as they see fit. We are honing in on consensus.

Themes - 30 minutes

Now we want to take a step back. At this point, you should have plenty of challenges, hopefully, some loose groupings of post-its, and breadth categorisation. This section aims to surface any themes that may tie challenges together.

The objective is to create a hierarchy of concerns that tie to how you plan and manage work. I’m a big fan of the Theme > Epic > User Story > Task breakdown - although I rarely use SCRUM, this is a great model for breaking up work items.

Most post-its so far translate roughly to the User Story level (with some cross-over into the others). This section of the workshop aims to get some Epics and Themes out of the group, allowing us to better prioritise and communicate activities.

To actually do this, I would get a larger size of post-it notes, like these, use them like column headings, and then move all the related post-its underneath them.

Ideation - 45 minutes

Now we’re at the point of talking about solutions. Work through your groups of challenges and capture some of the attendee’s thoughts about how they might be solved.

The objective shouldn’t be to think of the most complex, fanciest ML solution for every challenge. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Schedule a break before this section and line up the post-its so far into a column to the left of the whiteboard. Then draw two lines and add these three headers to the new columns:

  • Manual solution by the team

  • Off-the-shelf solution or service

  • Bespoke solution

This will encourage the team to think of ways to solve their challenges using unscalable manual solutions, existing products and services, or new approaches that haven’t yet been developed. You don’t want to reinvent the wheel or build fancy data products that solve a problem some off-the-shelf product can do for little effort.

Let this stage be collaborative and open - don’t let budgets, skills, reality, or common sense get in the way. The next stage will filter out what’s most important.

Prioritisation - 45 minutes

The final (and often most fun) part of the workshop. If you haven’t used dot voting, read this and buy some of these. Most online whiteboard tools have this as a built-in feature, or you can just use shapes and overlay them onto your post-its if needed.

We’ll do this in two stages.

First, give everyone X number of votes. X doesn’t matter too much; 3-5 usually works best. You want votes to be scarce and important to people.

Then allow the users to add their precious dots to any challenge post-it in the leftmost column they wish. They can add them all to the same one or spread them out; it doesn’t matter. They can vote on their own notes or other people’s. Anything is game.

All votes are equal, and the number of votes will determine priority when we start planning development.

Once that’s done, feel free to discuss the outcomes and which items were voted for the most.

Then repeat the process for the solutions the team created.

Once all is done, take some time to discuss things and write down the top five from each side of the board in order of priority. Don’t move things about at this stage; we’ll need to capture everything into some documentation later - at that point, you can create nice-looking lists etc.

Commitment - 30 minutes

Thank everyone, and discuss why you’ve done everything so far.

Then go around the room and ask for feedback.

Finally, capture actions on how to proceed. As a development team, it’s your responsibility to turn the post-it frenzy into a backlog. The current prioritisation is important but not final. Use it to inform the sponsor and allow them to sequence things properly.

Ensure you put in an action to replay the findings to the group and set up your cadence of meetings to progress these ideas into solutions - however that may be for your organisation.

Congratulations, you’ve empowered a team to codesign a prioritised list of challenges and potential solutions that should easily translate into a work management system. Now get building

One final note

If this sounds like it would be valuable to you, but you’re not confident you could run the workshop, well, it’d be remiss of me not to say I know a consultancy that might be able to help 😉. If you'd like to chat about me and my team running this for you, please grab me at the email below.

All the best,

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