Every project needs a plan, and our plan begins with a startup workshop. What’s that? Some may call it just a very long meeting with everyone involved. But even if this could sound boring, don’t even think you can skip it. On smaller projects, a workshop may take up to an hour. On bigger ones, even the first session will last for at least two hours, and you’re definitely going to have a bunch of follow-up calls and questions. But every minute spent on this workshop will save your company time and money on further design and development, so this is totally justified.
Starting a new project is like finding a new amazing book, movie, or TV series — everything is so exciting, and you can’t wait to see what lies ahead. A lot of discoveries are in store, some of them pleasant, some of them not so much. But in any case, you’re going to have a good time, that’s for sure.
For us at Halo Lab, every new project is a thrilling adventure, and the best thing about IT is that, just like snowflakes, there are no two projects alike. However, they all have something in common, which is the process that each project goes through from start to finish. This is exactly where workshops come in.
What do we talk about during these workshops, you may ask? Everything, from the company’s vision and business goals to user personas and screens they are going to see on every step of their journey. Who do we talk with? Everyone, from the company’s CEO (if they are available) to department heads and end users.
It’s a comprehensive and essential process, and we have much to cover, so let’s get to it.
Stage I: Preparation
In many ways, the preparatory stage of a project workshop is where the magic happens — or, rather, where the foundation for success is laid. Here, we need to identify the stakeholders and all the main points, as well as what can be considered a success of the workshop. We usually ask a lot of questions and try to get a better insight into the project itself, its goals, and success metrics. It is perhaps one of the most important stages of this whole process.
The workshop’s goals in project initiation
The workshop is the formal start of an iteration of a project. The purpose is to align on common goals and other organizational issues. At the initiation stage, there are usually a lot of grey areas that we need to shed light on. That’s why we try to gather as much information as possible and pay close attention to the things that really matter — your project goals, pains, and gains, some concrete metrics that will allow us to achieve tangible results. This phase is meant to align our vision with yours and make sure we miss nothing important at the early stages.
Below is a list of things we keep in mind during this stage (naturally, it isn’t exhaustive and is tailored for each project). We need to:
- Find out about the client’s business goals. When working on a project, we try to put ourselves in the shoes of our users, but we still need to keep the goals of our client’s business in mind at each stage of the project.
- Define the success metrics. How will we know if a project is successful or not? We need to come up with several metrics that will help us understand the main working directions and assess the results in the end.
- Find out about the pain points of a business and its users. We ask the business representatives about the things that bother them and act as an incentive for the project. Also, we try to find out whether our stakeholders have a strong understanding of the users’ pain points or are relatively disconnected from them.
- Identify any possible pitfalls with the help of our clients. Usually, our clients have a deeper knowledge of the sphere they work in, so we can use their expertise to prepare ourselves for some unexpected problems and nuances.
- Get people on the same page and earn everyone’s trust. We’re going to spend a lot of time together, so a proper meet and greet session is in order.
- Obtain as much information as possible. You can never have too much data, so we try to speak to everyone involved because every opinion matters, and every person can bring something new and valuable to the table.
This workshop is an adherent part of research, design, and development, so we need to hold it in the early stage of the project. However, some information is required before we can proceed, so we don’t rush things too much. What else do we need before the session? Usually, we make sure our client provides all the available project documentation — sometimes, it may include dozens of pages, so our team definitely needs some time to wrap their heads around everything. From our side, we provide the client with tailored questions based on the project’s context and the information that we already have so they can prepare their answers in advance.
We also create and send a meeting schedule to all participants. This step is crucial to ensure that everyone knows what to expect during the meeting, including the questions we will ask and the goals we hope to achieve. By laying out the agenda in advance, we help ensure that everyone comes to the meeting fully prepared and ready to contribute.
You probably wonder who will need to attend this session on your side and which members of our team will be present in order to provide their expert opinion. The list of participants is more or less fixed. We try to involve all decision-makers and primary stakeholders from the client’s side and appoint people responsible for different stages of the project from ours. In rare cases, we have a chance to invite end users as well. So, to sum it up, the workshop participants include:
- Our product team, with experts from design, development, and project management departments.
- Project stakeholders, with at least one person representing each “stakeholder type”. These are our clients, people who are to supply us with product’s requirements.
- End users, if a client has an already working version of the product. If so, make sure to invite several end users to the workshop because they will provide the best feedback available. If there is no previous version, consider reaching out to users of similar competitor products and inviting them to participate.
How will we determine the success of the future workshop and avoid wasting precious time? We have certain criteria that help us understand this — in fact, similar criteria for the whole project were mentioned above. We form this list before the call and always keep it in mind during the meeting so that nothing is left out and we spend our time efficiently. Here’s what we generally need for our workshop to be considered a success:
- To get answers to all or most (70–80%) of our questions;
- To determine the success criteria for the product itself;
- To identify all of the risks that the team and our stakeholders are aware of;
- To formalize the business’s needs;
- To create a list of all user personas for the product and consider their pain points;
- To pay enough attention to everyone who wants to share their insights with us.
Stage II: Workshop
Now that we have completed the preparation stage and gathered all the preliminary information, it’s time to move on to the actual workshop. Here, we will use an interview guide for the stakeholders with the questions that we prepared during the previous phase.
One of the main session outcomes is to understand the core components of the product. These will be the things we’ll want to convey most strongly in the design, making it the basis for our MVP. Feature priority will also help us perform any project scoping or phasing we may need to do.
It’s always useful to talk about the development processes and possible technical restrictions, so we will try to address this too. We may also ask the stakeholders about possible risks, marketing campaigns, the team that will work on the project from the client’s side, active competitors, and dozens of other things that can be useful for the design and development.
After the workshop, several deliverables will be made available for the stakeholders and the team. They will further be used to come up with a detailed list of tasks and will make it easier for everyone to kick-start the work. But before all that, we need to formally greet each other.
Workshop start and introductions
Okay, so the actual workshop is about to begin. Once everyone’s there, we will take a few minutes to get acquainted with the stakeholders better and introduce ourselves. As Aristotle said, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, but we need to get to know these “parts”, or should I rather say counterparts, from the start. The value of every project depends on the skills and expertise of every person working on it, so it’s nice to familiarize oneself with the parties involved.
This process is quite straightforward:
- Everybody introduces themselves to the group; and
- We review the agenda of the meeting.
Essential business questions
The workshop is in full swing now, and we will have a lot of questions to make sure everyone is on the same page regarding the project’s vision and direction. We ask the stakeholders to tell the team about the business and its strategy. It is imperative to understand how businesses plan to make money, what are the specifics of their industry, what are the limitations and risks that can lead to failure, and so on.
Questions we usually ask are as follows:
- What are your business goals?
- Can you explain your business model in detail?
- What will success look like for the project?
- How will we measure it to make sure the project is successful and has reached its goals?
- What challenges and constraints the project team may face?
Naturally, there could be other questions; it all depends on the project’s context.
Once we’re all on the same page, we will focus on establishing the audience. Who will be using the product, and what motivates them? Our designers and developers need to understand the behavior patterns of the end users, and for this, they need to know everything about the target audience.
For most website & app projects, we usually end up with up to four different user personas. Again, the number always depends on the nature of your product and how complicated it is. If you have more than six types, however, you probably need to do a bit of consolidation.
Here’s a taste of questions we might ask:
- Who do you think your users are?
- What problems are you trying to solve?
- Are users facing the same problems?
- What impact do you want to have on your users?
The questions asked during this stage will help us gather the necessary information to create detailed user personas, which will guide the entire development process.
User story mapping
Sometimes, the product owners may get so caught up in their own heads that they don’t take a step back to look at the bigger picture. When that happens, they might have their priorities mixed up. The User Journey Map is a great tool to highlight that sort of misalignment. If that happens, and we realize that the primary user’s pain point is not aligned with what we are planning to design, we will discuss it and adapt the assignment accordingly.
Below you can see an example of a user map. Of course, we don’t usually have enough time to build a proper map during the same meeting, but we try to form the backbone that will include the most important functionality for each user type. After this is done, it’s easier to discuss the structure of the MVP, as everyone will see the steps the users need to undertake to properly use the product. Additionally, with an understanding of the user personas, the stakeholders can prioritize features according to the MoSCoW model (must-have, should-have, could-have, and would-have).
Prioritizing tasks and features
Should we realize during the workshop that the resources are limited, we can reduce the project scope and prioritize the tasks and the features our team is supposed to work on. In that case, we will pick the main problem to focus on and put everything else on hold. We will aim to form a vision for an MVP, which is often used to save time and resources.
The process can include the following steps:
- Reviewing the User Journey Map and identifying the main pain points;
- Defining the final problem statement;
- Establishing an approximate scope for the MVP and future releases.
Workshop wrap-up and next steps
Once at this stage, you can congratulate yourself on making it through the workshop. Keep in mind that even though some stakeholders are busy and seem reluctant to attend such meetings, in the end, they all agree that this was useful and helped everyone get a better insight into the project.
During this closing stage of our workshop, we will:
- Agree on the next steps and plan accordingly;
- Mention the outcomes and deliverables of this session, so the participants know they will get tangible results from the meeting;
- Thank everyone for their time, and ask for their feedback on the session.
Stage III: Follow-up
In this final stage, we will ensure that the agreements made during the workshop are properly executed. This is where the rubber meets the road, and the results of the workshop become tangible.
All that remains to conclude the workshop is to summarize the key takeaways in a follow-up letter to the stakeholders. This will include an overview of everything that was discussed, agreed upon, and promised and any necessary actions to be taken by the stakeholders. After the workshop, our interactions will become more focused on smaller parts of the project, giving the team a much-needed break before diving into the next phase.
At the end of this workshop, we can expect to have achieved the following deliverables:
- A comprehensive list of key concerns and major open issues;
- User flows that have been mapped out;
- A rough site/product map;
- A high-level work breakdown structure (WBS) for the MVP; and
- An action plan outlining the next steps for the team and stakeholders.
This list is a perfect example of the deliverables that we can get from this workshop. Surely, some of these increments can’t be finished after only one meeting, but that’s where the groundwork starts. Rest assured that we’ll have plenty of meetings, emails, and Slack messages ahead of us.
When there are significant changes in scope or environment, it’s important to take a step back, reevaluate everything, and ensure we are still aligned with our goals. So it may be helpful to have additional meetings:
- If we need to add new major functionality;
- If we get a lot of change requests, which usually signifies the lack of a common and more or less finalized vision of the final product; or
- When a new competitor that meets some or all of our users’ needs enters the market.
We hope that now you have a better understanding of the process that we stick to during the initiation phase of the project. This workshop is a part of our complex approach that is aimed at gathering the required information, aligning with the customer’s goals, identifying any pains and gains related to the project, and planning some further steps based on an informed decision-making process.
Thank you for staying with us until the very end! At Halo Lab, we go above and beyond for every client, treating their ideas like our own — we worry about them, we try to make them better, and we do everything we can for them to succeed. Our team aims to make every project a win-win situation — we can use our extensive expertise in the fields of design, development, and product management to achieve the best possible results. Excited to see where this road will take you and us? Feel free to email us at email@example.com to find out more!