How workshops change big things

How workshops change big things

Workshops play a very big role in my job as a web project manager. If you're wondering what exactly the goals of a workshop are. Or how workshops work in the first place, then read on with excitement and learn new things. I will cover a lot about preparation, execution, with possible methods and also the importance of a follow up.

First, I'll devote myself to the most important core topic. At least that's what it is for me. The preparation phase. From the Greek alphabet comes the proverb "A and O". A for Alpha, the first letter and O for Omega, the last letter. And what is this "A and O" at workshops? In my opinion, it is precisely this preparation.

What are the goals of a workshop?

First, I always ask myself what are my specific goals that I want to have achieved after the workshop. The goals are always different. Am I meeting a customer for the first, second or max. third time? Then my goal is to get as big and at the same time detailed a picture of the customer as possible. To capture how the company's vision is described and to find out how we can support them in achieving it. Am I meeting a customer - who I've known for a while - for a specific product? Then my goals are very different. I want to understand where the pain points* are so I can figure out how we can eliminate them. And I also want to know what exactly the customer needs from our offer and how it should be designed.

In addition, of course, I also take note of what the customer's goals are. I accept these or ask before the workshop.

*A pain point is something that doesn't work great and therefore disappoints. Example: A catalog production takes a long time because all the data has to be entered manually because the data cannot be exported from the existing product information system (PIM).

What do I do with the goals?

After defining the goals, the next organizational step can begin. Because I now know what questions are in the room. So I just have to think about how to answer them. But before I can start with the selection of methods, I need some further details.

Here are a few open points that need to be clarified:

  • Who all will be attending the workshop?
    Knowing how many people will be there and from what fields of activity will help in choosing methods, language, and group sizes for group exercises.
  • Where will the workshop be held?
    The location and room inventory are very important. Because everything I need must be on site at the workshop. In a room without a projector, a presentation won't do much good. In a company without small rooms to withdraw to, group exercises don't bring much.
  • What material is available on site?
    If there are no flip charts, I plan to work without them. If there's no adapter for the laptop, I write my own on the packing list.

Now I have the objectives and also basic information about the implementation. Everything is ready to start with the methodology selection.

How does a workshop work?

This is probably a question that interests many. Unfortunately, I can't give you a definite answer. But I'm trying! My recipe for the most exciting and successful workshops possible is method diversity. Of course not according to the motto: "more is more". But I am convinced that the "appropriate" choice of methodology positively influences participation, excitement and output. Relevant for the decision are group size, rooms, material, goals and also the existing customer relationship. Here are a few examples from past client meetings:

  • Tonality Exercise: 
    A list of opposing terms. Each person is then asked to put a sticky dot on the graph between the two terms to show where the company positions itself. At the end, try to put a large dot in one place. If this is not possible, several dots can be left in place, since in some cases the meaning of the terms is not entirely clear.
Tonalitätsübung für Workshop. Mit unterschiedlichen Punkten gegenüberliegend: Bsp. rational vs. emotional | © w-vision AG
© w-vision AG
  • World Coffee: 
    Define a certain number of topics. These topics then each form a small group. Each small group sits down at a table / in a separate room at the beginning and discusses the topic. Inputs are placed on a poster or other resource. Then all small groups move to the next topic. Until all groups have been on each topic. For each topic, there is one person who plays facilitator and stays at the table through all rounds. Finally, the facilitators recite in a summary all that was discussed at the table.
  • Dividing:
    The process of dividing into different levels. Example of defining a feature set would be, "Now-Wow-How", "let's do - convince us - let's not" or even "Phase 1 | Phase 2 etc.". For this method, it is important to clearly define the terms so that clustering is easier.
  • Evaluation:
    Judging by various factors using jury forms, jass cards, etc. Each person is given jass cards, a small wall chart or jury cards. This is to evaluate presented content so that a direction can be determined or the customer's tastes and needs can be better identified.
Jury-Karte für Workshop. Zum Bewerten von einzelnen Punkten. | © w-vision AG
© w-vision AG


  • Cooperation:
    A balloon and a waterproof pen are passed around the circle. These two things are now passed around the circle. Everyone is allowed to write something on it (e.g. their vision, goal, feedback, etc.) and briefly explain to the group what they wrote down and why. This can be used, for example, to work out a project vision, set goals, or get feedback on a product, workshop.
  • Word Cloud:
    For this, the online tool Mentimeter is particularly suitable for getting into the mood of a topic (collecting terms) or for inspiration, feedback, topic collection, etc.
  • Space distribution:
    Every corner in the room has a meaning. For example, in goal review exceeded, met, so la la, not met.

I could list many more. But there are also many more methods on the net. Important; Not every method is suitable for everything!

As soon as I have all goals, clarifications and methods together, I adapt the presentation. This contains the detailed slides, but also the procedure, the rules, etc. In the last step, I provide the customer with the process information. If necessary, I give the customer a small preparation order at the same time.

Although the sequence and the order also start with A, the Greek alphabet does not only have an A and an O. Workshops do not have an A and an O either. Nor do workshops. There is, for example, the D for delta or execution. This letter is also very elementary for a good workshop! Let us now deal with it.

What if the workshop doesn't go as hoped?

This is a problem - or rather a challenge - which probably every person will encounter at some time. This can have various causes:

  • Forgetting material
  • Workshop participants are demotivated, bored, can't be motivated, are not in a particularly creative mood, etc.
  • The presentation does not want to start
  • Schedule does not work out

And much more. In all situations, one thing is always very important: "Stay flexible and don't let yourself get rattled". It sounds simple, but for most it is not. But again, remember: preparation is key and if you have done it well, it will help you in these situations. Here are a few measures that you can take already in the preparation that you can keep a cool head:

  • Think about alternative methods while you are still preparing so that you can be more responsive to group dynamics and individuals.
  • Before planning, do a needs analysis and clarify how creative or objective the customers want the workshop to be.
  • Prepare the material the day before and put a Post-it on your desk as a reminder.
  • Additionally, download the presentation as a PDF and have FlipCharts with you for an analog presentation.
  • Take additional exercises with you in case there is more time, and think about which exercises can be shortened / omitted in case there is no more time.
  • Let the client prepare themselves by sending out a preparation order.

This list could probably go on endlessly. Basically, there is to say that a large part is certainly in the exercise. The more often you encounter such a situation, the better you will be able to handle it in the future. And what is also very important: admit to "planning mistakes" and talk about them transparently with the workshop participants.

  • How did you like this method?
  • Would you rather have a bit more lead / independence / movement / inputs ... for the next exercise?
  • Please excuse me, I seem to have forgotten the scissors. Does anyone have one nearby and could go get them?

And what is also always very helpful: do not go alone. Take a team member with you in the planning stage and then also for the implementation. This person can support, take over or document difficult situations.

What happens after that?

After the workshop, it can mean a lot to the client if you write a summary and make it available to all participants. I like to call this "FollowUp". It helps you, your team and also the customer to review what happened. In addition, misinterpretations or misunderstandings that would otherwise come up again late in the project work may emerge. For the FollowUp, I usually use an adapted presentation slide (supplemented with content from the workshop) and highlight the most important findings and decisions in the mail text. It is always important to remember the adage: "brevity is the spice of life." Nobody wants to read a novel, but it must still be possible to quickly grasp the most important points in the mail. Here, too, you will get better with every FollowUp. Dare to ask for feedback and implement the criticism in the next text / mail.

As you may have noticed, the A and O are much bigger than the D and F for "FollowUp". Still, all of it is important. And it will only be a successful workshop if no letter of it is missing.

Note: Successful does not mean perfect or smooth. It simply means that the goals have been achieved to a large extent or that it is clear what still needs to be done to achieve them.

I would like to finish with my last two tips for you:

  • We work with a so-called workshop box. A box with an insane amount of material. This box helps to ensure that nothing is forgotten - because you always take the whole box with you on a client appointment. But it also helps when you look inside and see what's in it: that's how I often get very creative ideas for new methods or approaches out of nowhere. The material is from local stores. When I was shopping, I deliberately didn't think about a specific purpose for everything.
Workshop-Box von w-vision. Mit diversen Utensilien: Klammern, Kleber, Stifte, Post-Its etc. | © w-vision AG
© w-vision AG
  • A workshop that is not perfect and does not go smoothly should help you in your personal learning process. Turn the screws where it faltered last time. This way you can optimize piece by piece and continue to grow. Good luck and above all, have FUN!
Camille Peter

Camille Peter

Project Manager

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