UX workshop is a common method in the design process. It is used for several purposes such as aligning everyone and brainstorming. It is kind of a meeting that everyone gets a chance to contribute something. Workshop can be very useful if done right, however it can get tricky to manage especially when stakeholders are involved. I have taken the workshop facilitator role several times. Here are some reflections I’d like to share.
UX workshop is a collaborative practice that allows everyone to express their thoughts towards the project and to align with other team members. It supports the concept of co-creation that everyone can contribute and discuss about things during the session. Involving team members in a workshop is highly recommended as it can gather opinions from different points of view. This includes stakeholders because many times they are in charge of the problem and vision of the project. Having them in the workshop can inform the team about the higher level goals, motivate the team to move forward, and share insights from stakeholder perspective.
On the one hand, stakeholders can give a lot of inputs to the workshop because they are responsible for the project. They take care of the direction and vision. It is their job to make sure that the project is moving to the right path. In term of collaboration, team members and stakeholders can understand each other better since it is the time to share insights and discuss ideas. A challenge for the facilitator here is to stay neutral and positive. Make sure that the conversation is appropriate.
From the outside view, including stakeholders can help the work process later run smoothly because they get to experience and be part of the design process. The communication between the stakeholders (clients) and UX designers (design team) would be more effective as the design team can gain more trust (although it depends on the results from the workshop).
In this article, Tímea Falmann presents examples of activities in the UX workshops and benefits of having everyone involved.
On the other hand, if stakeholders take too much space in the workshop, it would affect the conversation and energy in the room negatively. As stakeholders usually rank higher level in the organisation, their words tend to have more weight and influence others easily. As a result, other participants wouldn’t feel comfortable to share their thoughts thus the collaborative atmosphere would drop drastically. What you could do is to encourage other participants by asking for their opinions from their point of view. This way, it would help shift the focus from a few people to the rest of the team and would help them reach a consensus among themselves including stakeholders.
As a facilitator, you are responsible for establishing a neutral, positive foundation prior to the execution of the exercise. Like in data-collection activities, you should avoid biasing statements or questions that can influence participants.(Sarah Gibbons, 2018)
Furthermore, politics in an organisation can jeopardise the workshop. If the facilitator can’t cope with the stakeholders and other participants, hence can’t carry on the workshop, it may eventually result in failure. As a facilitator from outside organisation, you may not take a side and stay neutral and rational. Politics are difficult topics. One way to prevent this is to work on the preparation. When planning a workshop, you should discuss with your contact person inside the organisation about who should be participating and how the things are. If there will be group tasks, allocate people into groups beforehand. Therefore you won’t invite people to argue in the workshop.
A workshop is an activity that people from different roles meet and work together. It is a good opportunity for team members to build empathy and find a solution inclusively. Stakeholders are critical and sometimes difficult to manage. The facilitator would need to be solid and skilful when it comes to dealing with people. It is not an easy task but it could be rewarding. Moreover, at times, stakeholders are the ones who decide to if they should continue with your service. If things go well and you can build good relationship with them, it is likely that they will continue with you.