Back to Insights


Remote Software Product Discovery Workshops: Part 1: Agenda Setting & Preparation

When the world went into lockdown, it was relatively easy for us, as a digital product development agency to continue business as usual.

This was thanks, in large part, to the wonderful team at xDesign and partly to the nature of the business we are in - virtually everything we do has a digital analogue. With one exception - software / digital product discovery workshops.

Almost always, our digital product discovery workshops were facilitated in person. Myself and the team would gleefully wave our hands at a whiteboard, hand out sticky notes and we would all collaborate beautifully together. Building ideas and bonds until there was the sweet smell of success - which did, I'll admit, also share the not so sweet smell of 10 people on too much coffee locked in a room.

But all that had to change in a Covid-19 world; I'll be honest I wasn't sure it would be possible. I thought that we would lose something, that it would be a poor facsimile of the process but that turned out not to be the case. In fact, our existing methods and tools often worked better in a remote environment.

Part one of our remote digital product discovery workshop guide focuses on the best ways to prepare and pull together the discovery workshop agenda. Then we will subsequently look at discovery execution and how to gather results and feedback.

Part 1: Preparation

Who should be part of the product discovery team?

Normally, our software product discovery workshops are conducted in an office environment. If you needed someone else you just got them to pop their head in the door - but not anymore!

The first step is to make it someone's job to organise inviting everyone AND gain an understanding of their role (in the meeting, in the company, and post discovery).

  • They can access your video conferencing platform of choice (not blocked by IT, etc.) - ideally you should consider giving them a quick start guide. We use Hangouts but I have seen Zoom used well, utilising its breakout rooms option if you have unusually large groups to manage.

  • They should have their camera on. Being able to see people’s faces (albeit virtually) helps tremendously.

  • Set the precedent. We understand working remotely is unusual for many. People have kids, partners and things going on. That’s totally fine! Reinforcing this on day one will help participants to feel more comfortable.

Our first remote discovery sessions lost a lot of time to people simply not being able to attend or were late because they didn't understand how to use the tech. We've had people make bacon sandwiches, and even join from their cars. It’s therefore important for expectations to be set from the beginning.

Write two discovery workshop agendas

I know it sounds odd - but you need a public agenda and an internal agenda.

The public agenda has two main purposes:

  • Set time commitment expectations

  • To better profile the attendees so you can serve them better on the day

Over time, our workshop sessions have become shorter. I'm now a relic, the lone fan in the business of the all-day extravaganza - but our experience is that just doesn't translate remotely.

We’ve pivoted from half day physical workshops, to a series of time-boxed 2 hour remote sessions. For example;

  • Product Vision & Purpose

  • Competitor Analysis & Persona creation

  • Journey Mapping & User story mapping

  • Technical dependencies and considerations

  • Requirements gathering & estimation

These timed sessions help minimise the amount of "multi-tasking" (checking slack, emails, and phone messages) participants often feel obliged to do.

Your public agenda doesn't need to have much more detail than that but with the inclusion of the overview of the 2 hour workshop goals. You then send that to each individual with a request for discussion topics:

  • "Anything you think we should cover on the day - from a personal standpoint and as a representative of their department."

As well as building some early rapport, it helps set expectations, and profile the individuals which is key to achieving early success in a remote setting.

Your internal agenda time boxes the individual tasks of your workshop for example:

  • "What is success for you" (Individual 5 min session)

  • Group Sharing (10 mins)

This is needed to help assign roles and responsibilities to your internal team and helps you stay in control of the process without endless clock watching from the rest of the team.

Profile the group

In any successful workshop, it's important that people feel heard. Remember though, you are never inviting just an individual to a group you are inviting three people - the real them with fears and goals, their department or speciality, and the company they represent.

I find it useful to assume people need "weapons" or "armour". The first group tends to be the prototypical ideal workshop participants. They are keen to be involved, they are at the workshop because they want to go into battle with new innovation and they want the biggest shiniest sword they can get. They typically want plenty of time in a session to talk solutions to problems.

The less talked about group are the people that want armour, this group views your workshop as something that has the chance to cause them, their department, or the business - pain.

Part of your planning for a successful workshop is managing these two groups - giving people weapons they can actually wield and building a suit of armour for those people who want to feel protected. If you don't plan for this then the “weapons” people have the chance to get too excited about the blue sky. However, if you leave someone unprotected then they may look for ways to protect themselves - and that can mean torpedoing your project.

Schedule an internal meeting

Schedule an internal meeting in advance of the software discovery sessions. Run through the internal agenda and get everyone on your team to articulate the goals. Pair that with any feedback you get from your external emails.

Think about what success looks like, what you are asking people to do and what they can tangibly get out of it.

Set up your digital workspace

We replicate a lot of the physical side of a workshop using the virtual whiteboard tool, Miro.

While Miro comes with a number of templates, you need to invest the time in reflecting the phases of your workspace into zones that help provide much-needed focus. For example, we would set up separate sections with different areas and spaces for success, personas, and a user journey.

It’s also a good idea to set up a "car park". The car park is for ideas not even in the "ballpark" of what you are trying to achieve but that you still want to note as recorded.

Get ready to execute

Now you should be ready to go into battle! You have gathered intelligence, scouted the other side, made sure everyone will do their duty and are ready to forge weapons and armour.

All that's left is to actually successfully run the session (part 2) and then do something with the output (part 3).

Are you interested in finding out more about our remote digital product discovery process? Get in touch for a chat with the team today!