Design Thinking in the Digital Age: Transforming a Workshop
Remember when Corona became part of our nightmares over two years ago?
Then, I forced myself to run a design thinking workshop in the digital world. Working as a consultant, lecturer, and facilitator means I've always loved working closely with individuals and teams. So Covid disconnected me from one of my sources of energy: people.
By now, we seem to have returned to normal, and it's time to reflect on my first digital design thinking workshop, which catapulted me straight into the saber-tooth zone.
From comfort... to the danger zone
I have been practicing Design Thinking since 2012 - and have stopped counting how many talks, workshops, and projects I have done. Together with my teams, I met a wide range of people who were mostly curious about Design Thinking, but sometimes very hostile. We worked in living spaces that were made for creative collaboration and in ones where a lack of daylight and fresh air did not prevent the participants:inside from developing new ideas for products, services and processes.
My highlight of 2019 was a Design Thinking Quick & Dirty Workshop XXL at the Manage Agile conference in Berlin: 250 people came together and developed 25 new ideas that the organizers wanted to implement individually...
... but enough was enough.
Until now, we could not be accused of a lack of adaptability and courage until now. Until Covid-19 came to haunt us and we decided that social distance is the remedy of choice for now.
"If that's the case," was the impulse of my inner coward, "then we can postpone our April 2020 workshop until Judgment Day!"
"First, I want to know why we don't have an online workshop; everyone is doing that now! We are a software company, and we also talk about innovation all the time, so if WE don't dare to do it, who will?" said the nagging part in me.
"I think I know what's holding our scaredy-cat back," Curiosity interrupted our incipient dispute. "Design thinking thrives on interaction between people putting their heads together to discuss, listen, moving post-its back and forth on a meta plan wall, and look deep into their customers' eyes to identify their needs. Could it be, Little Coward, that you think we can't meet those needs in the virtual world?"
The little coward frowned .. . "Don't worry!" said the brave one, "together, we'll get through this!"
The genesis of a digital design thinking workshop
It all started with trying out different digital tools. We were already working with MS Teams then, so it quickly became apparent that audio and video communication and document sharing, such as the Design Thinking presentation, would be done through MS Teams. In addition, this application allowed us to invite any number of people to our online meeting who were not using MS Teams at all.
We then tried Mural, the Concept Board, and Miro to facilitate the design thinking workshop. Miro seemed to be the most suitable tool for our purposes - the free version offered up to three boards on which as many people as needed could work.
From the analog to the digital world
We visualized our analog design thinking workshop world point by point for three teams on a Miro board. The design took a lot of time: We worked on it for almost two full days, as we had to familiarize ourselves with the tool first. But testing the prototype and the highly positive feedback from the participants showed that we were on the right track!
Good collaboration also works virtually
We set up a total of four team rooms via MS Teams. The welcome, introduction to the Miro Board and theoretical input on the topic took place with 12 participants and the coaches in the plenum. For the work in the individual groups, our coaches moved to their respective team rooms with four people in each group. During the session, we met in plenary to share new input and watch the final presentation developed by each team. I spent most of my time in the plenary to be available in case of technical difficulties - two of our participants had actually "gotten lost" between the individual team rooms.
How can we prepare a design workshop so that it is easily accessible to our participants?
If you want to run a Design Thinking workshop digitally, here's what we recommend:
- Inform participants about a week in advance about your tool choices and what participants need to do to access those tools. We recommend Google Chrome or Firefox as browsers.
- Audio is essential; video allows participants to get to know each other better, especially working in smaller teams. Ask participants to have a headset handy. As we know, this helps keep unwanted noise out.
- If you have the opportunity, you and the team members should work on two screens (one for MS Teams, and one for Miro). Invite participants to preview the virtual playground beforehand, but ask them to leave everything untouched. (A lockdown feature also prevents the worst from happening).
- If you want to conduct interviews, ask participants to invite interview partners according to your schedule.
- Make a note of participants' email addresses and phone numbers so you can contact them if the need arises or provide missing links back to the MS Team Rooms.
- And most importantly, ask participants to read your information carefully.
The workshop etiquette
Virtual communication does not always run smoothly. But the following tips can be helpful.
- Participants should disable the video/camera function if the connection is poor.
- Participants who do not join the discussion should be so kind to mute their microphone.
- What has proven successful is to ask questions via the chat function; there, you can quickly bundle them and they won't get lost.
- Ask participants not to start working on Miro until the coach gives the "hey-ho-let's-go" - it's a lot of fun to work on the whiteboard, but if everyone starts playing at the same time without listening, there will be chaos - we know what we're talking about!
- Essential for Design Thinking: Ask the participants to keep to the timeboxes as independently as possible. (We, the coaches, communicated via WhatsApp during the workshop and informed each other when we needed more time). Finally, we all want to arrive at the plenary at once.
Our key findings
- We ran the Design Thinking workshop for two consecutive days for three hours each. By repeatedly switching between MS Teams and Miro, we did not experience an 'online workshop fatique.'
- I led through the process in plenary on the two days and was available to those seeking help on day 1, which I found very exhausting. After consulting with the coaches, I took turns visiting the individual teams as a silent listener on the second day - this made my life much easier.
- What was meant to be design thinking methodology training also became a tool training. The participants were thrilled with the work on Miro.
"So, little coward, how are you now?" "Oh, curiosity, don't act up now! I was already relaxed when the Miro board was prepared! " grins the former coward. "I'm pleased about the feedback from our team members, who have thanked us several times for the thoughtful preparation, organization and moderation. But what makes me more than happy is that everyone was amazed at how creatively and value-creating we can work together in the virtual world, even if we didn't know each other beforehand. Design thinking also works digitally!"
Reflection of a review
It feels strange to read about preparing for a digital (design thinking) workshop or about workshop etiquette now, more than two years after Corona moved in, because that's been the new normal for a long time, hasn't it?
Nonetheless, that first digital design thinking workshop I described was the foundation for what I do now: making remote teams happy and successful.