UX & Product Workshop For User Testing: Goals, Planning, Conducting

Companies put a massive effort into developing products aimed at the market needs. But, still there’s an instance of companies unable to influence the market and in worst cases, a complete product failure. This failure could be reasoned to companies unable to interpret the market needs and provide appealing product values. Product ideation evolves from intense market research paired with UX/UI design which builds the foundation for the developers to carve out a finished product from the iteration of prototypes. Any product development process is long and demands considerable attention from the product teams, inducing the risk of isolation and biasing within groups. Hence, businesses organize UX workshops periodically or depending on the needs to keep things on track.

What is a UX workshop?

UX teams are solely responsible for any action that involves products. It is the space for the origin of new product ideas and existing product development. But, as we know, companies do not conceive the product idea today and deliver the product to the market tomorrow. Product development is a long haul, starting from ideation to the product entering the market. This stretched period invites uncertainty in conditions. You could have intruders in biases creeping into the system, miscommunication or loss of information. Because of the existing danger of unwanted factors affecting the development, a UX workshop serves as a checkpoint during the process. Workshops keep the UX teams in check and align them with the user and company goals. A UX workshop answers various questions based on three aspects – personas, customer journey, and product strategy.

Persona workshop

It is a given that any research deals with a large amount of data. UX teams have to give the user needs their utmost priority when making decisions about each aspect of the product. But, this is not easy, especially when you consider large amounts of user information a particular research report might contain. Hence, to reduce the mental fatigue, designers come up with personas. Think of persona as a virtual representation of a customer in the market, with all their characteristics. Personas are the simplified form of customer profiles revealed from market research. This short form aids designers to define the customer easily, hence, plan a product that serves the market right.

Persona workshops could be for persona establishment from the gathered information or updating the existing profiles. Since, the workshop is central to users, incorporating personnel who directly interact with the users is mandatory. It could be the sales team or customer support. You get more insight into the user personas instead of working with assumptions. What persona workshops aim is that the designers get in-line with the market demands. It helps designers perceive the product by putting themselves into the customer shoes, and make the necessary design decisions.

Customer journey workshop

Customer journey record the highlights of the user interaction with the product. They have the step-by-step progress of customer interaction with the product along with their desired objectives. Hence, a designer can expect customer journeys to reveal additional information about the user that they might not be aware of. This additional info could result in streamlining the user experience with the product by solving the potential problems.

There can be three main phases to any customer journey – before usage, using the product and after usage.

‘Before usage’ phase answers questions like the user’s prior knowledge about the product, learning curve, wherefrom the user interaction starts. It shines a light on the user’s activity before he/she gets to know the product function entirely. ‘Using product’ phase speaks about real-time user interaction with the products; how users carry out a specific task and goal achievement. Finally, comes the question of production satisfaction, categorized under the ‘After using’ phase. With every product interaction, the user gets to know the product better, thus, rationalizing the product existence. Customer journey workshops help to understand the experience of users with the product. They play their part to aid in the step-by-step analysis of the connection between the user and product. A successful product is good at tending user needs with positive engagement and workshops intend to assure that. Workshops help align the user experience with the corresponding product features to achieve the desired user goals.

Product strategy workshop

Market research lets you know the user needs, but how you go about incorporating the pain points into the product as features is what matters. UX teams need appropriate planning for the product to take its final shape in an orderly fashion. Planning sets the track for the product development by the allocation of resources and time for various specific aspects of the product. Without a proper plan, there’s no guarantee that the final product built will be up to the standards or in time.

Thus, we have product strategy workshops in place. These UX workshops run a rule over the whole product strategy, measuring bit-by-bit of the details like the methods and goals each method intends to accomplish. The workshops keep a check on the development process going off-track resulting in an undesired waste of resource and wandering off the goal. Having periodic workshops syncs the UX teams with the aspired user and business goals.

Why UX workshops?

We have only skimmed over the importance of UX workshops in their introduction. Although their primary aim is aligning the development process and desired objectives, workshops serve a host of other benefits.

Developing products from scratch, or even spending time on improving existing products is a long turtle-paced movement. And you can’t help it, owned to the sheer number of teams (comprising of several members) and other hierarchical authorities involved. Though UX is a team game, at the end of the day, it’s the decision at the individual level that affects the overall progress of the project. Individuals together form a collective decision which in due course could further be influenced by external agents. Within all this organizational chaos, the actual purpose might be lost due to unwanted factors — the result, loss of market opportunity and potential customers.

Hence, workshops are design fail-safes. While product teams function collectively towards shaping the product, workshops are present to evaluate their function. In a design team, any decision or step that is taken moves them closer towards the final product. On the other hand, any actions performed in a workshop are revision and evaluation of any decision involved in the design process. Workshops provide a stronger platform in updating the change in the market scenario with the involved individuals including the higher authorities, hence, aid successively working on an alternate strategy. Workshops are highly efficient in guiding teams over the long-term goals of the company. Long-term goals comprise a considerable number of process, with a high risk of diversion. Workshops perform their duties as checkpoints, evaluating the progress at each stage and ensuring the project is headed towards the stated objective in time.

Most of the workshop activities deal with revising and examining the development process thus far. But, apart from that, a workshop can be the gold mine to innovations. Workshop meetings aren’t just privileged for the designers. Anyone can put their opinion out. It is not a given that the best design ideas always come from the design teams. The UX workshop provides a platform for each and everyone involved in the product development to represent their thoughts. There’s this thing of company hierarchy though. While some cultures encourage speakers from all parts, some have a bit reserved opinion on speaking out before a head. That said, workshops mainly focus on the involvement of personnel and to get everyone on the same page.

Planning an effective workshop

A UX workshop proves to be very useful in guiding product development. However, there’s a case of ‘if.’ If not conducted properly, workshops are meaningless and a waste of time.

Any workshop that gets organized should have an outline. An aimless workshop won’t benefit any aspect of the development. Having a specific goal, along with the necessary questions that help gather information and method used to collect data are the cornerstones of a workshop agenda.

The three elements – goal, issues and process, help workshops achieve their objectives.

Goals define the desired outcomes from the workshop collaboration. They are the endpoint to discussions.

Issues are the stimuli for gathering information concerning the goals. So, queries regarding metrics, audience, current state, all account for obtaining information in relation to purpose and its accomplishment.

Process speaks about the exact procedure of information accumulation. It dictates the steps involved in acquiring information from the source and relaying to the concerned personnel.

There are six steps to go about setting out an effective workshop agenda, which are:

1. Set goals
Setting up goals is the first and foremost thing when you have the thought of conducting a workshop. Workshops are meant to evaluate the stages of progress relying on various parameters. But what makes for an apt goal? A suitable goal is measurable and enables to establish relationships with other elements of the process. Setting goal lets the participants know the aim of the workshop.

2. Forming questions for the information needed
A facilitator has to prepare relevant queries based on the goals. The queries have to be on point to address the objective of the workshop. The questions will reveal the current state of the target, further evaluating the process with regards to time-frame.

3. Align process to answer your questions
There needs to be a systematic approach to how you go around getting answers to these questions. Maybe go for dot voting when wanting a consensus. Alternatively, have a brainstorming session to have ideas pop out.

4. Conducting the workshop
The 'actual' conduction of the workshop. The workshop should have all the relevant personnel capable of wording out their opinions on the subject matter. It should be as interactive as possible, with scope for everyone to speak and provide their insight.

5. Post-information process and sharing
After the workshop session, it is vital to provide a conclusion to findings and sharing the overview with all other participants. It could also aid personnel unable to attend the workshop to catch up with the progress and maybe, provide some useful views.

6. Act on findings
Once done with the sharing of the relevant conclusions, it’s time to act on the revelations. After all, this is the primary purpose of the workshop, aligning progress with desired objectives.

As you can see, a facilitator needs to take care of a lot of things. Conducting workshops require planning for a sequential progression, however, it’s not a guarantee that things go as planned. Let’s look at some aspects of planning a workshop which lies in the hands of a facilitator.

Elements to take care of when facilitating a workshop

Here are the things a facilitator keeps in mind when busy planning a workshop.

Time

Time is something that is precious for everyone. Attending workshops mean allocating time in among the 'other' works. Workshops should make the best use of time for everyone that’s involved. Keeping things concise and pre-arrangement of required resources goes a long way to ensure a smooth session. Although it is better to gather every factor responsible under a single roof, that’s not always possible. However, the key influential personnel should be on board.

Alpha state

Gathering everyone is all well and good, but the key is to engage everyone in the process. Keeping up the interests of participants can be hard, especially when one’s surrounded by people you least know about. Thankfully, there’s something called 'alpha state' which can help grab the attention of the audience. In simple terms, the alpha state helps the mind to be more open, receptive and less critical.

There are numerous methods to achieve an alpha state. But for the sake of simplicity and some limitations, you can rely on music. The Internet is full of alpha music.

Show process

A facilitator needs to demonstrate all the process involved in workshops. The room is full of diversities. Hence, a process demo will get all on track with the progress and developments. Even when full of like-minded people, do show the process to establish a mutual understanding throughout the space.

Fun/recreation

There’s a limitation to the alpha state, that can only be overcome by short breaks between workshop sessions. It is necessary to get mind off things to have a mental rest. The refreshed spirit in participants might spark new ideas and solutions.

Remove hierarchy

A no hierarchy sphere builds a level field for communication among the participants. It is preferred in a workshop that there’s no sense of authority to allow for a natural flow of ideas. However, some cultures are inert to it, and facilitators have to take care of such aspects.

Adapting

A facilitator makes the plan for a workshop, but most are sure that the session might not coincide with their plans, especially when unexpected information or condition pops up. Sticking to the program could be hard in such cases. However, facilitators have to do it. Slowly but surely, facilitators have to steer the ship back into the calm waters, so that the overall objective of the workshop isn’t diluted. A UX workshop has to reach its assigned goal, else it’s just pointless.

These things keep the facilitators on their toes when they are planning any workshop.

There are numerous articles around underlining the importance of UX/UI and Product Design. This article concentrates on an alternate approach to the topic by emphasizing the importance of UX workshopping with some insight into the process of planning a workshop agenda. Additionally, we had some outlook on the various aspects a workshop facilitator has to deal with.

author: patrick algrim
About the author

Patrick Algrim is an experienced executive who has spent a number of years in Silicon Valley hiring and coaching some of the world’s most valuable technology teams.

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