Written by Josh O'Riordan
Apr 22, 2016

Planning for Kickoff workshops

Kickoff workshops are crucial for effective client engagement

Kick-off time

Here at Brightec, we love kickoff workshops. Not only because we find them hugely beneficial, but also because our clients do too.

They give us an amazing opportunity to get everyone who is involved in the project in the same room, on the same page and unified in their approach. 

Also, and perhaps more importantly, It also allows us to establish some great relationships that can really help stabilise a project later on. 

Let's get the ball rolling

Now, everyone has worked on at least one, probably multiple projects which have been a little, well, tricky...

It can be inconsistent expectations, the correct decision makers being out of the loop or sometimes just a simple but jarring lack of relationship.

Kickoff workshops aim to eliminate those rudimental but damaging mistakes.

"Kickoff workshops get everyone who is involved in the same room, on the same page and unified in their approach"

What's your goal?

Of course, any meeting worth its action points needs a clear outcome, a goal or goals to aim for. What’s yours?

For us at Brightec there are a few big things we usually want to understand from our workshops:

  1. What design directions the client wants to take and, perhaps more importantly, doesn’t want to take.
  2. Who the decision makers are and who is involved.
  3. What the clients expectations for their product are i.e. are they expecting a £250k app for £20k.
  4. What risks are associated with the project — lack of funding, holidays etc.

Who's in the squad?

One of the most crucial but often overlooked factors for any project planning meeting, particularly such an initial & integral one as this, is - who should be in the room?

Everyone! (Well, maybe not your nan) but as many people directly involved with the project as possible.

From our side we will usually, at least, have:

  • The lead developer for the project
  • Ed - our UX researcher
  • Jotham - our UI designer
  • Me (Josh) - the production manager
  • Caz - our project administrator

From the client we will also want as many involved as possible, which means their team is usually made up of the kind of people below:

  • Any developers involved (or a lead dev)
  • An internal lead designer or branding lead
  • Project leads or managers
  • Product owners
  • A marketing manager / executive
  • The boss (or the person who is releasing the budget)

AND… A user!

We love to make sure we have one or more people in the room who represent the intended users of the product/service. They are usually the people that can give us the greatest amount of insight into the project.

"Users are usually the people that can give us the greatest amount of insight into the project."

When is kick-off?

When do we do the workshop? Well, not (as you might expect) at the beginning.

It’s of course, important to do the workshop early on in the project process, but part of the job of facilitating a workshop is to be well prepared.

That means there are certain things we need to do to make sure we can guide a workshop well. Such as:

UX research

We need to understand the basics of the product/service and the user focus to be able to tailor our activities. This means we may need to interview a few people and build some personas of the kind of users for whom we are designing/developing.

Analyse what’s needed

At the start of any project, there are always unknowns.

For us to be able to provide a solid service we need to investigate and define as many of those unknowns as early as possible.

Known unknowns are always easier to manage than unknown unknowns.

Activity prep

No two projects are ever identical and no two workshops are either.

Some projects already have the branding defined; others already have a strong UI/UX direction and some have nothing.

Based on our unknowns we need to tailor our activities accordingly so the time is used as effectively as possible.

Client prep

To get the most out of our workshops, we ask our clients to do a little preparation before.

As a minimum, we ask them to be familiar with their project requirements, branding, marketing etc. But, to get going we ask all of our clients to have a good look at similar or competitors apps and also to look critically at the apps they regularly use themselves.

This helps to encourage clients to start thinking about the elements used within apps and whether they may be suitable for their project.

Home or away?

Whenever we do a workshop we always encourage the client to come to our offices for it.

Although it can mean taking quite a few of their team out for a day, the benefits of removing clients from their usual environment merits it.

From experience, clients in their own offices are usually far more likely to be distracted by other work and far more reserved in their creativity as the politics of their organisations can play heavily on their thinking.

Sometimes all that’s needed to encourage some creativity can be a day out to sunny Brighton.

Stoke the atmosphere

Setting the tone can often be overlooked. Mainly because the 'atmosphere' of the workshop can be altered vastly by the smallest of details

Our most successful workshops are also our most relaxed.

We prefer that all participants feel comfortable and are able to give their best input to the workshop.

Creating that relaxed atmosphere to allow people to think and encourage creativity can be difficult.

It’s very rare that our clients are used to workshops such as this. For someone used to a traditional office environment, the thought of having a meeting in an environment like ours can be pretty daunting, so setting expectations a week before can go a long way to getting people relaxed early on and ready to work with you well.

Below are a few things we address before the workshop:

Dress code

No-one wants to be the only person in a suit, or worse the only person not. So we explain that we won’t be in suits and that we will be dressed comfortably.

The room

We explain that we will be meeting in a dedicated space that is designed to be relaxed with sofas and bean bags as well as tables and chairs.

Timings

We make it clear when we are expecting to start, but we also explain that although we will book out the whole day the workshop will last as long or as little as needed.

There should be no need to rush or make something last longer than necessary.

Food

Commonly one of the best ways to form relationships with people is by eating together. With that in mind, we explain that we will have the usual teas and coffees available and a selection of snacks for the workshop.

We also usually get in lunch for our clients so that we can take an opportunity to sit around a table and chat together. Of course, we'll double check dietary requirements and ask if there are any snacks people particularly want.

In the next part, we will explore how we carry out kickoff workshops.

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