I learned a valuable lesson a few weeks ago. I’ve never given workshops much time during my education into user experience. I looked at workshops as one extra step that’s unneeded and complicates a project.
As a web developer, I was always taught to avoid large groups of people. I wanted to work with one primary point of contact rather than having the site designed by committee. Avoiding large groups was lesson 1 of freelancing. I had seen projects go off the rails by including too many people at one time.
Workshops looked to be the complete opposite. You want to include as many people with knowledge and insight into the business as possible. These meetings could last days and it one of the exercises was designing by committee.
It just didn’t make any sense to me on why this would be a good idea. It was clear that the experts who had been doing UX for over a decade knew what they were talking about. I just didn’t see the value as it went against everything I learned as a freelancer.
Not seeing the value of workshops changed in December of 2015. I was on site doing some client training on the content management solution I had built for them. I expected two people for training, as discussed, but when I arrived five people were waiting for me. I shrugged it off and didn’t think much of it.
This project had its share of complications, but one thing that I enjoyed was a single point of contact. The company and I had agreed, to speed up the process, which I would only communicate with one person. Thrilled, we move forward as I knew that designing by committee was off the table.
I didn’t give much thought to the extra people in the meeting. I assumed that they were excited about the new site; they wanted to learn how to use it too. It didn’t take long to watch the training session go off the rails. As I showed the first piece of functionality, the questions started to come in.
“How come this page doesn’t have testimonials?” asked the owner. My Primary Contact looked at her boss and responded, “That’s a good idea! I never thought to have it on every page.” The group was quick to agree, and I had to add it to my list.
The training session continued to move forward in similar fashion. Every time I’d start training on a new area of the site, the exact conversation would occur. The real kicker was the home page; this was a page that had already seen many revisions. My Primary Contact and I had gone back on forth on a few different iterations as we tried to find the perfect fit.
Most of the sections got questioned and pulled apart. The order of content got debated, and concerns got raised. At one point, the Owner looked at me and said with concern “How would I send out messages to the users? How would I push holiday hours or important upcoming events.”
All I could do was stare back at him a blank look. In the many revisions that I had worked on, the ability to have custom messages never got requested. As the owner explained his reasoning the group and I all agreed this was an important feature. I added it to my growing list of changes.
What Went Wrong?
When the meeting was over, I left feeling a little shell shocked. “What the hell just happened?” I asked myself. Frustrated, I drove away asking questions. The meeting wasn’t a case of a client changing their mind after something had gotten done. In this case, it was clear that the group had more insights when working together. They were feeding off one another, pushing ideas further and making them stronger.
I had built wireframes that required sign-off before the design stage could happen. The content structure and order shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone. That was the point of having a primary point of contact. She was to be the gatekeeper and make the decisions on behalf of the organization.
As I was driving a little light bulb went off in my head. A workshop would have resolved all the confusion. It was that moment the value of a workshop became clear. I understood why the experts pushed them at every opportunity.
My Primary Contact had a great understanding of the business. The group had a higher knowledge of the company. Each person brought a different perspective based on their skills and background. They bounced ideas off each other, leveraging each others skill-sets. Each person wanted certain functionality based on their unique offerings to the company.
A Workshop provides the opportunity to see how the product will get used in the organization. A workshop provides different dynamics and provides unique insights. I don’t believe you can get the same information from a single person.
The meeting changed my outlook, and now I try to run workshops for every project. When starting out on a project, I try to include representatives from everyone in the office. I realize now that there’s value in it.