Running a Successful Product Discovery Workshop

10 min read - Discovery
Sophie Parsons

Project Manager

Project Manager passionate about supporting both businesses and society with tech.

Digital product discovery workshops are about getting stuff done. A successful workshop turns a tangled mess of problems, goals and feature ideas into a focused product vision. But without the right structure, you’ll find yourself lost in the weeds debating whether your sign-up button should be a shade of crimson or maroon.

In this article, I’ll take you through what I’ve learnt about running successful workshops at Sonin.

The Prep

Before any product discovery workshop, you should talk to potential users first. We’ve found between five and six one-on-one user interviews is perfect. Any more and there’s often too much noise. Any less and it’s too small a sample size to base decisions on.

And that is why we carry out user research, after all. To make better product decisions. Talking to your potential users lets you base decisions on facts, not assumptions. It uncovers the problems that people are facing and helps you work out how to solve them.

At Sonin, the output of this user research is always a distinct set of user personas. Each with their own motivations, goals and frustrations. These user personas give us a deep understanding of what our users want to do, why they want to do it and the blockers getting in the way.

Based on these personas, we then map out key features along the existing user journey. At this stage, it’s important to focus on our users only. This helps you to pinpoint every single potential opportunity for the final product, regardless of the business value. Save that for the workshop!

Setting Up.

What’s the Goal?

The first and most important step of setting up your workshop is establishing the goals. What is it that you want to achieve by the end of the day? What are your overarching business goals?

We find that goals fall into one of two categories. Our clients are either looking to make money or save it. Most digital products are built to generate revenue or increase efficiency – or both. It’s important that everyone involved understands the purpose of the workshop, the processes you’re focusing on and the goals you want to achieve.

Who Should Be There?

Everyone in the workshop needs to actively contribute. So, in a similar vein to user research, I’ve found a small group works best. You’ll need five or six people, each with their own perspective of your business or the process you’re trying to improve. I’ve found that having someone with a technical background helps you to judge the feasibility of features and ideas.

There are ways of making remote dial-in work if it’s absolutely necessary. But you should always push for in-person participation. Ignoring the inevitable technical issues, there’s something about getting everyone in the same room that can’t be replicated through a video call.

But where should that room be?

Where Should It Be?

Off-site. Same as the remote thing, you can run a workshop in-house but it won’t be the same. I’ve found that bringing our clients into our offices makes the workshop feel much more significant. Change the environment and you’ll find people are more focused and freer to give their honest opinion. You’ll get better ideas and more of them.

When Should It Be? How Long Will It Run For?

This depends on the scope of the goal. But typically, I like to allow a full day to run a digital product workshop. It gives us enough time to run through a number of different exercises. But it’s also enough time to allow for much-needed breaks throughout the day.

At Sonin, we take over two meeting rooms when we run a workshop. One for exercises. One for refreshments. This set-up helps everyone involved to focus during the workshop activities but gives them space to relax in between.

What Equipment Do You Need?

To run a successful product discovery workshop, you’ll need the following essential items:

  • Whiteboard space. You can’t have too much.
  • Coffee, tea, snacks and sandwiches. But mostly coffee.
  • Post-It Notes. Lots and lots of Post-It Notes.
  • Sticky coloured dots.
  • Flipcharts.

Plan an Agenda

Finally, running a successful product discovery workshop requires careful planning. With a limited amount of time, it’s essential that you understand how you’re going to spend it. Know the key insights you need at each stage of the day before you begin. It’ll help you to gauge how well the workshop is going from exercise to exercise. 

The exercises you do run will vary depending on the purposes of the workshop but they should all reflect the goals you’ve set. Here’s an example of an agenda I drew up for a workshop to transform a client’s business process:

10:00 – Open

  • Workshop Intro
  • Attendee Intro
  • About the Client
  • Business Goals & Objectives
  • Customer/Employee Profile & Journey Mapping

11:30 – Break

  • Customer/Employee Profile & Journey Mapping (contd.)
  • Experience & Value Mapping Part 1

13:00 – Lunch

  • Experience & Value Mapping Part 2

15:00 Break

  • Value Prioritisation 
  • Summary & Wrap Up

16:00 – Close

Once you know what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, who’s included and how you’re approaching it, then it’s time to start sending invites.

Running a Digital Product Workshop.

Establish Your Goals.

At the beginning of the day, I always establish the goals for the workshop for everyone. Again, these will vary depending on the product we’re building or the challenge we’re solving but should always include:

  • To build a foundational knowledge of the business behind the product.
  • Understand the existing experience for employees, customers or users from start to finish.
  • Identify all the challenges, the limitations and the positive experiences of the existing journey.
  • Pinpoint and prioritise the biggest opportunities based on business value, risk and speed.

Once everyone is aligned with the goals for the day, I’ll run through the agenda you planned.

Present Findings User Research

After running through the agenda for the day, our designer will present the findings from the user research study. Everyone involved in the workshop will have an opinion. It’s why they’re there. But beginning with this research helps us fuel every decision we make from that point on with facts.

Map the People and Processes.

After recapping the findings from our user research, I’ll work with the client to establish every single actor involved in the process. This includes every employee, every customer and every potential product user.

We’ll then run through the entire process from start to finish. This is where having people from different areas of the business helps. It lets you consider all the steps, explore every edge case and track every tool. You’re then able to use this information to define the decisions and dependencies required along the way.

The result of mapping out the people and processes is taking all this knowledge and turning it into a series of specific actions people are taking. For each action, I then work with our client to answer three key things:

  • The questions users ask when they try to complete an action
  • The delightful moments where great experiences make the actor happy
  • The pain points where bad experiences are causing friction and frustration

The benefit of this approach is that you’re not just focusing on the negatives and the unknowns. Not only is this way better for morale, but it also shows you the great moments that the product we build has to support instead of replacing.

Prioritise the Pain Points & the Delightful Moments

We’ll then worked together with our client to rank the identified pain points based on how extreme everyone believes them to be from a customer’s perspective. In a similar vein, we also rank the desired outcomes according to how essential everyone believes them to be for customers. 

Once we’ve done this, it’s time to break out those sticky coloured dots I mentioned earlier…

Each sticker represents a vote. I typically limit everyone to one vote everyone has because it forces them to think about the most important pain point. And before voting, I’ll also recap those key business goals from the beginning of the workshop. This ensures that everyone votes based on the agreed business needs, overruling any personal or department-specific bias.

Result: The Biggest Business Opportunities.

At this stage, you’ll have a focused list of the biggest opportunities for your business. They show you where a product will deliver the most value the fastest for your company and your users.

Kickstarting your development with a product discovery workshop lets you build a feature backlog based on facts instead of assumptions. This way, you’re creating value from your very first development sprint.

But a successful product discovery workshop requires careful consideration. How you set up, structure and run the day will determine how useful the output is. Taking the time to plan properly and constantly communicating the day’s goals will have a huge pay-off as you move forward into building a successful solution.