Workshops can be an extremely useful tool when attempting to elicit requirements from stakeholders for a number of reasons, including;
- Allowing the stakeholders to collaborate with one another and gain group agreement
- Increasing the speed and productivity of requirements elicitation
- Obtaining buy-in from the stakeholder groups to the overall objectives
Despite the obvious attractions of running a workshop, there can also be pitfalls if they are not planned or run correctly. Some of these disadvantages of workshops are;
- Can be time-consuming (not all the right people available at the right time)
- Forceful participants can ‘hijack’ the meeting, meaning real group consensus is not reached
If you want to run a successful workshop, take a look at my five ‘top tips’ below;
Tip 1 – Be Prepared!
Good preparation will ensure the workshop gets off to the best possible start, and when thinking about how to set the workshop up – think about the four ‘rights’;
The right people; the ‘right’ people need to be involved, people who have the right authority to make decisions but not too many people (any more than eight becomes a problem).Get the project Sponsor involved from the outset so that the stakeholders get the buy in to what you are trying to achieve.
- The right equipment; don’t waste valuable workshop time by searching for equipment - ensure pens, post-it notes, white boards/flip-charts are readily available.
- The right location; do you have somewhere in the office that will be useful for facilitating the people and the workshop? If not perhaps consider somewhere out of the office – this will help clear any unnecessary distractions.
- The right time; allow stakeholders to participate when they are at their sharpest – this may mean avoiding first thing in the morning and during the lunch period. Don’t allow the workshop to drag on– people will be less receptive to very long sessions
Tip 2 – Understand the Objectives!
Every workshop must have objectives and this must be communicated to all participants well in advance of the meeting. Should you be struggling to understand what the objectives are, perhaps you should not be having a workshop in the first place.
Ensure that the objectives are re-visited at the beginning, during and at the end of the workshop when required so that the participants can focus on the agenda items.
Tip 3: Keep the workshop on track!
- Further to noting down the objectives, a timed agenda is also very useful for the participants to ensure clarity around the points being raised, and when they will occur. This is especially useful when considering break-out groups or discussions as it allows people to prepare.
- To keep the workshop on track, consider using a neutral facilitator. They will be able to lead discussions, consider break-out groups if appropriate and generally keep conversation in scope.
- Using a ‘parking lot’ can be very valuable in keeping the focus on the matters in hand. These are discussion points that could be very useful, but outside of the scope and the objectives of that particular workshop.
Tip 4 - Engage your audience!
- Make the workshop exciting – it’s too simple for people to just see this as ‘just another meeting’. People collaborating, sharing ideas and being creative IS fun!
- Use physical prompts to elicit ideas and requirements - diagrams, post-it notes, flip-chart paper all works to create the workshop feel. When they leave the room, they can all see how productive they have been.
- Use small group exercises or ‘break-outs’ so people are more comfortable talking and interacting. This way you are much more likely to get feedback and brainstorming ideas across the stakeholder groups rather than the outspoken one or two.
Tip 5: - Show them it was worthwhile!
Engage with the participants and let them know the outputs from the meeting. One fun way of doing this is sending round photos of the flip-chart ideas they made, this also helps jog the memory.
Re-iterate the decisions that were reached during the workshop and how that their ideas will be implemented going forward. It is very important that the stakeholders know that the work they completed actually ended up in something worthwhile.
If you can manage to keep to the tips above, you will have a great chance of completing a successful requirements elicitation workshop. Do you have any tips of your own which will help make workshops even more productive? I’d love to hear them :)
About the Author
John is passionate, hard working and constantly strives to exceed customer expectations. He has multiple high profile, challenging projects under his belt and seems to only get better when placed under pressure.