Done right, a full-day UX immersive can kick start your project. Here’s a typical workshop agenda, and how I’d approach running it.
At the start of any new project, I always recommend some sort of kick off workshop. A UX workshop is a series of activities to define both business and user objectives for a new site or app.
A good workshop puts everyone on the same page, and sets the tone of a project. Getting the everyone together in one room has many benefits…
- It aligns everyone to the same vision.
- It ensures the whole team understands the project goals.
- It brings insight and information to the table that people would not have shared otherwise.
It’s important to say upfront the whole day often isn’t needed.
For projects of a smaller scale, a shorter session of just a couple of hours could be enough. In the past I’ve talked about some shorter kick-off workshop activities you can use.
That said, for complex projects with large (often political) groups of stakeholders, a full-day format can be helpful.
Make no mistake. A full day workshop is exhausting for everyone involved. If your team is willing to commit the time and energy though, your design will benefit massively.
WARNING : This is just an indicative agenda. No two projects are the same, so you’ll want to adjust the workshop content to suit your team’s needs. There are loads of different ways to get the desired outcomes, so make sure you plan carefully!
What I’m going to share here is a basic plan I like to start with, but deviate where relevant so it works for you.
Who you’ll need
Everyone who is going to be involved in the project should attend this workshop.
This means bringing in people from both production team and client/content teams.
When selecting participants, those who can speak on behalf of the end users are particularly valuable. This might include customer services representatives, or the people who receive complaints / feedback.
What you’ll need
- A big room. You’ll be in here for a while, so make sure it’s big and airy. You’ll want enough space to move around and stick things up on the walls.
- Lots of sticky notes. You’ll need a few different colours. Each person needs a stack.
- Some little stickers. I’d recommend red circular ones. You’ll need at least 20.
- Some big, chunky pens. Having big pens means that people can read them easily from across the room. Sharpies work really well for this. If possible give each person a few different colours.
- Big sheets of paper. So that you can put your sticky notes on them, rather than directly onto the wall. This makes the output of your activities easier to move around when you’re done, without totally dismantling them.
- Any research, insight or user feedback. Any user personas, analytics data or key project findings. These should be printed off and stuck up on the wall. We can then refer to these printouts throughout the session.
Here’s how it breaks down…
- 09:30 - 09:45 : Introductions & scene setting.
- 09:45 - 10:15 : The product vision (before & after).
- 10:15 - 11:15 : Identify the user needs.
- 11:15 - 11:30 : Break.
- 11:30 - 12:30 : Prioritise the user needs.
- 12:30 - 13:30 : Lunch.
- 13:30 - 15:00 : Features brainstorm.
- 15:00 - 15:15 : Break.
- 15:15 - 16:15 : Sketch the home page.
- 16:15 - 16:30 : Wrap-up, questions & next steps.
It’s good to leave a bit of free time either side of the working day. You’ll want to give people some scheduled breaks, too.
Having breaks makes sure people can deal with emails, admin and other day-to-day responsibilities. Giving people time for this means they’ll be less distracted from the workshop content.
That’s the agenda. Let’s get into the detail of each activity.
09:30 - 09:45 : Introductions & scene setting
Introduce yourself, and explain the purpose of today’s session. There should be some desired outcomes that were agreed before the workshop, and you can re-iterate those here.
Then, go round the room asking each person to introduce themselves.
Each person should :
- Give their name and job title.
- Explain how they will be involved in the project.
- Name the thing they most want to get out of this project. For example, there might be a particular issue or user need they want to address.
09:45 - 10:15 : The product vision (before & after)
This is essentially the warm-up activity. It gets everyone thinking about what the group wants to achieve from the project.
Each team member should have access to some sticky notes. For this activity they’ll need to write on two.
On the first sticky note, they should write a single value that sums up the existing system or product (if there is one).
On the second sticky note, they write a single value that sums up the new product that we’re going to create.
For example, a person might write ‘confusing’ on first post-it note and ‘helpful’ on the second.
Give everyone a minute or so to think about this.
When everyone is finished, go around the round asking each person to share and explain their two words. As we go around, the moderator sticks these up onto a large piece of paper mounted to the wall.
This now shows the team’s vision of ‘before and after’.
Keep this up on the wall for the rest of the day. It’s a great way to remind ourselves of the core project values.
10:15 - 11:15 : Identify the user needs
We now know what success looks like. It’s time to start thinking about how we get there.
Split everyone into teams. Pairs of two work well. If there are a lot of people, you can use teams of three instead.
For the next 5 minutes, each team needs to think up as many questions or needs that a user might have when coming to the site or app.
Ask them to write each need or question on a separate sticky note.
These must be phrased from the perspective of the user.
Let’s use the example of a company’s staff intranet. A user need for this might be : ”I want to book a meeting room” or “I want to see what’s on the lunch menu”.
Stress that it’s important they’re phrased like this. It makes us think about what the user’s actual need is, rather than coming up with solutions prematurely.
Separating the need and the solution is critical for your design process. You can make sure this happens by setting some ground rules:
- Notes need to start with ‘I want…’, to make sure they express an actual need.
- Or, notes need to be phrased as a question.
After the 5 minutes are up we go around the room asking each team to take it in turns sharing and explaining each user need.
After discussing a need, we put it up on a piece of paper we’ve stuck to the wall. We keep going until all of the group’s ideas are up, and everyone is happy with what’s there.
If the room doesn’t agree with a suggestion, it should be discussed. Raising these controversial items is an important part of the workshop. Don’t shy away from debate, and be prepared to play devil’s advocate as the moderator.
It’s possible the group might get too hung up discussing a single requirement. In these cases, move it across to a separate section of the wall called the ‘icebox’. You can come back to these later.
If two groups suggest the same need (which they ought to) put those sticky notes together, one on top of the other.
By the end of this process, you should have a collage of user needs up on the wall.
Before wrapping up, it may be worth grouping the requirements. Get the room to do this collectively. Let them stand up by the wall and move the post-it notes around into some sensible groupings.
Ideally you should have no more than about 12 main groupings. If you wind up with fewer, that’s a bonus!
11:15 - 11:30 : Break
Don’t forget to give the group a break!
People are taking time out of their normal working day to be here. It’s almost certain that they’ll have emails to look at, or catch-ups to have.
Taking a short break also gives everyone a chance to refresh themselves, and reflect on the discussion so far.
11:30 - 12:30 : Prioritise the user needs
Return everyone’s attention to the user needs that we put up on the wall.Read them out again, letting the group make sure that nothing has been left out. After taking a short break people might have reconsidered some of their choices, or thought of things they had forgotten earlier.
Now we need to start prioritising those needs. Give about 20 little stickers to a representative from the group. Ideally this should be the product owner or lead client.
Explain that these stickers are ‘priority points’. They need to be spent across on the needs up on the wall. The group has to discuss and agree on how they want to spend these points.
A need can have between 0 and 5 priority points. The more important the need, more points should be spent.
If you’ve not got that many needs, feel free to reduce the number of stickers.
You’ll need to stress that these can’t be spread evenly. If this does happen, get the group to repeat the activity. Encourage them that the best websites and apps are those that prioritise actions. By spreading their points too thin, the site or app will end up cluttered and unfocused.
This process can take some deliberation. You’ll want the team to explain why they’ve prioritised certain needs the way they have.
Referring to any user research you’ve brought into the room can help to inform decisions. Any group members who have direct dealings with users should be particularly useful here.
Take your time with this, asking for the justification behind each decision. By the end of the hour, you should have an understanding of how user needs are perceived by the group.
WARNING : This is no replacement for actual user research. What gives you is an understanding of the businesses’ priorities and perceptions. You’ll ned to validate this with actual research and testing later, but for now it’s a great start.
12:30 - 13:30 : Lunch
Because everyone needs to eat!
Resist the temptation to work through lunch. It gives people time to take a break from the room. Getting some fresh air will make people more productive in the afternoon.
During the lunch break, the moderator should can also take some time to prepare for the next activity.
13:30 - 15:00 : Features brainstorm
On a new section of the wall, the moderator should write down the user needs again on some big sticky notes. These should be arranged in a single column, in the priority order we defined in our last activity. The most important user needs should be at the top, the least important at the bottom.
Starting with the top user need, get the room to spend a few minutes thinking about potential features of the website or app that could address it.
This might be a piece of content, some kind of functionality, or a way of presenting information. Let’s think about our intranet example. A need like “see and manage my shifts” might be helped by a calendar view. A system of alerts or notifications might also be helpful.
Collect these ideas onto smaller sticky-notes, and put them up next to the need.
If the team are particularly enthusiastic about a certain feature, move it further over to the left.
It’s important that every feature maps directly to a user need. If a feature isn’t addressing a user’s need, it doesn’t belong in our product - no matter how cool it is.
Try to spend about 10 minutes discussing each need. If you want to make this a bit more interactive, get people to write and put up the sticky notes themselves.
WARNING : This is by no means going to give you a full product spec. There will be a lot in here that falls out of scope, isn’t necessary or even realistic. What matters is that you’ve gotten everyone thinking. Hopefully you’ve got some great new ideas to incorporate into your design, too!
By the end of this, you’ll have a wall full of potential features for your site or app.
15:00 - 15:15 : Break
By this point I expect everyone’s energy levels will be flagging. They’ll be eager to get up and move around.
Once again, resist the temptation to ‘power through’.
Give people 15 minutes to get some fresh air, before coming back for the final push.
15:15 - 16:15 : Sketch the home page
This is usually a nice one to finish up on. It’s a bit more interactive and fun, which helps given the waning attention levels.
Split the room back into the original teams from this morning’s session.
Give each team a big piece of paper and some sharpies. The teams should then spend 10 minutes working together to sketch their interpretation of the home page. If you’re working on an app that doesn’t have a home page, you can use a key screen instead.
Reassure them that the quality of the drawing doesn’t matter. In fact, you can encourage whoever is the least confident artist on each team to do the drawing.
Make sure you point the groups back to the needs we identified (and prioritised) earlier. These need to be considered on their home pages.
After the 10 minutes are up, get each team to present their work to the whole room. They should explain their thinking, and how they’ve interpreted the prioritised requirements.
When they’ve finished, stick that sketch up on the wall. You should now have a few interpretations of the home page.
These people aren’t designers so take this all with a pinch of salt.
What this activity should do is give you a further understanding of group’s priorities and expectations for the product. You might even get some design inspiration too!
16:15 - 16:30 : Wrap-up, questions & next steps
Congratulate the group on a productive day.
Hopefully you’ve learned a lot from this session about the project’s goals and objectives. Everyone who came should be better aligned to a single vision, and feel enthusiastic about the work to come.
Use these last few minutes to inform people what the next steps are, and take any questions.
For most projects the next steps would be :
- To document the findings of this session, including a set of experience principles.
- To start writing up site or app requirements in more detail.
- To begin the process of creating information architecture & wireframes.
Do it face-to-face.
I’ve tried to run sessions like this remotely before, but it doesn’t allow for the same level of interactivity. This is really important to get people engaged. It takes a lot of coordination to bring a big group together, but it’s worth it.
Ensure you put in lots of breaks.
I’ve mentioned this several times before, but it really is that important.
Resist the temptation to work through breaks. Giving people a bit of space to unwind and reflect will make them more productive later.
Do some research first.
Getting everyone together for a workshop can take some time to arrange.
Use this time to get a head-start on research. Interview some users. Check analytics data. Do some user testing of the existing product, if applicable. All of these things will put the team in a more informed position to make decisions in the workshop.
Hopefully this has given you a good starting point to plan your workshop.
Remember, this is just a basic format and should be adjusted to meet the needs of your specific project. There’s no ‘right’ way of doing these kinds of things, so keep learning.
Practice new activities to use in your workshops, so you can adapt on the fly if needed.
If you’re still keen, here are some resources I’d suggest :
- Workshop your way through the design process by Paul Boag. A really great tutorial but an absolute guru. There are a few ideas I’ve liberally stolen from this man, so I’d strongly recommend. You can read a lot more on Planning effective UX workshop agendas by Nielsen Norman Group. A really nice primer on how to prepare for, and plan the contents of your workshop.
- Gamestorming. A massive toolkit of workshop excerises for idea generation. A really useful resource if you’re trying to plan a session.
Have fun, good luck, and happy workshopping!
Get a free UX kick-off workshop agenda template
Need some more help? I’ve created an agenda template for a full day UX workshop. It’s availible in PowerPoint and Keynote formats. You can download it for free right here :