With the usual post-it notes, flip charts, and group exercises, it seems impossible to conduct a product discovery workshop online. Yet, in the light of the COVID-19 lockdown, millions of companies resort to the “remote-only” mode.

Creating a digital-first collaborative environment becomes a priority since, even before the COVID-19 outbreak, 85 percent of businesses considered using flexible work locations to make their company more productive.

That’s why today, more than ever, companies are wondering just how to lead a workshop on product discovery remotely. 

In this article, we’ll guide you through the product discovery workshop essentials, explain why you can achieve a better outcome with a remote session than with a physical one, and walk you through the basics of an efficient product discovery process. 

What Is a Product Discovery Workshop?

A product discovery workshop is a series of 2-6-hour meetings arranged at the product definition stage. The product owner, the development team, stakeholders, some target customers (if possible), and the facilitator are the key participants of product discovery sessions. They gather to:

  • Define the product vision
  • Outline the product’s key features
  • Identify the product’s target users
  • Set expectations for all sides
  • Estimate the project scope, budget, and timeline. 

Though they aren’t obligatory, the role of product discovery workshops is hard to overestimate.

Here’s why workshops are so important: a well-planned meeting can help foresee possible hurdles during the development stage, allocate extra funds, and adjust the team size in advance while streamlining the entire process. 

Best Practices of Running a Workshop Remotely

We’re used to thinking that workshops must be held in person, but a fine-tuned remote product discovery workshop offers opportunities that the offline one does not. Brainstorming projects online allows gathering multinational teams in one place, interviewing customers from all over the world, preparing content in advance so executives can review it, working simultaneously, and so much more.

However, you can only yield these benefits with an elaborate plan in place. Here’s your answer to how to run a discovery workshop remotely.

General Guidelines 

Shorten and split. A remote meeting is more energy-consuming than a physical one.Since an average product discovery session lasts for about four hours, split it in one-hour chunks for the online format.

Mind the time zones. When gathering your globally distributed team online, don’t forget about time zone differences and schedule each session accordingly.

Know your tools for workshops. Using the right combination of virtual collaboration tools is key to an efficient remote product discovery workshop. At Edvantis, we usually combine four types of tools: 

  • Real-time communication tools.When it comes to virtual conferences, Zoom is an unbeatable champion these days. Yet, it’s critical to choose the technology that’s available in all locations and setups. 
  • Tools for “side conversations.” The lack of “side conversations” often makes remote workshops so challenging to some. So set up a chatting space where attendees can exchange thoughts and concerns. Slack or Teams will be quite helpful. 
  • Documenting tools. Substitute the traditional flip chart with Google Docs or Office 365 for note-taking in real-time. 
  • Brainstorming tools. Brainstorming user personas, customer journeys, or client discovery questionnaires are the essence of any workshop. At Edvantis, we prefer using digital equivalents of the traditional post-it notes. Tools like Miro and Mural allow preparing templates for various activities, creating post-it notes together, and voting. 

Before the Workshop

Outline the agenda. This includes outlining the purpose and the outcome, articulating the logistical information (time, place), being clear about activities and timings, compiling a list of project scoping questions, or giving homework to the participants if needed. 

Test the virtual tools. Before the workshop starts, let everyone check their access to all communication, brainstorming, and task management tools.

Build familiarity. If the participants do not know each other, make up for it by sharing everyone’s profiles and allowing them to communicate. As the workshop facilitator, make sure that you are familiar with everyone and know how to leverage each attendees’ experience to achieve the meeting’s goal.

Create groupings. If there are group exercises on the agenda, split attendees into groups in advance. Doing this on the go is quite challenging in an online setting.

Prepare ice-breakers and trust-builders.In a physical meeting, ice-breakers are not always necessary since workshop participants can chat with each other before the beginning. But online, everyone is detached from the outside world. At Edvantis, we usually compensate this with the help of ice-breaking and trust-building exercises, which should be prepared beforehand.

During the Workshop 

  • Be punctual. Show up in advance and also encourage everyone to arrive 10 minutes before the meeting.
  • Articulate the ground rules. Explain to the attendees how you expect them to interact during the session: turn the video on, mute by default, etc.
  • Do a warm-up on tools. Be ready that not everyone is familiar with the chosen tools. To this end, start using each tool with an easy warm-up exercise. 
  • Over-communicate. Since the depth of communication is limited in online workshops, consider repeating the main points until everyone understands you. 
  • Eliminate distractions. Avoiding distractions is more challenging when you’re at home. As a facilitator, separate yourself from your usual working environment and mute notifications. 
  • Plan the breaks beforehand. Breaks are important. But be clear about the timings to make sure that everyone is back on time.
  • Document the outputs. The entire workshop should be well-documented. Cluster everything into a single document and consider recording the workshop.

We’re certain that when you follow the steps we described, your online product discovery workshops will be just as productive and valuable as the physical ones!

Are you looking to learn more about our approach to running product discovery and user story workshops? Do you have an idea that needs to be transformed into a viable product? If you answered “Yes” to either of these questions, contact us now!