Most of what is currently taken out of workshops are intuitions about what to do next. Unfortunately, such subjective insights are not necessarily shared among workshop participants, nor are subsequent decisions justifiable by the outcomes of the workshop. Thoroughly evaluating and consolidating the unstructured, uncurated information that we produce at workshops is very time-consuming and subjective, and the rich insights are often reduced to a few variables. The challenge is to find the sweet spot between traceability and human judgment, leveraging rather than suppressing our gut feelings.
To address this problem we have developed processes that help us to develop the ability of good judgment, which does not only produce good decisions, but also documents our decision to make them comprehensible later. Our concept relies on four knowledge operations:
We have incorporated our experiences into an iterative prototype for a software tool called Sort-it. It allows us to quickly extract the main findings from a workshop, while maintaining a reference to the original source. Do you want to know how it works in practice? Let’s follow a group of food-enthusiasts trying to make a well-grounded decision.
Alice, Bob and Carol want to open a street food stand. They get together to brainstorm about their dream. Here are some of their favorite dishes they might offer:
Lots of ideas! How can they extract a concept for their food stand, making sure everybody’s values are considered?
They start by consolidating their ideas. Even though the group agreed on a rough structure to gather their input, there are always inconsistencies when taking notes. Those inconsistencies may be a different structure, naming or grouping — everything that makes it more complex to evaluate the ideas. Sort-it helps you to quickly gain an overview of your collected notes, notice differences and create consistency. In the end everything has its proper naming, duplicates are dissolved.
Now that the team has a consolidated and organized version of their workshop output they can start analyzing it. What is the main focus? Is there a common ground or is everybody thinking in different directions? The option to display data entities in the form of statistics provides a quick and efficient solution. Simple bar charts can be sufficient to support perception processes. The group recognizes that many of their dishes are tagged as gluten- or lactose-free. Filtering out those dishes that are allergy friendly, they see that they all go without plastic packaging.
While visually examining information, we start to change perspectives. As Alice, Bob and Carol now have a gut feeling that packaging could be a central aspect, they decide to group their ideas closer along the required packaging. With the layout options of Sort-it they can combine the packaging view with other properties of their ideas.
Our food enthusiasts now feel like they have some better ideas about the concept of their food stand. They gather a few notes what their main direction could be: some pre-workshop thoughts of having a multi-national food stand or trying to make it posh, together with new insights that ecologically and allergy friendly food may be their path. They establish connections between the concepts and their original food offering. The connections show that most dishes work towards ecological packaging and allergy friendly food.
Analyzing, re-sorting and playing around with the data was fun! Now Alice, Bob and Carol are ready to make a decision about which direction to go. Collecting and sorting all ideas in Sort-it supported their decision process and showed them several things in a really short time:
They decide to make sustainability the main motto of their food stand – sustainability for people and environment.
. . .
Getting from ideas to insight was just a matter of a few operations. The friends now continue the process for planing their next steps and keeping track of their progress, conducting and evaluating user interviews, and creating their business plan. Using Sort-it, they automatically create a backlog and documentation in a single source. Whenever they get stuck implementing a decision, they can go back and reconsider their original reasons.
People are diverse, workshops are diverse. Our process model is a flexible collection of building blocks that you can adapt for your needs. It currently consists of the four steps illustrated above. We are constantly working on reshaping and rethinking this collection.
Which steps supported you in your thinking and evaluation process? How did you make sense of your last workshop?
This article was originally published on Medium on August 26, 2020.