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Former Member

Welcome to part two of this blog!

If you want the full story, read part one first. You can find it here:

“I think these workshops are almost like rock concerts.

The first three songs on your setlist (agenda) need to be
and the finish needs to phenomenal.

In between you need to be ready to change songs on the

fly depending on the mood of a really demanding crowd."

“Get the Red Thread -  the Agenda”

DT coaches know, you can’t plan a creative process down to a single minute. However you can’t say “somehow DT will manage it” either.

Senior Management teams have ways to facilitate workshops. However it’s great to see that there is a good load of curiosity whether DT can make a difference in these workshops. And it does. No matter if it is senior managers or other participants, if teams have not used DT before they need some planning reliability.

Meanwhile I’m very open to say:

“Yes we can define an agenda for all three days, however you can expect that this agenda is about 50-70% stable. It will change and indeed it is not a bad thing to change it throughout the workshop.”

The best ideas for good agenda items I normally don’t get while sitting in front of my laptop, these pop to my mind while doing music, taking a shower or going to bed. The situation of the team, the starting point and the objectives of the workshop give you the guard rails for your agenda. And of course the often limited resource: the time.

Until now you might have the question “so what about Design Thinking”. Let’s cover this now.

The basic principle of the agenda follows the Design Thinking process, meaning Scoping, Research, Synthesis, Ideation, Prototyping, Validation. After probably more than a hundred workshops I tend to say, this pattern always makes sense, no matter what topic the workshop is about. However as your agenda might start with high level strategic topics and later needs to cover nitty-gritty operational actions I’ve found it useful to run very quick iterations of this process throughout the agenda. In each of the phases I infuse some fitting DT techniques. At the same time you should make sure that the following DT principles are reflected in your agenda:

  • Everybody gets Airtime
    meaning everybody gets a chance to speak and therefore feels involved. Yes there is the chance that two or three characters require a lot of airtime. Make sure the others get heard as well. You can enforce this by using techniques where each individual person writes down thoughts on sticky-notes and then shares to the team.
  • Defer Judgement
    Especially during scoping and ideation phases you might need to emphasize that it is not about agreeing rather about exploring different perspectives. The prioritization comes afterwards.
  • Joint Decision Taking
    Use prioritization techniques that imply the "wisdom of the crowd". Especially with senior teams it is important that an idea gets the full buyin of the whole team. That also means everybody get's the same weight of votes. By following this rule I've never had the situation that the team wasn't satisfied with or questioned what they've prioritized.
  • There are many more principles and somehow all of them apply in one or the other format. The ones listed here were the ones that I had to emphasize most.

I use the following simple pattern to create the agenda and also to adjust the agenda throughout the workshop. Simply ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are they on the same page
    If not, use DT exercises from scoping phase.
  • Do they need more information or context about the topic?
    If yes, use DT exercises from research, synthesis phase.
  • Do they need to prioritize their challenges/ideas/initiatives?
    If yes, use prioritization techniques.
  • Do they need to develop ideas / initiatives on how to solve it?
    If yes, use DT techniques from ideation phase.
  • Can we start to assign actions and responsibilities?
    If yes, use DT techniques from phases prototyping and validation.
  • General question: How do I best relate the exercise to the objective of this workshop?

By constantly walking throught these questions you get a good sense on where your team stands and what's needed as a next step on your agenda.

Meanwhile I only plan the first half day. Indeed I've found it ok to reveal this to stakeholders. My main thinking is "You can't plan a creative process to 100%. If there would be a pattern like a+b=c behind all this, everybody could create a new Business Model in no time. Hence this requires some flexibility when it comes to the way we build the agenda.".

The first two or three exercises I use to better understand the team and the group dynamics. Then I add techniques based on the pattern shown above.

Coming back to the analogy with the rock concert: yes, you want to make sure your first three ‘songs’ on your agenda are kind of bullet proof. And the chords at the end as well. In between you can use one or the other technique that is a little experiment for you and the team. It’s O.K. if one exercise does not work out 100%. It just shouldn’t be at the beginning or end of your workshop (also of a workshop day).

How much time is needed for preparation?

Depending on the situation, effort wise the preparation takes me 2 hours to a day including tasks around creating the agenda, talking to the main stakeholders etc.. Two hours sounds short but sometimes I see reoccurring patterns where I can reuse some agenda items that worked in the past.

Very often the agenda needs two or three iterations based on changing requirements, upcoming challenges etc. If the objectives and the situation about the starting point is very fuzzy it could of course take longer. So having seven days until the workshop starts is an OK timeframe. But this heavily depends on the availability of the main sponsor and your contact person. (Looking for good DT rooms is another question, this could even take longer).

“Be very flexible – Changing the Agenda on the Fly”
Especially during five minute breaks you might get approached by the main sponsor and COO with additional topics that need to be covered. Don’t forget, a game plan at the end normally is a must! Otherwise they will say “nice discussion but no concrete actions”.

It’s ok to put other stuff in, but many times it’s necessary to take other stuff out. Ask for a short prioritization of topics (also compared to the other stuff that is already on the agenda), the ones on the bottom of the list might not be tackled within your workshop. Don't overcommit as this will result in disappointment.

Talking about budget:
During workshops I sometimes get the request “Marc, we have X Million of budget, can we do an exercise on where to best spend it?”. Meanwhile I tend to say that an extra exercise does not make sense. I’d rather recommend to focus on identifying initiatives, needed capabilities and potential challenges to make these real. The question for budget automatically arises while talking about identified initiatives. At the end you might get a comment from the main sponsor like “OK, I see my x Million basically vanished, but as the team identified these top three initiatives, it makes absolutely sense to invest it there.”. As a matter of fact, I’ve never had the situation that someone complained about having too much budget left at the end of a workshop.

“End your Workshop by Capturing the Team’s Momentum”
Ending the workshop means basically to have a defined end for all participants. I've had situations where like half of the team had to leave a bit earlier and I missed the time to make an official ending. So my learning: If one person needs to leave half a day earlier it's OK but as soon as you get the feeling your workshop fades out without the final chord, rather stop it earlier.
The “I like…, I wish…” exercise works excellent to capture positive team momentum. That means every participant writes down one sticky-note starting with "I liked..." and one with "I wish..." and then shares these to the whole team. Almost every participant states things like “I liked that we’ve agreed on these top initiatives and I wish we make em real in the defined timeframe”.

“Deliver Workshop Results ASAP”
Decisions need to trigger actions as soon as possible. Meanwhile my best practice is to come with a scribe to the workshop. She/he needs to digitalize every post-it and structure kind of in real time. This way you can deliver a snappy workshop summary basically the next day.
Your summary should include:

  • The thought process of the workshop so participants can recap the journey.
  • Content that needs to go e.g. into strategy papers etc. .
  • Main initiatives and needed capabilities / potential challenges.
  • The commitment from the different participants on their specific contribution to these initiatives
  • The game plan with actions, KPIs and responsibilities

What’s next?
I hope this blog gave you some insights and inspiration into what it means to run DT inspired workshops for Senior Management teams. I’m very much interested to learn from your experience! So if you have a question or some learnings to share, feel free to comment.
In one of my next blogs I'll talk about my favourite techniques that I use during these kind of workshops. And I'll also write about how you can leverage the Persona exercise in such environments. Stay tuned!

If you wish check out my new blog about "How a Slice of Pizza can teach you Design Thinking":

All the best!


About the author:
Marc works in the Services Innovation & Design Thinking Center of Excellence Team at SAP since 2011. His main tasks are global program management, workshop facilitation and DT coaching for strategic internal and external customers. He holds two diplomas, one for computer science and one for economics and engineering. Marc started as a software developer for Windows and Linux Systems, ran 8 years his own business in the context of interactive & dynamic web content. 2006 he joined SAP in Business Transformation Consulting and was part of some of the major SAP implementations in Retail, Banking and Public Sector.