ARTICLE: Annie Hensley

How to host a remote discovery workshop — and get the most from your EdTech team

When your team decides to build a new feature for your EdTech product, you likely start by holding a discovery workshop. You use the workshop to bring all the necessary stakeholders together, brainstorm ideas, and come into alignment about the underlying user needs and business objectives driving the new feature. 

Close your eyes and picture it. You’re probably imagining your product team huddled together in a conference room. They might be sketching out ideas on a whiteboard or putting up a series of sticky notes. Either way, it’s a collaborative, interactive process — one that seems best-suited to face-to-face interactions. 

But that’s not always possible. As more and more organizations embrace a partial or wholly distributed model, EdTech companies must find ways to adjust. With stakeholders and team members scattered across the country, your ability to facilitate remote discovery workshops will become increasingly important. 

You may wonder if it’s possible to achieve the same results in this context. After all, it’s easy to ideate in person. When everyone is physically in the same place, the group can fully engage and everyone contributes. It’s a legitimate concern, but there’s no need to worry. With the right preparation, tools, and team alignment you can make remote discovery sessions work for your team — and use them to uncover the same key insights. 

 

How To Run a Remote Discovery Workshop

Use the following tips to plan and execute a productive online discovery session. 

  • Establish your core team. Smaller groups — think 3-7 people — tend to work better when it comes to remote video meetings. Of course, you’ll likely need to include all the same stakeholders you’d normally invite to an in-person discovery session. Typically, that will include a cross-section of team members from your UX, product, and engineering teams. Depending on the feature in question, it may also help to include someone from research, learning science, or CX. Just make sure you don’t extend the meeting beyond the core team. If you can’t avoid a larger group, plan to break out into subgroups and come back together at various points to share your takeaways. Limiting the people who attend will go a long way toward ensuring that everyone is an active participant.
  • Establish a timeline — and avoid marathon meetings. Virtual workshops are more draining than in-person sessions. Your usual discovery workshops may be day-long affairs, but that won’t yield the best results in a virtual context. Think in advance about how to structure your workshop so you get the most out of your team members. That may mean breaking up your session into multiple meetings over the course of a week.
  • Decide what can be done outside of the meeting. Optimize your time by coming prepared and identifying opportunities for post-meeting follow-ups. For example, your UX team should come with an idea of what they think the problem statement is beforehand and run it by product. And the product team, meanwhile, should be prepared to present the business needs you are aiming to address.  
  • Agree to eliminate distractions. It can be harder to stay focused in an online meeting. We all know it’s true. With all of your work tabs open in front of you, it can be tempting to use “inactive” meeting time to respond to pressing emails or catch up on admin work. But if everyone on your team does that, your discovery workshop is bound to be a dud. Get your team to agree to eliminate distractions and bring their full attention to the session. As much as possible, turn off notifications (Slack, we’re looking at you!) and close extraneous tabs so you can focus on the session at hand.
  • Choose a facilitator. The best discovery workshops are those that are led by a facilitator — someone who is designated to run the meeting and keep the team on task. It’s hard to participate in and facilitate a discovery workshop at the same time. If possible, arrange to have a project manager or another “neutral” party act as your facilitator. If you must pull double-duty, utilize a tool like Mural that has built-in tools, such as a timer with a visual on-screen indicator. Another idea? Ask a second UX, product, or engineering resource to act as a facilitator so they can absorb the knowledge as they sit in on the meeting.  
  • Frame up user needs and business objectives first. Your first item of business should be to identify and align around the user needs and business objectives that are driving your new feature. Once you establish the underlying goals, use them to keep your team aligned. Be sure to measure all of your ideas against them. You’ll know that your brainstorming is going too far afield if your ideas don’t clearly connect to your previously stated user needs and business goals. 
  • Choose a tool for your session. You’ll need a video conferencing tool, of course. But you should also consider using an additional digital collaboration tool to facilitate your discovery workshop. Mural is an excellent example, as it comes with many collaborative tools baked in, such as dot voting and collaborative sticky notes.  
  • Go analog. If your team is accustomed to sketching together or using other analog methods, make them part of your process. Encourage your team to sketch on paper, take photos, and upload their documents to Mural (or another tool) to share with the full group. 
  • Cameras on. If possible, everyone should agree to appear on video. That way, folks are more likely to stay engaged. It also gives the facilitator the ability to see if someone is trying to speak up but can’t seem to get a word in edgewise. In addition, it allows you to pick up on your group’s energy level. Are people’s eyes glazing over? Time to take a quick break. Finally, instruct everyone to “ride the mute button” unless they are speaking. When someone wants to say something, they can unmute their audio. This is a cue to everyone else that they want to chime in.

The mechanics of putting on a virtual discovery workshop may seem overwhelming. But with a little planning and a few best practices, you’re sure to get the most out of your team — wherever they are.

  • Photo of Annie Hensley
    Annie Hensley

    As UX Lead at Openfield, Annie’s focus is ensuring our clients benefit from world-class UX design and research. She knows how important it is to mind meld with product owners and engineering teams while remaining a champion for our clients’ users. Annie is a lifelong runner who enjoys helping others train for major milestones such as full and half marathons. Her passion for mentorship and social issues is evident in her leadership and involvement in organizations that support women in our industry.

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