How to organize remote discovery workshops — tips & tools

Discovery workshops have been a core aspect of our process for years because they proved to have numerous benefits both for our clients and for us. But since our clients have their HQs in different parts of the world, we often need to replace in-person discovery workshops with remote ones. Here’s how we do it!

A discovery workshop is a part of our initial project definition and planning phase, and its goal is to fully define the scope of the project and goals that need to be achieved, but also to set expectations for all sides involved in the project.

It is extremely beneficial because of it:

  1. Can reduce the overall production costs
  2. Leads to an increased production speed
  3. Helps minimize the occurrence of risks and issues during production
  4. Enables clients to meet the team that will be working on their project
  5. Results in a precise production roadmap for the entire project

Although the overall concept and benefits are the same, organizing and running a remote discovery workshop is a bit different than conducting a ‘regular’ in-person workshop. There are new tools you have to use, you need to establish some specific rules, and prepare a different type of agenda… and on top of that, you still need to ensure everyone is fully involved, engaged and active behind the webcam.

This can sound like quite a bit of extra work, but it’s actually fairly simple if you take into account a few of these pieces of advice we gathered over the years of conducting in-person discovery workshops and remote discovery workshops. So let’s get started!

#1 Prepare in advance

Having a “we’ll figure it on-the-fly” mentality is not something we advise when it comes to organizing and conducting discovery workshops. While we’re all for “wingin’ it” from time to time, and sure, some activities can be performed with that approach, remote discovery workshops are not one of them. To make sure everything goes smoothly and according to the plan, preparation is the key.

And this preparation covers everything:

  1. Having a clear structure of the workshop and preparing the agenda in advance, so it can be sent to all of the participants
  2. Preparing all of the assets that’ll be used or needed — this includes all the templates, tools, documents, prototypes… anything that could be useful during the workshop
  3. Double checking all of the tools to make sure they’re working as they’re supposed to — there’s nothing more demotivating than starting the workshop with an hour long troubleshooting session
  4. Onboarding all of the participants — telling them what they’ll go through, what to prepare for the workshop, how will they communicate, what are the rules and guidelines, showing them all of the tools that’ll be used…

Checking off all of these activities will ensure that the workshop itself goes as smoothly and as efficiently as possible.

#2 Get off the tool hype-train

When it comes to conducting remote discovery workshops, tools are an absolute necessity, but tools can also be an enormous distraction if you go overboard with them. The key here is to only use the tools that enable you to do more activities better and faster, and that ultimately help you go through the workshop in the most efficient way possible. Using tools as a crutch in an effort to minimize the lack of preparation or clear agenda or any other aspect is exactly what you need to avoid.

In our remote discovery workshops, we keep the tools to a minimum:

  1. For conferencing and communication, we use either Google Meet or Zoom
    Either option is fine as they both have similar features — they work without issues or lag, you can turn on the webcam and turn off the mic, they enable participants to share their screens and they have the option to record the meeting. You don’t need much more than that for a conferencing tool, so the choice between one or the other is just personal preference.
  2. As a virtual whiteboard, we use Miro
    Whiteboards are a key element of every discovery workshop, and Miro is just that — a clean and easy to use whiteboard and visual collaboration tool that can be shared with all of the participants. It has all of the necessary features you’ll need, but it also comes with a bunch of pre-configured whiteboard templates which make the initial setup much simpler and faster.
  3. For prototyping during the workshop, we use Figma
    Figma is amazing because it enables us to quickly create visual prototypes of the elements we talked about during the workshop. Because of its advanced collaboration functionalities, it enables multiple people to work on the prototype, get feedback, iterate and improve.
  4. For storing and sharing documents, we use Google Drive
    When it comes to storing and sharing files, there are numerous options, but Drive is the gold standard. It’s simple, it has all of the features you need and it just plain works.

And that’s it, those are all of the tools we use. And we honestly very rarely feel the need to add another one.

#3 Limit the number of participants and set clear roles

When conducting remote discovery workshops, it’s always a good idea to limit the number of participants in order to keep an energetic and productive workflow during the entire workshop. We found that having 4 to 6 people is ideal, and 7 is the upper limit. Within those 4 to 6 people, it’s important that we have at least one decision-maker from our client’s side, while we always involve a set of specialists who will be involved on the project.

Making sure everyone is active and engaged is a bit difficult when you’re just seeing them through the screen, so keeping the number of participants lower will ensure that the optimal level of workflow and the discussion can be maintained at all times.

In addition to limiting the number of participants, we also set specific roles for members within our team — we define who’ll be leading and facilitating the workshop, who’ll be keeping the notes, etc.

By doing that, every person participating in the workshop knows what they’re expected to do, and that ultimately leads to a much more productive environment that is fully focused on the goal.

#4 Establish a basic set of rules

Creating a set of rules that should be followed during the course of a remote workshop is necessary in order to keep the focus of everyone involved on the elements that are actually important.

The thing is, participating in a workshop while you’re on a laptop is a distraction waiting to happen, so it’s always a good idea to define a couple of dos and don’ts like:

  1. Turn off the phones to avoid getting distractions
  2. Postpone answering an email until the first break
  3. Try not to speak while others are speaking
  4. Try to keep your webcam on
  5. Be on time after the break

Simple rules and guidelines like these minimize the distractions and put everyone into the proper working mode for the duration of the workshop.

#5 Create a detailed agenda

Having an agenda beforehand and sharing it with all of the participants is very important, but what’s even more important is structuring it in a way that enables everyone to know exactly what will be discussed during each of the time slots. This is really helpful when it comes to planning for day 2, day 3, day 4… of the workshop.

Here’s what an example of an agenda for a remote discovery workshop looks like when we’re sending it to our clients. You can see all of the time slots and their main topics, as well as specific elements within those topics that will be covered during the specified time slots.

In addition to creating detailed agendas, with remote workshops we also like to turn the overall daily workload down a notch, so our ‘regular’ 2-day workshops usually turn into remote 3-day workshops with a day off between each workshop day.

Maintaining focus and being fully active and engaged for 8 hours is practically impossible when you’re in front of a screen, so this setup proved to be ideal.

#6 Use off days to reflect and reorganize

As we said in the previous section, when we conduct remote discovery workshops, we always have a day off between every workshop day. For example, if we’re conducting a 3-day workshop with a client, Monday, Wednesday and Friday are workshop days, while Tuesday and Thursday are off days.

We organize it that way because we use those off days to reflect on what we’ve done during the previous day and to prepare for the next. Off days are when we analyze all of the decisions, when we work on prototypes and create a specific plan of what we’ll go over the following day. This is also the day when our clients can prepare additional info we might need or go over the aspects we covered during the workshop with their teams.

This setup has proven to be much more effective than having a three day, back to back to back workshop.

#7 Emphasise engagement

Making sure that all of the participants are active and engaged during the workshop is essential for its success, and that is even more important when the workshop is conducted via a video conferencing tool. The thing is, participating in a workshop while you’re alone in front of a computer screen just isn’t as stimulating as being in a room full of other people — pair that with a conversation that is sometimes laggy, devoid of side conversations, gestures, body language… and that high-energy workshop experience gets really toned down and that can lead to decreases engagement.

That is why we have strategically organized tasks and breaks during our workshop days, and why facilitators who lead our remote discovery workshops with clients are always keeping a close eye on the overall dynamics, speed and energy of the discussion.

When those levels start decreasing, that means it’s time to pull people back into the conversation with a new question or a topic.

Ready to learn more about discovery workshops?

Now that you know how remote discovery workshops are organized and conducted, you might want to learn more about discovery workshops in general. To do it, check out our blogs about what discovery workshops are, how they save projects and what are some of their benefits or download our FREE EBOOK that goes in-depth and covers all of the specifics.