Workshops aren't always created equal

Please note that this post, first published over a year ago, may now be out of date.

Workshops, whether you love or tolerate them, are an important part of collaborative problem solving.

A well planned workshop can promote teamwork, support business robustness and increase longevity of outcomes. Removing silos and allowing those that often don’t have the opportunity to collaborate are a hidden bonus to facilitating a workshop.

I will outline our workshop process here at The Scale Factory and include tips for each stage for when you coordinate or run your own.

Sticky notes on a wall board

Before the workshop

At The Scale Factory amongst delivering the expected outcomes (which can include solution designs and engineering backlogs), we aim to explore through discussion the business, background and where the workshop fits within your short and long term strategies.

We agree on the agenda, outcomes and goals during a 30 minute kick off meeting held before the workshop. During the kick off we will introduce the project manager and consultants that will be working with our clients as well as offer an opportunity to exchange preferred ways of working. The Scale Factory has a strong set of values.

Tip 1. A week in advance circulate a proposed agenda with goals, outcomes and talking points. Set aside time to run through the agenda with your audience, allowing for suggestions or comments. Bringing your audience into the journey sooner will help flatten the change curve that can result from conducting a workshop.

Your agenda should include:

  • Goals
    A description for the aim of the workshop

  • Outcomes
    physical deliverables e.g. architecture diagrams, migration plans

  • Problem statement
    descriptions of where we are now versus where we want to be, contextualising the problem

We are a remote first business, we host our workshops on Zoom using Miro as our online whiteboard of choice. During the kick off we will outline our usual tools, and explore if these meet the needs of our clients as well as confirming any audience and date/time logistics.

On the day

During the workshop technical discussion our consultants will refer back to the agreed agenda, using the business requirements and their knowledge to shape a solution with the audience. Workshops are rarely uniform as each business differs, so our tools and mechanisms range from using MoSCoW (see below), cost benefit analysis and even straight to drafting infrastructure diagrams, using previous designs or starting from scratch.

Tip 2. Prioritise your business requirements

MoSCoW is a fantastic tool to help prioritise conflicting or multi-source business requirements. MoSCoW stands for; Must have, Should have, Could have and Won’t have.

Tagging your business requirements with each of these categories creates a natural prioritisation of engineering. Must haves are your essential services, should haves; your refinements, could haves; your service improvements and won’t haves; your out of scope features/requirements.

Our workshops are designed in collaboration with our customers. As I have mentioned we start our workshops with understanding the business, we focus our efforts on designing a solution that meets business needs over technical purity or bias.

We schedule at least two consultants per workshop. They share the opportunity to drive the technical discussions, focusing on exploring why previous design decisions have been made, what is currently succeeding and the pain points in the existing setup. The consultants act as subject matter experts and the driving force for the collaboration.

It is important to us that any solution that is created during the workshop is agreed upon by its stakeholders and links directly to the desired business outcomes.

Tip 3. Ground your discussions in long term and short term strategies - both technical and commercial.

Dig into how technically pure the solution should be, how long you need the solution to last, how much operational overhead is the business willing to commit to its ongoing maintenance…

The technical and commercial departments should have harmonious collaboration. Think hitting the ‘Goldilocks sweet spot’ for costs and benefits.

Workshop closure

As the technical solution discussions come to a close, we start to define how we should structure the engineering engagement. Often we schedule engineering immediately after the workshop however we understand implementation may be delayed to allow for designs to be approved via a technical or change board.

In preparation for the engineering phase we will draft a backlog of epics and tasks, drawing out critical paths and ways of working for implementation.

Tip 4. Ring fence time at the end of the workshop to close with intention.

A successful project truly does start from having a clearly defined scope, roles & responsibilities and the ability to hold each other accountable. As part of closure we should be able to answer the following questions:

  • Do our designs link directly to business objectives?
  • What are we not delivering? And why?
  • Have the impacts of any proposed changes been scoped and identified?
  • What are our very first next steps and who will complete those tasks?
  • Who is accountable for project velocity?
  • Who are the stakeholders and how do we communicate daily? Weekly?
  • How will we collaborate on implementation?
  • How do we measure success and velocity / progress burn-down?

Intentional closures are essential to not lose the energy gained from a workshop. Put aside 30 minutes to close and always follow up with the outputs.

Workshops at The Scale Factory are key design phases to ensure we are either tailoring one of our products like AWS Foundations or exploring the technology possibilities for a green field / bespoke project.

We’ve been an AWS SaaS Services Competency Partner since 2020. If you’re building SaaS on AWS, why not book a free health check to find out what the SaaS SI Partner of the Year can do for you?

This blog is written exclusively by The Scale Factory team. We do not accept external contributions.

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