Here’s how workshops can help you develop better solutions

If anything, workshops can help you reflect on ideas together with a diverse group of people and help make better decisions. On top of that, workshops can offer you a structured way to unveil possible solutions to a problem. You can stop here, take that “wisdom” and start doing workshops. Or you can keep on reading about a workshop that did happen. Read about what led up to it and why it does help to get support from someone with a background in workshopping.

Now I first have to mention that I’m not trying to talk badly about my fellow co-workers. While some time has been wasted and could’ve been made better use of, that’s just how things are sometimes. Their basic idea was good. It just could’ve been better if I had been involved in the planning from the start. Then again, I was pretty busy during that time. Maybe that’s why I haven’t been asked to support them right away. But we’ve got bigger problems these days than several hours wasted. Just think “climate change”, “discrimination” or “data privacy issues” for example.

The backstory

So let me set the scene for you. There’s a new product or service that’s being worked on and that product needed a name – still does, but we’ll get to that. Coming up with a name isn’t easy, so they invited some people to a brainstorming session.

Not the worst idea actually. But they didn’t define their target audience upfront. They also didn’t take into account the already established branding guidelines. So it was really just the workshop participants writing down their personal ideas for a product name on virtual sticky notes.

That’s not how you would ideally do it. Why? Well, because what I might think is an awesome name for a product, might not work for the target audience I want to sell to. Branding is difficult. It needs steps you have to go through to first establish a basis everyone can build upon. Then you can come up with names that actually work.

Turning it around

After this first brainstorming session, I was approached to support them. They wanted a second workshop to get down to that one name for the product that should be used. Up until then, they only had narrowed it down to several possible names. Hearing how they came up with those names, I asked them to work on defining the target audience. Then I would set up a workshop to dig a bit deeper. One problem remained: I was already pretty much booked with other workshops and that workshop was only going to last for 2 hours. Not a lot of time for me to prepare and not a lot of time during the workshop.

I could run a proper brand naming workshop, but that takes at least 2×4 hours – time I didn’t have. So I cut it down to some important basics:

  • What are the current branding guidelines?
  • What kind of goal do you want to achieve with the brand name and why?
  • Define some criteria for your brand name. In this case: Which words and styles should you avoid?
  • Take the shortlist of names and check how well they fit with the branding guidelines, the criteria and if they achieve the goal.

Yes, this is far from an exhaustive list of things to consider when working on a brand name. But considering the short time we had, I wanted them to build some kind of basis on which they could make an informed decision.

Back to square one

Luckily they quickly realized that none of the names matched the criteria they came up with during the workshop. Obviously, they had already invested hours of work into that project. Hours they could’ve spent in a better way. Now they have to go back to square one to try to come up with a name.

But without that workshop, they might not have realized that they were heading down the wrong road. The workshop made them work on the problem at hand. Together they found that it might be better to have another go at coming up with a name – this time hopefully with a proper thought-through workshop. That’s a really good thing and I’m glad that was the outcome. Working in an agile environment sometimes means to take a step back to move forward. To come up with a good solution, you usually have to go through several iterations of your work. Workshops will not solve all your problems and oftentimes they are not necessary at all. But a well-prepared workshop might just be the step-by-step plan you need to move in the right direction. So get someone who knows what they are doing. It might look simple sometimes, but there is a lot of thinking that goes into planning one.