Jun 27, 2023, Design

What to do when a customer isn’t eager to engage in workshops?

Michał Sawicki UX Designer
project without workshops
Workshops are an excellent opportunity to develop high-quality materials and learn about the agency's or software house's working methods, which creates an undeniable value for a client. And the pandemic has only made the transition to a remote model of conducting workshops easier, eliminating distance barriers. But what should you do in a situation when a client purchases a workshop and later... cooperation proves to be exceptionally difficult?

Differences in workshop approach

While having access to your favorite, mastered tools, such as a power drill, grinder, chisel, or soldering iron can be significant when working on a physical object, in the case of conceptual product work where workshop tools are sticky notes and markers (or their virtual counterparts), there’s no need to use your own materials.

It was even more surprising when a client expressed a desire to learn how to use virtual sticky notes and understand the methods used during a workshop, and then carry out the task “in their home workshop.” This was an utterly unusual approach – till then we haven’t really had the opportunity to work in a way where a client only learns the method during the workshop meetings and conducts the required works independently, without a moderator on our side.

The client’s decision was motivated by an attempt to avoid time pressure and work in a comfortable environment. As they weren’t convinced by our arguments about the role of a moderator and more efficient use of time – even with limited resources – they decided to work on their own terms, intending to use workshop meetings to validate internally developed materials and prepare for in-house implementation of subsequent stages.

Building Information Architecture

We had already mapped out the structure of the client’s current website version. Considering its complexity and plans for restructuring the entire site, we had to develop the information architecture from scratch, taking into account the upcoming changes.

During the workshop introduction, we presented the tools and the working method. However, a larger issue arose regarding the approach to building the information architecture for the client’s website. Apart from significant differences of opinion on the client’s end regarding how it should look, we also experienced stronger frictions among their team members who once again addressed the issue of workshop time frames. At one point, we encountered explicit resistance from one participant towards the others because they felt frustrated having to “explain things to people who aren’t knowledgeable in the field.” Working in such an atmosphere is both inefficient and unpleasant.

Relocation to the comfort zone

The client has put forward a request to allow their team to work on the information architecture on their own, within the comfort of their own office and convenient time frames. However, this kind of approach made it impossible to make the most of all the advantages that come with a moderated workshop. Working under the guidance of a workshop facilitator allows you to benefit from their experience and support. Process moderation allows monitoring if the work progresses in the right direction, and any mistakes, potential errors, or risks are quickly identified, discussed, and corrected.

We had a discussion regarding the potential risks associated with the decision to work in such a manner, as well as attempts to argue in favor of maintaining the well-known and proven workshop facilitation approach. Nonetheless the client decided to work remotely using a “homework” approach. In that case we suggested that during the workshop the team would learn the working method and tasks, which they would complete independently in their own environment, and then discuss the results of their work with our experts. 

Checking Homework Assignments

By reducing the role of the iteo team to assigning tasks and verifying their completion, we lacked real influence over the client’s work process. This resulted in specific risks in the following areas:

  • Process: The lack of control over the workflow and adherence to the workshop process posed a risk to the overall effectiveness of the project.

  • Participants: Excluding certain individuals from the process, which at this point became highly probable, would be prone to eliminate the opportunity to gain insights from team members who joined the project later, bringing fresh perspectives and leveraging their experiences from other departments.

  • Context: Without attending the client’s internal meetings during their work, we were unable to participate in their discussions. As a result, we often faced challenges in understanding proposals or implemented changes, requiring additional time for clarification by the client. Limiting the use of iteo employees’ expertise compromised the quality of the generated outputs.

  • Deliverables: The quality of the final materials produced internally by the client remained outside our control and could only be assessed during workshop-consultation meetings. The lack of quality control during the preparation of materials resulted in the need to repeat certain tasks multiple times.

  • Moderation: Lack of control over the meeting proceedings and the ability to guide discussions and activities towards specific goals created ambiguity and made it challenging to achieve desired outcomes.

  • Time: Considering the aforementioned factors and associated risks, the overall project timeline could be extended on both sides, posing additional threats for the client’s deadlines.

  • Accountability for the final outcome: Due to the unfamiliar and highly unorthodox working method and the resulting risks, we faced difficulties in maintaining the desired quality of the outputs produced by the client which required additional time for revisions and adjustments. To ensure the appropriate level of quality for both materials and the final output, we had to allocate greater resources to thorough review, providing feedback to the client, as well as refining and correcting the output.

It is crucial to communicate these risks to the client and work together to mitigate them effectively, ensuring that the project progresses smoothly and the desired outcomes are achieved.

Verified solutions

Ultimately, we managed to work out the final materials of such quality that allowed us and the client to move on to the next stage of the project. However, we achieved this with a significantly greater time investment (mainly on the client’s side) and a lot of unnecessary tension, confusion, and the need to address the risks mentioned earlier.

Despite involving all individuals during the workshop-consultation sessions and discussing the outcomes of group work, it seemed that some participants were seeing presented material for the first time and didn’t fully agree with the proposed solutions. Furthermore, this specific working method resulted in reduced engagement from some individuals during our meetings, and despite their valuable insights, they were reluctant to express their own opinions.

In conclusion, conducting workshops in a school-like manner – with assigned exercises and tasks reviewed at the next meeting – is possible. However, the risks associated with this approach, as well as the accompanying costs (time, responsibility, emotions, and work comfort), outweigh the benefits.

It’s not unlikely that someday, for some reason, some other client may request a similar change in the workshop format and transition to a “homework” system. In such a situation, it is much better to consider changing the workshop techniques or completely revamping its format. It is possible to adjust it in a way that involves a client less in interactions with the tool and allows them to independently move elements or add labels, while still maintaining the supervision of a moderator from iteo. This way, we retain control over the workshop process, have a real impact on the discussion, and ensure that the quality of the materials depends solely on our experience and skills.