Are Remote Workshops Possible?

Weekly musings about life as a PM

As everyone starts moving towards working from home or are already working from home, what does that mean for PMs? One of the things that we’ve started trying out in our team is conducting workshops and alignment sessions virtually. Here are some things that we’ve learnt along the way:

1. Your tool of choice

For our team, I chose draw.io as our whiteboarding tool of choice for a few reasons even though it’s not the best at real time collaboration. Some reasons why I chose it:

  • Tied in nicely with Google Suite which our team uses to. draw.io files can be stored in the relevant folders to ensure that everyone is able to access them easily.
  • Basic whiteboarding functionality was available
  • Did not require any additional hardware for it be used

While we’ve experimented using other virtual whiteboarding tools like Miro in that past, I’ve found that it’s hard to keep track of all the Miro boards that we have and ensuring that everyone has access to it.

In this case I’ve placed more emphasis on ensuring that the tool integrates in well with our existing suite of products rather than the efficacy of the tool itself but it’s really up to you.

2. Really think through your activities

  • Want to run an individual brainstorming activity? Maybe place a shape over the text boxes you want people to fill in so that others can’t see what others are filling in.

Note: You can also extend this further by covering all other planned activities so that participants don’t get distracted.

Placing a shape over text boxes that participants are supposed to fill in prevent others from seeing what others are filling in (Idea courtesy of Arturo)
  • Want to do affinity mapping? Pre-creating colored boxes to represent your themes will help expedite the mapping process?
Pre-creating placeholder boxes to identify themes identified means slightly less scrambling during the session
  • Is there a need to see what each individual is writing? Consider setting up sections for each individual to complete the activity.
Setting aside sections for individuals to fill in their ranking of product builds provides visibility into how others are prioritizing them (Idea courtesy of Arturo)

3. Get creative

Don’t let conventional ways in which you may use certain tools get in the way of being creative. Here are some interesting activities that can be done using very basic functionality.

  • A 2x2 impact vs urgency chart where you can get participants to prioritize themes as a group
  • Use different colored dots for participants to indicate ideas that may be important, confusing or contentious to help spark further discussion

One of the biggest benefit to remote workshops is that all the information is already captured digitally. No more taking photos of post its! Have you tried any other approaches to conducting remote workshops? If you have, do share them with me at foong.inez@gmail.com. Curious to know what has worked for you, what hasn’t and if there are any pitfalls to avoid.

Senior Product Manager at Ninja Van