How to Plan and Run a Successful Workshop

Running workshops isn’t that hard. Running a successful workshop valuable to all attendees with amazing outcomes?.. that can be difficult.
Today, teams work in a fast pace, complex business environment without much time to spare. We must design our workshop to out perform the expectations of a seasoned veteran.
So, let’s get started…


Workshop Planning

Not everyone is thrilled by the idea of a workshop.  However, we’re confident you will succeed if you get creative, focus and be well prepared.  A good workshop with actionable outcomes and success metrics is vital. Defined goals and purpose, ensures it will be beneficial for all participants.

There are many ancillary benefits to workshops aside from reaching set goals. Workshops can improve team interactions, solve unexpected problems and strengthen existing product direction.


Before The Workshop


Step 1 – Define Your Goal

It is important you decide on one or more goals before you begin planning your workshop.

Goals can be focused. If you understand exactly what you’re setting out to achieve. If there’s specific output you seek to produce during the workshop.

Goals can be broad. If you’re researching problems to solve or seeking new opportunities. You may decide to explore a broader, non-specific goal.   Be sure to provide the team with a detailed perspective on what your aiming for.

Clear goals and guidelines provide focus. Your participants will engage better knowing what they’re setting out to achieve.

Step 2 – Who Needs To Attend

Group sizes and number of workshop attendees depends on the type of workshop. For example, a large group is perfect for ideation. However, when working on a specific challenge. A smaller specialist group may produce better results.

Whatever the group size, jot down the names of everyone you want to see. However, leave room for one or two extra participants.

When deciding on who is required in the workshop, keep in mind selecting from a diversified set of roles. People from different roles approach challenges and produce ideas from unique perspectives. This provides more insight, experience and options attendees can work with.

In short, ensure your attendees have commitment. You need to have everyone involved bought into the idea of achieving the goals of the workshop.

Step 3 – Location, Location, Location

Where you hold your workshop is critical. As a result, you have to take everything into account. Above all the selected venue needs to be fit-for-purpose. Whatever type of workshop you’re running, the location and venue play a sizable part of it’s success.

When selecting a venue and location consider

  • Number of attendees
  • Size of venue required
  • Location of venue
  • Surrounding environment
  • Accessibility for attendees
  • Safety of attendees
  • Catering and dietary options
  • Technical capabilities

and of course… Cost!

Create a list of items specific to your workshop.

For example:
– If your workshop will finish at night. Consider outside lighting, transportation options and safety for participants.
– If the workshop involves a 48 hour hackathon. Consider sleeping options and adequate bathroom facilities.

We’ve included a full checklist for workshop and facility items later in the article.

Step 4 – Craft an Agenda

You’ve define your goals and attendees. Now you begin to craft an overview of how you’ll set out to achieve the workshop and product end goals.

This, the planning and the following execution of ‘doing’ product development and service design, are the key areas we focused when designing our workshop cards.


Break your workshop duration into sections. This could be 30min, 60min blocks. Early morning, mid morning, lunch etc. This provides time block sections to fill with Topics, Discussion Points and Activities.

The best laid plans don’t always work out. Prepare for the agenda to veer off track. This isn’t always a bad thing. If progressing well sometimes it’s best to minimise your interruptions. Though always ensure you’re tracking towards the end goal.


  1. Breakdown the day into sections
  2. Allocate time for each section, strict or flexible?
  3. Combat any after meal lull. Choose active, engaging, something a little competitive?
  4. Have back-up activities to use if needed
  5. Select which activities could be skipped if required
  6. Document an outcome to achieve for each section

Produce a checklist of primary topics to cover. Break larger topics into more manageable pieces. Outline how you’ll communicate these to your audience. Tie in related Discussion Points and Activities to help kick-start attendees.


  • What topics are core to your goal
  • What specific areas will you focus
  • Are there topics related to specialists in attendance
  • Is there a combination of topics to spark passionate discussion

Discussion Points
Take time to document Discussion Points which will be useful during each section of the workshop.

Prepare discussion point to…

  1. Kick-start conversations, develop ideas and discover insights
  2. Encourage team communication
  3. Ask questions of each other
  4. Cover different perspectives

Estimate how much time you’ll allow for each activity. Ensure activities selected are appropriate for the size and experience of the team.


  • What activities will bring you closer to reaching the workshop goals
  • What activities will allow individual expression
  • Which activities will encourage collaboration
  • Challenge current perspectives
  • Which will give a voice to those often unheard
  • What voting and prioritization activities will ensure the team decides
  • Which activities will produce the best outcomes beyond the workshop

Step 5 – Follow-up Plans

Always have a follow-up plan. Below are 3 key reasons for creating a follow-up plan.

  1. Discuss how the workshop went – continually look to improve how your workshops add value
  2. Help participants remember what was achieved during the workshop
  3. Most importantly. Ensure participants action next steps and decisions made during the workshop

When capturing insights and creating next steps from the workshop, leverage a system participants already use, or are familiar with.  For example, sending an email with a list of items assigned to people will get lost, ignored or over time be forgotten.  Add items into an existing work management system so people have time allocated to the task.

The system should have:

  • The ability to capture insights discovered in detail including text, images or video
  • The ability to assign tasks to workshop participants with due dates
  • A way of capturing votes and decisions made including data used for assessment and reasoning for the decision

However, too often people finish a workshop and never put the insights they find into action later. The measure of a workshops true value is what is achieved after it’s complete.

The measure of a workshops true value is what it delivers weeks, months and years after it’s complete

Step 6 – Your Workshop Tool Kit

You’ve now completed a lot of excellent prep work. Let’s avoid tripping up on the day by being prepared. Make sure you have everything you need to capture insights, outcomes, decisions and break-throughs.

Our checklist:

Workshop Tool Kit

  • COMPLT. Product Development & Service Design Tool Kit of course!
  • Large sized post-it notes (3x7inch)
  • Black felt pens or sharpies (for paper and post-it notes only)
  • Whiteboards and/or whiteboard walls
  • Whiteboard markers and erasers
  • Dot stickers/pins for voting
  • A ream of large poster paper
  • Interval timer (mobile app works well)
  • Camera
  • Removable adhesive putty for sticking up posters
  • An abundance of everything above

Facilities Checklist

  • Seating – ample with space to move between when performing group activities
  • Whiteboards/wall space
  • Tables – need to work for your group activities
  • Lighting – Artificial and natural. Natural lighting has been proven to be more productive
  • Internet/network access – any wifi accounts and password – perform a speed test
  • Projector – connect and test – check quality and ability to see screen from a distance
  • Audio – volume check and connections
  • Venue access – How will participants enter the building, is there sign-in, card access required
  • Out of towners – Shuttle or taxi service to the venue if people coming from hotels
  • Refreshment and snack counter – on the day ensure fresh and stocked
  • Is there something specific to your workshop?

Step 7 – Running The Workshop

Now you’ve planned a workshop, it’s important to facilitate it in a way where everyone succeeds. Workshops will include people from different departments. Even people from the same department won’t think, engage or act the same.

So let’s take a look at several techniques that can make your workshop run smoothly.

Before the Day

  1. Send out the agenda and key topics well before the workshop
  2. Schedule a follow-up providing more detail and ideas of what the workshop will achieve
  3. Build energy and commitment for making the workshop a success

During the Workshop

Involve everyone. This can be difficult. However, there are ways you can include everyone in discussions and activities. The best way to include everyone is to make the atmosphere relaxed, positive and collaborative. You can do that by:

  • Starting off with a few icebreakers to ease everyone in
  • Calling out potentially sensitive subjects before moving forward
  • Discussing who can stay for the whole duration of the workshop, and then acting accordingly
  • Explaining the goal clearly so that everyone can understand
  • Remember the goal of the workshop isn’t to get through all the material you’ve prepared. It’s to reach the goal you set out for the workshop to achieve

In the COMPLT. tool kit we include 30+ workshop activity cards. These cover a wide variety of goals to be achieved and were designed to ensure everyone will get involved.

Facilitating Cross-Functional Teams

This section will deal with potential issues any team might have during a workshop, as well as techniques to keep the workshop move along.

No Hierarchies or ‘power plays’. With new groups it’s not uncommon to find some attempts to establish a hierarchy. Either for people promoting their own importance or their teams function. Hierarchies in a workshop will stifle creativity, collaboration and understanding. Which are needed to accomplish the workshop goals. We encourage you to call out the lack of hierarchy during the workshop. No role or team function is more important than any other.

Managing extroverts and introverts. One common fault when facilitating cross-functional teams is overlooking what makes them great. It’s too easy to accommodate the extroverts primarily. They seek the spotlight. Allowing them to initiate every dialogue will keep introverts, introverted. We’ve found introvert leaders to be better at managing creative teams. So provide the teams time to contemplate and reflect. Structure interactions to allow both extroverts and introverts to share insights evenly. Allow teams to establish real cross functionality.

A mix of creative thinking and data driven. In cross-functional teams you’ll have people who excel in different forms of thinking. Create opportunity for everyone by using different activities for each style of thinking. Data driven ideas where knowing insights, research and data is shared. And creative thinking where playful, exploratory and visionary ideas are created.

This will help participants let go and be free to participate. They’ll be assured of an opportunity to participate in their preferred style. Ensure people are supportive of ideas. Some people can have a tendency to down play others ideas. This will lessen the number and breadth of ideas you’ll receive.

Ground rules and a great start. It’s important to get the workshop off to a good start. Get the teams working towards the goal of the workshop as soon as possible. If left unchecked getting started will be side tracked. Avoid lengthy introductions, side conversations and watch for personal positioning. These all become distractions and sets a bad precedent early on.

If possible, attempt to speak to each participant before the workshop. Listen for their needs and communicate the goal of the workshop. Ensure they’re on board and happy to adhere to your ground rules.

Final Thoughts

To sum up, workshops are a key part of developing successful products and services. We know that from small ideas, big differences are made. The effort invested in planning and getting all on board will be on show during the workshop.

This article is the first in our “Workshop Series”. Following articles will detail specific types of workshops. For instance Design Sprints, Ideation and Prototyping, Customer Discovery and so on.

Meanwhile, we are continuing to develop our Plan & Track system. Each iteration will be more useful for your product development and service design. Currently it allows you to save a selection of activities and topics to your own ‘deck’. These can create a foundation for your workshop.

In addition, Plan & Track also allows you to add notes to any card in your saved deck. Perfect for pre-workshop ideas, capturing insights and talking notes during the workshop.

Sign-up for a Free trial account now.