There are a number of envisioning and innovation session types. A few of these are:
- Traditional Session: 8–12 people in a group with a discussion lasting 1–2 hours.
- Mini Session: A smaller version of the traditional envisioning group with 5–6 people.
- One-on-One interviews: A business analyst interviews 1 person for 30 minutes to 1 hour following a script or a loose guide.
- Dyads: Two people, normally colleagues from the same or different business areas are interviewed by the business analyst. This is effective when you are trying to find out answers to questions that are hard to articulate in a straight interview format. The colleagues are set to discuss the problem openly and the insights are gathered from the interactions.
- Triads: In this format, three people are chosen due to their similarity or dissimilarity in a very specific way. Triads can provide the same level of depth as one-on-ones, but they can also provide even more depth.
- Off-site Discussions: In this format, a group of people, usually friends, are gathered in a non-work environment to hammer out the details of the solution. The uSX Leader has three goals here: encourage open communications to discuss the business needs and objectives for the solution, make sure the topics are covered, and make sure everyone has an enjoyable time.
For the most effective use of everyone’s time, use a facilitator to drive these sessions. The facilitator should be comfortable managing both the discussions and the personalities of the attendees so that the overall session stays on target in terms of time and scope. You may want to employ a third party facilitator or the business analyst who will lead the requirements gathering. Preferably, you don’t want your project manager or engagement manager leading these sessions. Usually, it is much better for these roles to participate in the discussion rather than facilitating. Regardless of who fulfills the facilitator role, they need to follow a script. The script is necessary to ensure consistency across multiple session groups so that each group has a similar experience.
Prior to the sessions, the facilitator should provide preparation materials for the attendees. These materials may include a series of thought provoking questions, data and information gathering tasks, or even internal team discussions. The purpose of the pre-session materials is to provoke thought and supplant the notion of change, improvements, and prepared mindset for the participant. The goal is for each participant to be prepared and eager to participate in conversation during the session.
In general, it is helpful to structure the overall pattern of the working session as follows:
During the session, all ideas are good ideas as a general rule. As you begin the session, try to promote creative, exploratory thinking in the group, and frame questions in different ways. Open ended questions are best with the words, “why” and “how” versus “what” and “where.” The discussion may become very abstract. Keep in mind, you are on a quest for elegant solutions that can be implemented, not just pipedreams with no hope of success. As the session progresses, start converging on realistic ideas for solutions. This is where the discussion becomes more concrete. Repeat the pattern, creating and prioritizing as many times as necessary, until you arrive at the right quantity and quality of ideas. The reason for this structure is that strategic solution development is a creative process, and you need to allow everyone in the group to explore possibilities outside of the normal scope of vision.
Use common sense here, too much divergence may leave you and the group in abstract space where ideas are great but cannot be implemented. However, if you converge too early you run the risk of “leaving opportunity on the table”, by not exploring truly innovative and effective ideas and strategies.
Session length will vary and depends on the complexity of the project, but typical sessions are 2 to 3 hours. Working sessions with a moderately complicated agenda could take a half to a full day to complete. Additional follow-up meetings may also be scheduled, especially with key stakeholders.
One of the obstacles you may encounter during your session is resistance from your internal stakeholders—due largely to a lack of experience with working in this style. Some may want to pull rank or exert their authority over the process. It is critical that everyone from all levels be involved, mainly because it takes all levels to truly know if the idea can be implemented. However, if you have been charged with creating a truly unique and engaging experience, you can take that as a mandate to let them know why you are doing it differently this time. Stress that every idea is a great idea, we are anxious to get them all on the table, then we will prioritize them based on resources and budget and competitive advantage.
If this sounds overwhelming, feel free to test at least parts of the process before you use it full scale. In addition, you can always hire a professional facilitator to organize and manage this process.