February 17, 2023
How to run a specification workshop series with 40 stakeholders?

The merger of two large companies brings with it many organizational, technological and business challenges. But what about a merger of three parties? Our boutique agency had the privilege of being involved in such a project.


Where did we start?

Let’s start at the beginning! In 2019, we were given the opportunity to create a proof of concept when 3 huge Hungarian companies merged. They needed to consolidate their sales processes and wanted a single CRM system for all their sales activities. They were (and still are) very committed to the project, so we said, if you’re serious, pick 8-10 of your best people, lock us in a meeting room with them for a week, and the team will deliver a tested prototype on Friday.

This week-long workshop was a so-called “design sprint”, and ended up as a huge success, but as always at the beginning we were facing some skepticism. “How can we design a whole CRM system in just a week?”, “Why don’t we find out every detail of this function and then go on?”, and “This is not how we usually do things around here!”. But (as always) on Friday the team had a clickable prototype that was tested with 5 real users and we had their positive feedback on record.

That’s what we call a proof of concept. And probably top management of the company agreed, because they gave a green light for the CRM project. At this point our partners at the company became workshop enthusiasts, so they involved more people in the project and started their own workshops to prepare the project and gather business and other requirements from all across the company.


Specify a feasible CRM system with 40+ stakeholders

Our client invested about a thousand hours in their internal workshops, and selected the CRM platform and their implementation partner via tenders.. We were involved into project only 3 months prior to implementation’s start to run a series of workshops with prospective users of the software with the following objectives:

  • Bring potential problems to the surface
  • Increase the acceptance of the new software
  • Specify data fields regarding the CRM processes

And here came the challenge due to the merger, our client had about 6-8 different sales organizations and about the same number of support units. Each unit would be represented by 2-3 people in the workshops. We had to come up with a feasible workshop methodology that enabled us to manage about 30-40 participants. This is hardly ideal for onsite workshops but it’s almost impossible to make it work online. 

Do you have any questions about what has been said so far? Just contact us and we’ll help!

How did we do it?

Our solution can be briefly summarized into 5 main tips, you can also follow, if you face a similar situation.

TIP #1: Divide and conquer!

We divided people into salespeople and administrators. The aim with both groups was to talk through their part of the sales process together while getting to know each other’s work. 

The group of salespeople was tasked with walking through the steps from lead generation to contracting. Meanwhile, the administrator team defined different customer support cases. Now, there were only 20-20 people in both online workshops. Still not ideal, but manageable.

Then we set up a weekly schedule with both groups.


TIP #2: Plan, adapt, repeat!

We only had three months, we knew the fixed start and finish dates, so we planned ahead and created a weekly routine.

  • Wednesday: workshop day
  • Thursday-Friday: writing documentation
  • Monday-Tuesday: participants reviewing the docs
  • Wednesday: checking the comments at the beginning of the workshop

This routine really helped everyone to get through 14 workshops in 14 weeks and still stay motivated, because they were able to see the progress before each workshop. They felt they were listened to.

Of course there were changes in the timetable, because 14 weeks is a long time. National holidays, illnesses, and some false assumptions about certain topics across the stakeholders made the road a bit rocky. Sometimes a priorly estimated 30-minute topic could easily consume 4 hours or more, but we were flexible and able to adapt on the fly.


TIP #3: Spare no introduction!

Proper preparation is important for any workshop, but in this case the large size of the organization and the length of the project absolutely justified the need to set the groundwork for the workshop series. The first session was spent almost entirely getting to know each other, who represented who and why they were there. Just the introductory part with 25 people takes an hour if you want it to really count.

The other important task was to put the representatives of many different fields on the same foundation, i.e. they had to speak the same language, so we created a dictionary together so the same word means the same thing for everyone.

After the introduction, we could finally start working on identifying potential problems and defining data tables, but how to share results and discuss comments week by week?


TIP #4: Share documents in Miro!

We know this idea sounds silly. Sharepoint would be the obvious choice to tackle this challenge, but frankly we were curious to see if it can work in this truly “enterprisy” environment. It worked surprisingly well. Here is how we did it:

  • One Miro table was dedicated to commenting on documents only.
  • There was a header box where the current chapter and the instructions were clearly indicated.
  • We put a link “How to comment in Miro?” video and official help material.
  • We only ever shared the part of the specification we were looking for comments on.
  • Word documents and Excel spreadsheets were converted into PDFs, then attached to the board, and we used the built-in “extract pages” function too.

In total, we were able to identify more than 1300 data fields and agree on a number of key issues. And soon we were at the penultimate workshop.


TIP #5: Spare no closure!

We already mentioned how important it is to have a good opening for a workshop series like this, and we think it’s equally important to dedicate time and effort to properly wrapping up things.

At the end, we gave the team a whole week to go through all the material one last time and bring in any issues that they felt were still in question or they were not satisfied with the outcome.

At our last meeting, we collected insights about what our stakeholders had expected, what they had or had not achieved, whether they had learned anything, or been surprised. But most importantly, we asked them to describe what they thought needed to be done to make this CRM project a success. And for once we asked them to write their names on the post-it note to make them feel that, although they are probably just a cog in the machine, their opinion matters.

As a final closure to 3 months of hard, online, faceless work we let us play a little bit and came together for a virtual group photo.

The specification project was completed on time, and we delivered the specifications for more than 1300 database fields, along with process descriptions defined during the workshops. Both our client and those who were involved in the work were satisfied with the results and the way we achieved it.

So that’s all, we hope you enjoyed the journey of our workshop facilitator. I hope you can use some of the tips for your own workshops.

Are you interested in more topics related to Product Design? Then stay tuned for further blog entries to come not only on this section!


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Source: Character mix and match by Facilitator School