Facilitating remote workshops

2020 threw the world a major curve ball, and before we knew it, we are locked down in some form or the other in most countries. And working from home (WFH) became the norm. For those of us who are in the business of conducting workshops, this is a major disruption as physical meetings were no longer allowed / encouraged and all planned workshops were cancelled as the weeks went by.

But practitioners have been innovating their way out of this situation mainly leveraging the online platforms available to us and from where I sit, I can see there are workshops being conducted and training classes for design thinking have come online.

So with a couple of online brainstorms under our belt, here’s some tips for conducting and facilitating remote workshops:

Collaboration toolsXLS

There are various tools available online for group collaboration and some of the popular ones include Mural, Miro and Klaxoon. Try out the free versions and audition them for yourselves to see which suit your needs or budget.

You can also bootstrap and experiment with existing familiar apps such as using Google Sheets to run a Creative Matrix brainstorm as shown here.

Although the collaboration tools are generally user-friendly, you’ll still have to factor in some level of a learning curve because moving post-its around online may not be that intuitive for participants who have little or no exposure to design thinking activities.


If you were used to planning a full-day workshop agenda, now is the time to consider breaking up the activities to bite size one-hour or two-hour activities. Its definitely more tiring when people are engaged for long periods over a phone or video conference, and soon, the law of diminishing returns will kick in as people start losing their focus or concentration.

Online vs Offline 

Also think about how you can split an activity into a pre-work submission so that the time the participants spend online with each other is optimised for the group discussion elements. For example, in a rose, thorn, bud exercise / affinity clustering exercise, you could email the participants or have a briefing call to them for them to do the rose, thorn, bud on their own time and email you the outputs. Then you can lightly cluster the results and host a session where the group discusses the output.

I hope these tips are helpful to you in your own deign thinking journey.



Design Thinking 2020

The past few years have seen the birth of innovation labs in many financial institutions, and along with it, the use of Human Centered Design (HCD) or Design Thinking across many projects. The ability to harness the power of the people in the organization in a systematic approach to problem solving is taking root in many of these companies.

Though every one of us is on a different corporate path, I see 2020 as a year of convergence towards better HCD outcomes for companies who are on this journey. The top three topics that companies will be looking at are:

  1. Measurements of success
  2. Better collaboration
  3. HCD in strategy and business development

Measurements of success

In the early stages of adoption, companies will be pleased to have numerous workshops and ideation sessions come up with novel ideas that would be able to solve some of the existing pain points or even create a new product or service for the market.

This would have made full use of having a physical premise like a lab, and getting staff onboard with a new way of working and also some return on investments (ROI) on new idea generation.

But as we continue on this way of working and it becomes a discipline, more will be asked of the approach.

As a start, some hard metrics can be tracked like number of workshops facilitated, or ideas generated or number of departments/ teams involved.

The next level of measurements will be predictors of positive outcomes for the customers and the organization. Indicators such as number of customer hours saved, number of staff hours saved, revenue generated from new ideas and so on are the GOTO standard.

Better collaboration

One of the positive aspects of HCD is the involvement of multiple stakeholders in a project – from the end-user, to the staff from various departments that need to give input, approve, or be aware of certain project aspects.

There used to be a management adage that we need to break down silos between different departments in large organizations. But really, its not the silos themselves that are the issues, its the path lengths or social distances between groups.

In management circles, “networked organizations” is a term that has come into vogue. And in this setup, with proper clustering of functional groups of people and shortening the social distance between them, these networks become efficient.

Because in large organizations, no matter how you organize or re-organize the people, there will be “silos” built based on the sheer number of people. But improving the connections between these teams and removing impediments is a way to improve work outcomes.

Using a HCD approach to projects is building a good platform for these formal and informal linkages to be formed across the whole organization and I expect to see more of this happening.

HCD in strategy and business development

As more and more HCD projects are taking off in our organizations under customer experience improvement, innovation charters and programs, it would also be natural for the management of the institution itself to start imbibing some of these principles when they review and approve these projects.

We may soon be free from the days where a new product idea has to start with a 200-page document. By the time that paper is written and polished, a competitor might already have put that same idea into execution.

One good example of how HCD is used to define a bank’s strategy and to communicate it with their staff can be seen here.

Anecdotally, we have heard of projects in global banks being launched after management presentations done via a concept poster or storyboard. This not only allows new ideas to be proliferated within the organization quicker, it also minimizes the heartache if an idea is deemed infeasible.

Imagine, if after spending 2 months researching and writing up a 200-page document, management decides this idea is not good enough and would like to shelve it. The business manager who wrote the document would be so emotionally attached to this idea, and would feel personally disappointed that it did not go through. Alternately, if a small team came up with a concept poster at the end of a one-day workshop, they would not feel so personally attached if the outcome was negative.

Also, to decrease the cycle time for generating new innovative ideas, we should start to see more ideas being evaluated at strategic management levels using rough-and-ready prototyping principles by using tools such as concept posters, storyboards, paper prototypes etc to get their buy-ins. This would truly be a new way of working and I believe we will start to see more of these instances in the financial industry in 2020.

One bank’s HCD journey

IMG_1117Like many organizations all over the world, Bank B embarked on a journey to infuse Human-Centered Design (HCD) into the way they work.

They adopted a System of Innovation, and began training their staff in batches. This was done with the vision that everyone will be able to work with an innovation-mindset in the future and that they will all be able to speak the same lingo.

Innovation is not just the domain of digital or IT folks, it’s for everyone!


The staff from the innovation lab took the lead to spearhead the use of design thinking methods to problem-solving and opened the forum up to any department which has a need.

First, the facilitators will meet up with the various project sponsors across the bank to listen to their needs and to design a workshop or brainstorm session with their intended stakeholders using design thinking methods.

This approach has been well received and has transformed the way they tackle challenges.

Some of the topics they have covered include:

  • How to improve the staff onboarding experience?
  • How to improve the equity derivatives process?
  • How to increase digital acceleration in the legal department?
  • How to improve work efficiency within the compliance functions?
  • How to improve the online banking experience?
  • How to improve the account opening process?

Tips for your innovation journey

Having gone on this journey for the past two years, Bank B shared some tips that would hopefully be useful in your own implementation or experience with HCD.

  1. Combine different methodologies

HCD methods can be used broadly across all types of departments and topics for problem solving. No single HCD methodology can be considered the be all and end all.

They complement all your existing product, digital development methodologies like Agile for technical projects and Six Sigma for process improvements.

Whilst many of these established methodologies help organizations get the job done in terms of building a digital product, or improving existing processes, combining different HCD methods truly allow the outcomes to be more human-centric by gathering better insights, getting input from important stakeholders and even getting buy-in from senior management for new ideas.

  1. Workshop space

As most staff in organizations work in a typical office environment with rows of personal cubicles or desks, you should consider setting up a dedicated space for HCD activities.

It does not have to be a large conference space but an area that can fit about 20 people and work in two distinct areas for breakout sessions with a workshop layout, would facilitate interaction and participation.

You can keep it casual with sofas and benches instead of a classroom style but cater for sufficient walls and boards for the teams to stick up flipcharts, posters and post-its as part of the sessions.

  1. Collaborate to innovate

In most workshops or group discussions, the facilitator or leader is usually the one doing all the talking and spearheading the discussion.

For HCD workshops, it is highly recommended to involve everyone as much as you can during these sessions. By nominating group members to take turns to present ideas, exchange opinions or simply to summarize and represent what’s done in the group to other groups would put everyone on the same page.

Doing this also keeps everyone on their toes and to be constantly engaged in the discussions. Most importantly, it helps to build consensus and ownership of the ideas to take forward together as a team.

Get more out of HCD!

Together, these tips give you a glimpse on how you can embark on your HCD journey to gather feedback, arrange them into meaningful categories, and then prioritize them for future action.

Drop us a lineto have a chat if you would like to experience innovation in action!


Customer Journey Map

A useful tool to help you improve your products or services is an exercise of mapping out your customer journey or experience map. This activity allows you to look at the user’s interaction with your product or service from various angles and gives your team an opportunity to  innovate or improve upon it.

The customer journey map lays out the user’s experience from the initial contact with your brand and maps all the key interactions throughout the engagement.

If you look at all the training providers out there, there are many ways to do this and we’ve adapted our methodology to be able to map out a concise and useful summary of the customer journey / experience.


You can run this activity by:

  • Identifying a user journey you wish to improve upon
  • Gathering a diverse group of stakeholders
  • Decide which personas you would like for it to represent
  • Discuss as a group what are the key steps, tasks or interactions in this journey and select a member to write it out on post-its and stick them horizontally across the work area
  • Continue with the group discussion to map out touch points, thoughts, emotions and opportunities or new ideas in corresponding rows horizontally
  • Use a different colour post-it for the various emotions so you can quickly see where the areas of improvement are
  • Collaborate and focus on the opportunities for improvements or new ways of doing a task. These can later be evaluated, prioritized and taken up as separate projects.

Rose, Thorn, Bud

IMG_8714One of the most popular of Design Thinking activities is called Rose, Thorn, Bud. Its based off the idea of the Boy Scouts of America who are taught to be methodical, thorough and analytical about each situation they encounter. Scouts are routinely encouraged to identify one positive experience (Rose), one negative experience (Thorn), and one new goal or insight (Bud).

Adapted for use as a design method, this structure provides an opportunity to analyze a project, process or problem and reveals areas for you to focus on and plan your next steps.

A simple way you can run this activity is  by:

  • Identifying a topic/ project for this exercise
  • Gathering a diverse group of stakeholders
  • Give each participant a marker and 3 post-it pads
  • Explain the topic and color key
  • Rose = Things that are positive (Pink)
  • Thorn = Things that are negative (Blue)
  • Bud = Things that have potential (Green)
  • Get each participant to generate as many points as possible
  • Only include one issue, idea or insight per post-it.

Source : Luma Institute