Kicking off a project during lockdown – making do with the tools you have

Posted on May 17, 2020

When lockdown started, there were a number of posts and tweets about the fancy collaborative tools available to help remote working. Unfortunately, many of us are restrictions in the tools we can use on our work computers.

Tips for planning planning and running a remote kickoff workshop with limited tools

Allow a lot of time for planning

Allow lots, and and I mean lots, more time for planning. Those sessions that you are a dab hand at delivering face-to-face just don’t quite work the same when all the participants are sitting at home behind a screen, without a camera on. Its much harder to read a room when you can’t see peoples faces or how engaged they are.

Teach participants how to use the tools you’ll be using before the session

Not everyone will be as au fait with using the technology as you are. Before a session, make sure that everyone is trained and you can confirm they know how to use the tools you’ll be using. In a session I ran, I created a step by step guide on what they would need to do and a test task that everyone was asked to complete to ensure that we wouldn’t be spending a lot of time at the beginning of the session sorting out avoidable tech issues

Keep the tooling and the things participants will need to do simple

The more complex, the more likely it is that participants will get stuck and won’t be able to fully participate.

Keep the sessions short and include a comfort break every hour

Its really hard to stay focused for a prolonged period of time. Give your participants time to check their emails, go to the toilet, make a cuppa, stretch their legs – they’ll be more engaged and less likely to wonder off during your session. The longest sessions we ran were 2 hours with a 10 minute comfort break halfway through.

Spend extra time on the pre-session material

People have different learning styles. I opted for sending a detailed agenda upfront so that those who wanted or needed to, could pre-prepare for the session rather than feeling they were put on the spot to come up with insights or ideas. This is a technique i’ll continue to use when we go back into shared spaces. The surprise elements of a workshop are exciting and fun for some types of learners, but not others.

Hack your current tools – wizard of oz style

Instead of having a wall of post it notes or a miro board that participants could move around, I shared my screen and moves boxes around on powerpoint. It was a bit fiddly but with enough planning and preparation it worked.

Between sessions, I prepared the material for the next session. So gathering and grouping insights, creating boxes with them in powerpoint so we could collaboratively order and group them.

We also used a survey in place of dot voting. One of my team mates could keep an eye on the number of respondents and show results in real time.

Activities you could run

Warming up participants to talk and engage

I threw in some quiz questions into the session, because everyone loves a quiz during lockdown and more importantly, it helps to get everyone used to talking.

Quite often, one loud voice can start to dominate and others fall back, hardly speak or start doing something else. Getting participants talking early through the use of quiz questions helps to:

  1. remind people that active participation is encouraged
  2. prevent people wondering off as they know they could be called upon at any time

Its a bit cheeky, but I felt it really helped. The questions weren’t necessarily anything to do with main bulk of the workshop, but were related in some way. This helps to give everyone a voice, as they will be less likely to think ‘i don’t have something I can contribute / i’m not confident in contributing’.

Problem tree analysis

This is a great activity to help stakeholders think about the main problem and how the causes and effects are linked from it. Linking a new cause and effect/consequence back to the main will help participants stay focused on the main problem we are looking to address.

Although more difficult to run remotely, it can still work. You just won’t have the nice graphic at the end of the session.

https://www.odi.org/publications/5258-planning-tools-problem-tree-analysis

Project premortem

Projects fail at a spectacular rate. One reason is that too many people are reluctant to speak up about their reservations during the all-important planning phase. 

Harvard Business review

The concept is simple. Workshop with stakeholders to think about a future state where the project has failed. Why did it fail? Openly invite and create a safe space for team members to talk freely about any reservations or impediments which may harm the projects success.

https://hbr.org/2007/09/performing-a-project-premortem

In conclusion

Its no doubt more challenging, but there are ways we can make remote sessions more successful with the tools we have, even if its just the office suite of programs and basic screensharing capabilities.

I’d love to hear what other tips people create to help their remote workshops run more smoothly and be more successful.