Backlog: Viz workshop last Friday

I went to David W. Gray‘s workshop last
Friday to learn more about visualizations because of my research
interest in tracking, visualizing, and supporting technology adoption
in large companies. I expected a Tufte-esque critique of the ways data
are presented in graphical form, with practical advice on presenting
complex information easily. Instead, the workshop turned out to be one
on visual thinking and brainstorming. Not quite what I expected, but
still good.

My key take-aways from that were:

  • When communicating with people, think of attention, retention, and transfer. I particularly like how he emphasized that this spells “art.”
  • Always carry a pocket-sized digital camera. Always. You never know when you’re going to see something you can use for your presentation. Hmm, my current camera is just a little too large for this, although if I always carry a zipcase with my essentials (wallet, cellphone, Moleskine, camera, business cards) then I can take it no matter which bag I bring.
  • Tom Wujec demoed a *totally* awesome sketching / electronic-index-card tool that makes me wish I had a tablet PC. I might not even mind going on Microsoft Windows for it. It totally rocks.

A number of other participants thought that one of the most powerful
points was the idea of writing thoughts on Post-it notes or other
easily-rearrangeable media, one thought per note. I was familiar with
the idea because of my interest in tools for thinking (mind-mapping,
brainstorming, etc.), productivity, and communications, and that kind
of thinking comes naturally to me now. I do my speeches, thoughts, and
even my school papers on, well, paper form before I get them into the
computer, although sometimes I’ll start with a blog rant.

Hmmm. I think what I really wanted from the workshop were more
examples of how to support communication by presenting complex
information beautifully, like the way his company presents business
processes. There were a few examples very quickly glossed over as part
of his corporate bio, and I really wish there were more. Another
powerful addition could be an exercise where we’d take data and figure
out how to present it, perhaps working in groups and presenting it to
the class. That would have been tons of fun, and it would have made
the most of Dave’s presentation consulting experience with Xplane.

Oh, and it would’ve been nice to see more of Dave’s sketches. =) He’s
a fun visual artist, and the sketches would’ve really punched things
up. Granted, it’s a lot of work to do that with the Lessig method of
one gazillion little slides, but an occasional gapingvoid-style thing
would be terrific.

I gave him some feedback on the workshop and on his presentation
style. He’s trying to get the hang of the Lessig method—fast-paced,
lots of slides. This takes a fair bit of work to pull off, but it’s
great when you can speak ahead of the slides instead of reading off
them – there’s such a difference between using slides as cues and as
punchlines! I haven’t given a mind-blowing Lessig-style presentation
myself, although I remember my operating systems students’ feedback
that my lectures felt a lot like ads (in a good way!) when I was
teaching them about OS history. I remember listening to a Lessig
presentation and noting how his speech was slightly ahead of the
slides, and I also remember being impressed with Michael Geist’s
presentation. They are teh c00l.

Dave seems more interested in doing instructional design and packaging
this as a workshop that other people can give, so he didn’t want to
bring too much of himself into it – which is a pity, really, as he’s
an interesting character and infusing more of the workshop with his
personality would liven it up. =) I think he’ll do well in
instructional design. He’s particularly interested in video. Might be
cool.

The main value of the event came from the conversations that it
sparked, I think. I met a lot of people there whom I’d like to keep in
touch with, including Dave Gray.

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Notes from the road

Providing consulting services in strategy workshops is a crash course in facilitation and presentation skills. Looking at the presentations and techniques that people have developed is awe-inspiring. The people I work with don’t do death by bullet point. They’re good at research and thought leadership, infographics and design, Post-It notes and presentations. Me, I rummage through my brain to try to as much value as I can with what I’ve read and learned about Generation Y, Web 2.0, and other topics, and I hope someday to figure out how to do things even better than the way people around me do. =)

If I think of the travel as just a really long commute, it’s not that bad. I miss W-, the cats, the garden, and so on, but I’m too busy to feel too lost. I don’t want to do this all the time because I like having a rich relationship with plenty of in-jokes, but short sprints should be fine. I’m learning tons about facilitation and presentation that I wouldn’t be able to learn on my own.

I’m nearing the end of my super-busy sprint, and I’ll have some time to get things sorted out, prepare, and make future workshops run even better.

Reflections on the Innovation Discovery workshop in Boston

Last week, I facilitated my fourth Innovation Discovery workshop. I learned a lot! Here are a few quick reflections:

  • The account team was amazing. They briefed us on participants’ backgrounds and passions, and that helped us shape the agenda.
  • Planning was helpful, and I’m glad I joined the meeting. We set aside Wednesday afternoon for team preparation. Everyone reviewed their sessions and gave feedback. I felt nervous as the most junior person in the room commenting on other people’s presentations (particularly, ahh, asking questions about a VP’s upcoming presentation), but we came out with better work because of all that, and I learned tons in the process.
  • Tag-team facilitation rocks. I stumbled a little during my persona exercise because the structure I’d chosen wasn’t a great fit in terms of energy and flow, but we got back on track with a little prompting from my co-facilitator and another Innovation Discovery team member. That really helped, and I ‘learned a lot more about facilitation by watching how we improvised.
  • Visual note-taking was fun and effective. I took graphical notes (icons + keywords), and participants liked it a lot.
  • Presentation style improvements are percolating through the organization. Although some of the presentations still relied on bullet points, a number of the presentations were aesthetically well put-together. =) There’s hope!
  • Downtime was good. I decided not to try to schedule anything in the evening. The extra space and quiet helped me stay energized throughout the workshop.

What can I do to prepare the ground for an even better next time?

  • Explore facilitation techniques. The more I know, the better I can plan and the better I can improvise. The deeper I understand, the smoother things will go.
  • Limit personas. We presented a large number, hoping that they’d prioritize a few. The clients responded to all of the personas quickly, and wanted to keep them all. Eep! Lesson: Limit the personas we present up front, then add more as necessary. Printing photos on letter-size paper instead of posters might make this easier.
  • Continue building a visual vocabulary, and experiment with visual metaphors. Practice, practice, practice!

This was lots of fun, and I look forward to making the next one even more awesome. =)

Figuring things out on the fly

Dark blazers are a newbie facilitator’s friend. No one could see me perspire as I wondered what to do. My session wasn’t working. The exercise structure I picked didn’t fit the energy and interest of the room. I needed to improvise.

Fortunately, my team helped me out. One of my colleagues asked a question that was really a hint about one thing we could try, so I latched onto it. That was better, but not quite all the way there. He suggested something else, I wove that suggestion in, and that worked. People got up and discussed the personas. At the end of the session, one of the clients asked if all of that would be summarized and sent to them: value!

It’s scary getting up there in front of a group, but it’s a darn good way to learn. My team helps me stretch and learn by giving me opportunities to facilitate workshop sessions and coordinate online brainstorming conversations. Over the past two years, I’ve surprised myself by having opinions, ideas, and even answers when people ask me about topics. And it’s awesome doing this with experienced people who can step in and smooth things over.

Maybe this is why large companies can be great learning environments. You’re surrounded by people with years of experience and a vested interest in helping the team succeed, so you end up learning tons along the way. =)

Lightweight personas for ideation workshops

One of the techniques we use to help a group generate ideas in Innovation Discovery workshops is to create light-weight personas. Anchoring the brainstorming using a name, a face, and a story makes it easier for people to generate and later evaluate concrete ideas. The personas also give the group a common vocabulary for talking about different audience segments. For example, if the group defined John as a middle-aged professional concerned about healthcare issues, people can then ask, “What would John think about this?” during other sessions.

The persona ideation exercise is great for sparking energy and getting people to stand up. It can be used in different places, and it can become a running theme.

  • Beginning of workshop -Defining personas - talking about characteristics and challenges: Who are the target segments? What are the gaps? What’s the worst-case scenario?
  • During the workshop – Brainstorming: How can we apply the ideas discussed in the previous session and other ideas we generate to build an ideal scenario for each of these personas?
  • End of the workshop – Evaluating and summarizing: Which of the parts of the ideal scenario can be implemented easily, and which take more effort? Which potential initiatives serve which personas, and how well?

Structure of the session:

Goal: Concrete vision, ideas for initiatives

Input: Light-weight personas which we flesh out with the help of the clients during the workshop session.

Output: Scenarios for each of the personas, and possible summary of key initiatives to explore in the next session.

Preparing:

  1. Identify a few persona types that reflect the client’s target audiences, with the planning team’s help. Ex: entrepreneur, parent, student, and so on.
  2. Look for pictures through Flickr Advanced Search (check all the checkboxes related to Creative Commons so that you can search for commercial-use modifiable photos). Stock photography sites such as sxc.hu and stockxpert.com are also useful, although I prefer to use Flickr because the people and situations look more real than posed. Put the pictures into a presentation, one slide per picture, with proper photo credits. If possible, crop the picture so that only one person is in it, and scale it up so that it fills the slide.
  3. Review the pictures and select which ones will be used. Aim for a diverse mix that represents the target audience well in terms of ages, professions, races, etc.
  4. Give the personas nicknames for reference. Use names that are easy to remember and spell. Alliteration is fun to use and makes names more memorable (ex: Bob the baker). Label the final slides with the nicknames in a large font, so that the names can be read from a distance. Adjust the photo contrast if necessary.
  5. Print full-colour copies of the pictures with names. You can post these next to easel sheets taped to the walls for brainstorming. If you have access to a poster printer, you can print large sheets of paper with the picture and the name at the top of the page.
  6. Finalize your persona presentation. Your presentation can be as simple as flipping through all of those pictures one by one, or you can show them all together if there’s space on the slide.

During a break before the session:

  1. Tape up 1-2 easel sheets per persona. Spread these around the room, making sure that there’s enough space for people to stand and talk. Have at least one blank set of easel sheets just in case you need to create a new persona on the fly. If you have plenty of space, put up more easel sheets.
  2. Place markers, Post-it notes, and masking tape near the persona groups. Different-coloured markers and notes give people flexibility.
  3. If you want (and you don’t have too many personas), post the persona pictures next to the easel sheets.

During the session:

  1. Explain the structure and flow of the session (goal, input, output, and the next few steps).
  2. Very briefly review the personas with names, faces, and light detail.
  3. Review the different personas, pointing them out around the room. Ask people to define the characteristics. You can change the characters completely at this point, or introduce new ones. A co-facilitator (or coworker closest to the poster) should jot quick notes about characteristics.
  4. Find out if you need additional personas. Use the blank pages you’ve set aside or repurpose a persona that didn’t click.
  5. Review the personas with the characteristics again, pointing them out around the room. asking people to move to the one they want to focus on. See if you can get people to take responsibility for reporting back at the end. Consider the balance of people among the different groups.
  6. Explain the structure again: people are going to figure out what that persona’s “moment of truth” is with the organization (key customer experience?) and walk through what that scenario could be in 2-3 years (or whatever the workshop’s vision timeframe is). Point out the markers and the notes. Encourage people to move around to other personas they’re interested in contributing to as well.
  7. Give people a time limit. Split up into groups. Walk around and facilitate, asking questions.
  8. Remind people when the time limit is almost up.
  9. Get the groups’ attention. Ask them to briefly tell their persona’s story based on the brainstorm. Take public notes on the different initiatives that can enable that scenario. These notes can be used during the analysis portion.

Analysis (can be done in another session or by another facilitator):

  1. If there are a lot of common initiatives, do the next analysis as a large group. If there are separate initiatives, let people continue the analysis from there.
  2. Let each group (or the large group) discuss which initiatives can be done by either organization separately, and which initiatives need collaboration. Help prioritize the initiatives in terms of perceived effort and benefit. Capture the results in a table.
  3. Review the results with the team.

After the workshop:

Summarize the persona characteristics and stories (may be bullet-point form) in the workshop output document.

Lessons learned:

  • Don’t offer too many choices, because clients may just want to have all of them.
  • Don’t give personas too much detail, because clients will benefit the most from personalizing them during the workshop.
  • Don’t be afraid to revamp your personas entirely.
  • Don’t panic. =)

Planning a Quantified Self workshop on time tracking

image

The other Quantified Self Toronto organizers and I have been thinking about following up on the “slow data” workshop idea from the QS Conference in Europe this year, which Eric Boyd is really keen on. The idea is that self-tracking takes time to plan, to get data, to get back into collecting data after you’ve fallen out of the habit, to analyze data, to revise your experiment based on what you learned… so although 15-minute bursts of inspiration are great for showing people what people are working on, wouldn’t it be nice to go through an extended workshop with support at just the right moments? Based on our survey results, people might even be willing to pay for monthly or semi-monthly workshops.

I’m interested in tracking time much more than I’m interested in health or other popular self-tracking topics, so I’d love to experiment with building resources and workshops for people who are interested in tracking time as well. The payoff? I’d love to be able to compare questions, data, and conclusions.

Here’s what that workshop might look like:

Session 1: The Whys and Hows of Tracking Time

  • Discuss objectives and motivations for tracking time. Plan possible questions you want to ask of the data (which influences which tools to try and how to collect data). Recommend a set of tools based on people’s interests and context (paper? iPhone? Android? Google Calendar?).
  • Resources: Presentations on time-tracking, recommendations for tools, more detail on structuring data (categories, fields); possible e-mail campaign for reminders
    Output: Planning worksheet for participants to help people remember their motivations and structure their data collection; habit triggers for focused, small-scale data collection, buddying up for people who prefer social accountability

Session 2: Staying on the Wagon + Preliminary Analysis

  • Checking in to see if people are tracking time the way they want to. Online and/or one-on-one check-ins before the workshop date, plus a group session on identifying and dealing with obstacles (because it helps to know that other people struggle and overcome these things). Preliminary analysis of small-scale data.
  • Resources: Frequently-encountered challenges and how to deal with them; resources on habit design; tool alternatives
  • Output: Things to try in order to support habit change; larger-scale data collection for people who are doing well

Session 3: Analyzing your data

  • Massaging your data to fit a common format; simple analyses and interpretation
  • Resources: Common analysis format and some sample charts/instructions; maybe even a web service?
  • Output: Yay, charts!

Session 4: More ways you can slice and dice your data

  • Bring other questions you’d like to ask, and we’ll show you how to extract that out of your data (if possible – and if not, what else you’ll probably need to collect going forward). Also, understanding and using basic statistics
  • Resources: Basic statistics, uncommon charts
  • Output: More analyses!

Session 5: Making data part of the way you live

  • Building a personal dashboard, integrating your time data into your decisions
  • Outcome: Be able to make day-to-day decisions using your time data; become comfortable doing ad-hoc queries to find out more

Session 6: Designing your own experiments

  • Designing experiments and measuring interventions (A/B/A, how to do a blind study on yourself)
  • Outcome: A plan for changing one thing and measuring the impact on time

Session 7: Recap, Show & Tell

  • Participants probably have half a year of data and a personal experiment or two – hooray! Share thoughts and stories, inspire each other, and figure out what the next steps look like.
  • Outcome: Collection of presentations

Does that progression make sense?

Eric thinks this would work out as a local workshop here in Toronto. I’m curious about what it would be like as a virtual workshop, too. We might even be able to experiment with both. Is this something you might be interested in? If you’re a QS organizer, would you like to give it a try in your own meetup?

I’d love to hear from you! Leave a comment below, or sign up with your e-mail address so that we can talk about it in e-mail. =)

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