What happens at a project kick-off workshop?
We hold kick-off workshops when a new project starts. It usually takes from one-half to two working days and has a stable core method with tailor-made activities for each client.
Thinking together with the client plays a key role in a good kick-off. They have the knowledge; we have the design process. Combined with the best ideas put to work, these powers create the project plan.
Why we do them
Starting a new project can prove difficult. A UX professional needs time to understand the product and the market, but you don’t have any. Pressure comes constantly to start designing something you haven’t even figured out yet.
A client knows the product and business inside and out. You decided to involve experts, presumably to help do things better and faster. You want to see progress, finally seeing your product go in the right direction. You want to trust the design team, and see how they process and understand your product and company.
What can you both do? Fortunately, kick-off workshops can help:
- Acquire domain knowledge (aka Things Clients Find Self-evident
- Get the stakeholders and the design team on the same page
- Explain UX process and challenges (aka Things Designers Find Self-evident)
- Create a detailed project plan
- Build trust
These things go really fast, without chit-chat. Let’s see how!
This part explains everything, based on one of our most recent kick-off examples I carried out with my colleague Zsolt. For this in-person kick-off, we won’t talk about remote aspects. This project focused on redesigning the onboarding elements and the navigation structure of an existing language-learning application in about three months.
1. Pre-preparations: Getting ready for the UX process
- When: T minus 1-2 weeks
- Who: Designer(s) + researcher(s) working on the project
- Why: To meet the client and gather domain knowledge
Project Settling. Here at UX studio, we have two fantastic people: a Business Development Manager responsible for getting new projects, and the Studio Leader who helps her with UX professional inputs. They sit down with us for a chat a few weeks before each project to tell us the basics about the client, the project’s goal, and to show us the draft of the project.
👉 Pro tip: Consult your colleagues who have recently done projects in similar areas. That one-line question in your Slack group can kickstart your understanding!
Contact the client for a call. Sometimes the meeting goes longer, but usually a 30-minute pre-kickoff call helps us get to know each other and break the ice. Here we also ask the client to send everything important related to the project.
In this very project, we had the opportunity to receive a whole Trello board prepared with walkthrough explanatory videos of the product, their plans for the future and most importantly, a bunch of ideas with questions. We couldn’t have wished for a bigger gold mine! 😊
Invite kick-off participants and agree on duration. During the call or in a memo afterwards, invite only a handful of stakeholders to avoid distraction. We usually invite three or four participants (five or six if two of us facilitate). A regular kick-off can last between four hours and two days, but we like to take a day to have time for everything.
Once you have everything in one place, process and organize the knowledge. It makes for a good start to get the hang of the project. In the case of the language-learning app, we:
- Downloaded and tried the existing app,
- Looked through the Trello board, and
- Checked out similar products and helpful articles on the internet.
This tunes you into the UX process before it officially starts.
- When: T minus 2-3 days
- Who: Designer(s) + researcher(s) working on the project
- Why: To plan the detailed process of the kick-off
From this part on, we usually lock ourselves in a room with snacks and water (Zsolt also brings his beetroot smoothie) and prepare everything in one go.
👉 Pro tip: Assign at least half again as much time for planning and preparing everything as the kick-off workshop itself. We carried out a five-hour kick-off and had spent more than a day preparing.
First, choose the goal. In this particular project, they asked us to redesign the onboarding process and navigation structure of an existing app to improve retention. So Zsolt and I decided our primary goal for the kick-off would be to find the bottleneck between the users’ and the app’s goals.
Next, select the activities. As we have walked our many clients through the UX process one by one, we have been assembling a large set of workshop activities. We have collected from many different sources, such as the Google Ventures Sprint book and the Lean UX book. I also like Jonathan Courtney’s simple yet amazing workshop ideas, as his articles helped when I over-complicated things. (Find our collected resources at the end of this article.)
We go through our list and select the ones that fit into the picture we already have of the product. We also combine activities, ask for best practices from our team and look for new ones. It requires time and debates, like building a LEGO castle or choosing the right tools.
For our language-learning app redesign, we chose the following activities:
- Brand Persona
- SMART Product Goals
- Fears & Obstacles
- Features Prioritization
- User Journey featuring Jobs To Be Done
👉 Pro tip: Choose carefully and ask simple questions. What poses the main challenge here? Does this exercise really help? Does a better path lead here? How can we improve / alter this exercise? How did the others’ in my team choose this exercise for this question?
Attach duration to each activity. Plan with a decent buffer for each. Practicing an activity a time or two will reveal the perfect duration. (Do a demo for your teammates beforehand to boost your confidence.) Insert breaks, add check-ins with icebreakers and check-out with the summary.
👉 Pro tip: Take a five-to-ten-minute break every 60-90 minutes between exercises. Open the windows, freshen up, take a walk.
Create the Agenda. This assembles everything to put together the agenda. Some of us create a sheet for it, some like it more in a document with bullet points — it depends on you.
This detailed agenda targets only the facilitator and co-facilitator. Once you finish with it, send a brief outline to the client so they know what’s coming. They can also ask questions or suggest an edit if they have an activity idea. Need a sample to get started? Use this sample UX project plan.
Print an even shorter version on a large sheet to put on the wall so participants can always see it. We recently wrote an article about graphic facilitation to help you create nice and useful visuals!
Do the logistics. Seems trivial, but sometimes we forget. Prepare the workshop tools (post-its, whiteboard, large papers, templates, markers, etc.). Provide snacks and drinks, order food or plan to dine out. Clean up the room, get it ready, book it for five or six people for one or two days in a row.
Due to the many different workshop activities we have at UX studio, I’ll guide you through only the assumptions activity in this article, as an example. Find three more here.
👉 Pro tip: Before each activity, always explain the participants its:
- Goal (why),
- Method (how),
- Duration (how long).
Start with check-in. This quick icebreaker with a fun activity introduces everyone and sets the mood for the workshop. Also set the goal of the kick-off, ask the client’s expectations and go through the brief agenda.
If someone works long enough on a product, they start to develop unproven beliefs about users, things they like or how to perfect the product. We may treat these beliefs as facts or without any research, say, “I remember a user once said he hates blue, so we shouldn’t use it!”
The lean UX method forms the basis of the assumptions activity. It collects the participants’ beliefs, finds out their importance and shows any existing proof.
- Whiteboard or large (A/0) white paper
Time required: Around 25-45 minutes, depending on how much the participants collect.
1. Writing individually (7 minutes)
Introduce the method to the participants and give post-its. Ask them to write down statements they hold as true about the business, the product and its users. Write one thing on one post-it. Write fast, and don’t overthink it. Go through these questions with this worksheet if you get stuck.
2. Present post-its (3 minutes per person)
Each participant gets three minutes to talk briefly about their post-its and put them on the wall. No one else may talk here.
3. Put post-its on the matrix (10 minutes)
Draw a matrix with two dimensions: a vertical line from low-risk to high-risk and horizontal line from known to unknown.
High risk / low risk indicates the part where lacking the answer to that statement (How bad would it get if we got this wrong?) proves really dangerous. The known / unknown parts of the matrix show the level of understanding we have about that very statement.
The facilitator selects a post-it, puts it in the middle and the participants start to prioritize it with their instructions. Don’t let people start long discussions. Just ask, “Left or right? Higher or lower?” Do it until you reach a peaceful consensus.
👉 Pro tip: Act definitively and feel free to change stuff on the fly. Skip, shorten or pull together parts if you’re losing time. We recently built Assumptions from our user related Fears & Obstacles on on of our workshops as we hadn’t had time for both.
Do it with all the post-its. At the end you should see something like this:
Our sweet spot after this exercise lies in the top right-hand side corner, the riskiest things we know nothing about. Focus on those in your next steps — you may want to build hypotheses from them to include in your research. That’s it!
👉 Pro tip: Swap the facilitator roles for each activity if you’re doing it with another team member. This leaves a facilitator for each exercise so the second person can deal with the post-its and the sorting. It helps keep focus and gets less tiring.
Check-out. Once you finish with the activities, always have a check-out round to summarize the kick-off workshop, discuss the necessary details and ask for feedback in an informal way.
- When: T plus 1-3 days
- Who: Actual project manager (designer or researcher in the team)
- Why: To sum up the kick-off and send the necessary info
The project kick-off doesn’t finish with the workshop. Don’t forget to
- Refine and finalize the project plan based on what came out of the workshop;
- Digitalize everything (yes, it means a bunch of tapping on the keyboard, but it helps you restructure and rethink the whole kick-off again);
- Set up collaboration methods (Slack, email addresses, shared folders, design programs, etc.)
When you get that far, send a summary to the client about what happened in the project kick-off workshop and include the stuff above too. Also ask for required files if necessary and tell them about the next steps.
What comes next? From this point, our UX process starts. We usually start with hardcore research. To read more about our process, download our free e-book, the Product Manager’s Guide to UX Design.
Wow, you really came this far! Amazing! 😍 Thank you for reading! May you have found it useful. Have any special method for kick-off workshops? How do you do them? Share ‘em all, I’d love to read all about it.
Also, we at UX studio use this collection of workshop methods and activities:
For additional reading, check out our Product Design book by our CEO, David Pasztor. We ship worldwide – for free!