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Ideation workshops and giant marshmallows

What’s it like to be a project manager at 383? Here’s a glimpse of a day in the life.

Kelly Sikkema, Unsplash

The project management team at 383 coordinate all of the work through our studio, collaborating with our strategy, design and engineering teams to execute digital projects to brief and on time. We also get involved in client workshops, from planning the schedule, to preparing the space, and bringing ideas to the table.

Recently, I took part in an ideation workshop for a client. It’s a one day session, often part of our rapid prototyping process, where we develop, explore and prioritise potential raw solutions, mapping them against key customer frictions. We then work collaboratively to select an idea and identify a focus for the next phase of the project – the fast track design sprint.

One of my tasks as a Project Manager is to ensure that days like this are fully planned and that we have everything we need to achieve our goals for the day. The week prior to the workshop, we produced an agenda for the day and a great deck to guide us through each stage. We were all set and ready to run – here’s how the day went…

The alarm goes off and I’m up straight away. For once I was in bed relatively early (pre-11pm!) and so I’m fully awake and actually have time to do my hair and makeup before I leave the house, instead of in the car or on the train. It’s freezing out and having expected frost on the car, I’m out on the drive with de-icer and a scraper but leave on time as planned.

I’m in the office and go straight up to The Den – our large breakout space where we will be holding our workshop.

Our first client arrives. I’ve just put out pastries, biscuits, an elaborate fruit board, and juices, hot drinks and water. Should keep us going for a while! The deck is projected up on the wall and I finish setting up for our icebreaker challenge. Our workshop tool box is packed full of post-its and sharpies.

I’m joined by the rest of the 383 project team – Product Director Leon, Strategist Nick, Head of Client Services Liz, Client Partner Ellie, and Senior Designer Sam, all bringing their own experiences and skill sets to the table.

We have six attendees from the client side ready for a day of generating ideas to help improve the customer experience. I really enjoy working with this particular client – they are not only really decent and fun people to work with, they totally buy in to our methodologies and work with us as a partner not a supplier.

We chat and laugh and catch up on our weekends, then we get stuck into our ice breaker – the marshmallow challenge. We have worked with this client for over eight months now, so there’s not too much ice to break, but it’s a good challenge to get people in the mood to work in teams.

The challenge is to create the tallest structure that will hold a marshmallow, using just spaghetti and metre lengths of masking tape and string. Leon has unintentionally made this challenge far more difficult by purchasing giant marshmallows at the weekend, instead of regular sized ones. They are like tennis balls. And almost as heavy…

Natalie, our Operations Manager, sends me a slack message to tell me my Uber Eats order has arrived. The first (and some may say most important) task of the day was to share the lunch menu with clients, and then I placed the order in advance.

I was relieved that it had arrived, but then I knew it would as had been tracking the status on the app. At this point in the workshop, we are looking at examples of other products from unrelated industries that are offering great UX in order to get our ideas going. The Uber Eats app is one of those examples for informing customers of status and progress – something that we hope to explore and ideate around today.

We’ve all eaten, and we’ve had brownies and flapjacks for dessert. Now we begin the real ideation part of the day. Having recapped on the outcomes from a recent friction mapping project in the morning session, Nick splits us up into teams and we start looking at one big area of concern that the client would like to tackle.

In teams of three, we work on a particular customer friction. The ultimate goal is to form an idea that may make it through in to the fast track sprint. We create ‘how might we…’ statements and then make solution suggestions.

I love being involved in sessions like this. It’s a chance to bring our own ideas to the table whilst learning and understanding just how our client’s business works. Everyone is so eager to help improve the customer experience and so this is a joy of a task to do.

After various stages of ideation, we vote on which ideas we should take forward with sticky dots. We’ve formed an idea that we are ready to pitch back to the rest of the team. I draw out a very poor storyboard – shocking considering I went to art college – but it gets the point across.

I have recently gone through the very experience and process that we are here to discuss, as a customer of my client. And everyone knows about it – I’m very open to discussing my experience, much to everyone’s amusement each time I offer an insight, but I like to think that I am contributing greatly to helping better the customer experience! Each team pitches their idea Dragons Den style and there is a Q&A with Nick, Leon and Sam.

We wrap up for the day. We have a winning idea that we will take forward to the fast track sprint, starting next week. Everyone is in great spirits. Although it’s been a full day, it’s not dragged or felt long at all. Feedback from our client is that the process to get to this point in just one day was fantastic.

The 383 team reflect on the day. It’s gone really well. We’ve met new client teams brought in especially for today’s session, who were also full of insight, enthusiasm and eager to solve issues. The sun has been shining brightly through the windows all day and is just starting to set. And now Leon is challenging Liz and Nick to stick as many giant marshmallows in their mouth as possible. They manage one each…

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