PRODUCTHEAD: Facilitating workshops

PRODUCTHEAD: Facilitating workshops

PRODUCTHEAD is a regular newsletter of product management goodness,
curated by Jock Busuttil.

(nice product)


Meetings are for information exchange, workshops are for solving problems

With hybrid working, adopt a “remote first” mindset to avoid divisions in your team

Poor workshop facilitation discourages future participation

Reflection gives everyone a chance to contribute and listen

a favour: please share this with other product people

every PRODUCTHEAD edition is online for you to refer back to


Being asked to participate in a workshop can fill people with excitement, dread or ambivalence. And if you’re the one facilitating workshops, you need to cope with that range of reactions and still achieve some useful results from the exercise.

When I’m running product management training, I liberally sprinkle workshop exercises throughout to break up the flow of the day, and allow people to put into practice something we’ve just explored in theory. When I’m helping out teams at a client, I’m not going to have anywhere near the depth of domain knowledge that the teams will have, so I like using workshops to benefit from their wisdom and insights.

A good workshop always has a particular objective, even if that objective is to explore an uncertain topic and agree what to do next. You’re drawing together a diverse group of people to lend their collective experience and thinking to the workshop, encouraging ideas and observations from different perspectives.

To encourage that to happen, participants need a safe space so that they feel comfortable sharing their views and ideas in front of their peers. Not everyone is as keen to share, so you need to find ways to allow different personalities to participate easily.

A mix of remote and in-person attendees can inadvertently create first- and second-class participants. It might be worth levelling the playing field by getting everyone to join remotely, even if they happen to be in the same physical location.

Some workshops might be tackling a sensitive or emotive topic for the participants, so there should be agreed ground rules in place to keep things objective and calm.

You might be running a relatively short workshop, or a series of activities spread over the course of a day (or longer). Not everyone has a long attention span, and even the most extroverted people will need to recharge from time to time.

Regardless of the topic you’re exploring, you’d ideally like everyone to enjoy their experience so that they’ll be open to participating in future workshops with you. And to recognise the value of bringing that group of people together, you’ll need to follow up with them to review what happened next as a result of the workshop.

Facilitating a workshop may seem daunting to begin with, but with some planning, structure and collaboration with your participants before, during and after, it’s a skill you will quickly become proficient in. So this week I’ve pulled together a collection of ideas and suggestions to help you facilitate workshops.

Speak to you soon,


P.S. Special offer this week: there’s 20% off passes to this year’s Product-Led Festival for PRODUCTHEAD subscribers — take a look below.

what to think about this week

UX Workshops vs. Meetings: What’s the Difference?

In the past, I’ve seen well-meaning colleagues set up workshops as a way to get face to face with stakeholders, assuming that magic will happen if we simply gather everyone together in the same room for a long period of time. That’s simply not true! If there’s no predefined problem to solve, no real need for collaboration, or no adequate advance planning, workshops are just a waste of time. (And higher-level stakeholders will spurn your next invitation.)

When and how to use a workshop more effectively


Designing workshops for everyone

We have been thinking really hard about how activities can:

  • Provide a space for participants to say the things they want, and need, to say;
  • Ensure everyone is given the opportunity to communicate their feelings in a manner they feel is most comfortable; and,
  • Encourage people to come up with creative solutions and suggestions.

How can we champion diversity in our approach?


18F’s best practices for making distributed teams work

We intentionally make sure that there’s not a cultural split, or a division between the “here” versus “there” team members. The entire team makes a commitment to the tools and processes mentioned above to make remote or part-remote work. It can’t just be the responsibility of those working remotely to be extra-engaged. Everyone needs to use the same process and commit to documenting work in the same way.

A “remote first” mindset


Product Management Coaching

Whether you’re new to product management or have been a product manager for years, a coaching session can help you to step up your career.

We’ve coached people wanting to get into product management, product people with nobody in their organisation to manage them, and experienced product managers preparing to apply for a promotion.

We can help you prepare for your product manager interview, including mock interviews.

“Jock has been instrumental in my personal growth as a product leader but also as a person.”

Ludovic Lacay

Ludovic Lacay
Co-founder & Chief Product Officer, Napo

A proportion of the fees from every coaching session is donated to charity. Just reply to this email if you’re interested in finding out more.

Tips and tricks for facilitating workshops and meetings

I’m in a fortunate position where I often lead workshops and sessions which are trying to bring people together around a particular project or opportunity. So often poor facilitation drives people to condemn meetings, committees and getting in a room with one another — if you can get better at this, it’ll break down silos, help your own career progression and realise new opportunities for your organisation.

Help people to do their best work

BONUS ARTICLE: Tips and tricks for remote workshops and team sessions


A short retrospective format to close a piece of work

This week I ran a short retrospective to close a two-year-long project; I had limited time and ten willing participants. This post covers the approach I used to create space for reflection.

The constraints were: we only had one hour, which in practice means 50mins at the most, so no time for a big timeline retro, and I had a day to devise and prep for it, so no time for pre-work from the participants.

A focus on reflection


recent posts

Replatforming the cash cow

Recently people all seem to be encountering the same problem. Their engineering teams are choosing to work on projects that make them look busy, but which don’t actually move things forward. What they’re usually working on is a convoluted — and arguably doomed — attempt to replatform a legacy ‘cash cow’ product.

A strong signal to discover the replacement product


The unifying principles of product management

A recent tweet by John Cutler provoked some interesting reactions. It got me thinking about whether there are unifying principles of product management that apply in all contexts.

Become one with everything


What to do when service transformation goes wrong

When companies set out to improve a service or redesign a product, the results can sometimes be underwhelming. Instead of delivering service transformation, the team recommends only minor efficiency tweaks. If this has been happening to you, there can be many underlying causes. I’ve identified a few common problems and what you can you do about them.

Change means doing things differently, not just a rebrand


upcoming talks and events

19th-21st October 2021

Product-Led Festival

Product-Led Festival 2021

The Product-Led Festival is returning to the virtual stage on October 19-21. 🎪

3 days. 5 stages. 30+ product giants.💥

Headliners include:

🎙️ Facebook – Director, Product Management

🎙️ Walmart – Principal Product Manager

🎙️ Amazon – Senior Product Manager

🎙️ Comcast Business – Product Owner

🎙️ Cisco Systems – Vice President, Products, Emerging Technologies & Incubation

🎙️ Typeform – Director, Product Management

🎙️ Gainsight – Founder & CTO

…plus many more to come.

PRODUCTHEAD subscribers get 20% off an Access All Areas pass, just use PROD20 at checkout. 💸

Grab a pass 👉

Book me to speak

I’ve spoken at various product management and technology conferences around the world. I share ideas primarily on the topic of product management, and this tends to overlap with agile and ethical product development, digital transformation, and fostering healthy product cultures and communities.

“Day 2 saw an impressive presentation by Jock Busuttil on user testing. He asked the attendees to lend each other a smartphone and take a picture. What a turmoil that caused ;-) ”

Walter Schärer

Walter Schärer
Marketing & Business Development Director, BlueGlass Interactive

If you’d like to book me to speak at your event, please get in touch.

can we help you?

Product People is a product management services company. We can help you through consultancy, training and coaching. Just contact us if you need our help!

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Helping people build better products, more successfully, since 2012.

PRODUCTHEAD is a newsletter for product people of all varieties, and is lovingly crafted from all the Post-It notes we could lay our mitts on.

Read more from Jock

The Practitioner's Guide to Product Management book cover

The Practitioner's Guide To Product Management

by Jock Busuttil

“This is a great book for Product Managers or those considering a career in Product Management.”

— Lyndsay Denton

Jock Busuttil is a freelance head of product, product management coach and author. He has spent over two decades working with technology companies to improve their product management practices, from startups to multinationals. In 2012 Jock founded Product People Limited, which provides product management consultancy, coaching and training. Its clients include BBC, University of Cambridge, Ometria, Prolific and the UK’s Ministry of Justice and Government Digital Service (GDS). Jock holds a master’s degree in Classics from the University of Cambridge. He is the author of the popular book The Practitioner’s Guide To Product Management, which was published in January 2015 by Grand Central Publishing in the US and Piatkus in the UK. He writes the blog I Manage Products and weekly product management newsletter PRODUCTHEAD. You can find him on Mastodon, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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