Project Planning Workshop ideas

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Our company is preparing for a 1-1/2 day off-site workshop.  Our goals are to identify projects, prioritize them, and create a technology roadmap for when we can plan for the project releases.  We have a cross section of attendees, from managers to those on the front lines of operations.
We are focussing on projects first, technology solutions later.

What I am looking for are activities that would help break us up into small groups for discussion.  I’d like this to be an interactive workshop.  My questions for the group are:

  • Who has been a part of or lead a similar workshop?
  • What worked well and what didn’t work well?
  • What group activities seemed to get the attendees most involved?
  • What are some creative games/team activities that will help the group look at projects from different paradigm and/or see the need for collaboration?

Kara Hunt, CIP
Information Governance Project Manager
NMPP Energy


Hi Kara,

Great questions! (well, in my opinion, anyway)

I have led many such workshops across a range of objectives.  I have found a singular truth for almost all the groups I have done this with:  If you can’t make the activities both fun AND reasonably achievable (in terms of expectations of output) you get 80+% of the people disconnecting really, really fast.  So, that’s my guiding principle going in.

Some other points I try to use as significant guideposts:

  • Always, always, always, offer prizes from small to larger all the way through.  Pretty much the only hope for getting wallflowers to actually participate.  As a Dell partner I went to a conference late last year in Toronto where the presenter in one of the session rooms in the morning was tossing muffins and cinnamon buns and such (wrapped, of course) out to the people in the room that answered the quite a few questions he asked during his presentation.  He also had 2 presentations in the afternoon.  The room was packed for those 2 afternoon sessions.  People were actually standing because there weren’t enough seats.
  • If you have a decent knowledge of the people participating, try to pick the folks that tend to be the “natural leaders” (or at least the natural organizers) to lead your breakout sessions.  This does NOT necessarily mean managers/execs.  In fact, whenever possible, I try to force the managers and execs into their own groups so they aren’t dominating and intimidating the staff
  • Cell phones and laptops/tablets collected at the door and available only during breaks! This works wonders for democratizing execs. Plus, you get a front row seat to watching withdrawal symptoms manifest, LOL!��
  • There will be people that tend to respond more often than others.  Some facilitators try to cut these people off sometimes and ask the less responsive people to answer/contribute.  Having tried this a number of times, I found it almost always backfires.
  • I’ve found that a “Jeopardy” type game seems to get unusually high involvement, as does “Wheel of Fortune”, and “Family Feud” type games.  I’ve even done a ‘mock trial’ type thing and was surprised (and relieved!) at how successful it was!
  • If you’re able to arrange activities that are individual along with small group and larger group and use those individual activities as something of a ‘breather’ between the group sessions, that seems to work quite well generally.
  • If you have participants that are ESL, and challenged somewhat (or a lot) in English, try pairing them up with someone that is a “nurturer” personality type.
  • Coffee, tea, and water.  Like all day.  Really, all day.��
  • If you’re the MC for most/all, get lots of sleep the night before.  Seriously, it’s actually critical.
  • Try to remove any ‘generic’ ideas, words, processes, etc.  Make it as relevant as humanly possible.  Not just in the activities but in presentations.  This is one of the hardest for me, being a consultant, but I’ve found that when I’m presenting and/or facilitating (or even just as a participant), being able to give meaningful examples in ‘that’ person’s business function lingo is often 24-carat important.
  • To balance off all the fun and games, it can work well to have one (per day) pretty serious session targeted at your most gnarly problem/opportunity.  If at all possible though, do not schedule this between 1-2:30 in the afternoon! (yeah, I made that blunder)

Hopefully this helps!


Lorne –

I’ll disagree about offering prizes.  There are a lot of reasons why this can go wrong.  It will disrupt/break intrinsic motivation and pull folks from the key mission.    You’ll have people participating but for the wrong reasons.  Otherwise, setting the right environment and expectations about distractions are important.

Kara –

A few things.

  • If you’ve got more than 20 people, break people into sub-groups and then report back to the main group.  You’ll get better participation and you’ll prevent anyone from dominating the conversation.
  • Use a simple technique for breaking up clusters of people.  Tell everyone to stand in a large circle.  They’ll naturally cluster to people they know.  Then determine the number of groups you want.  have people count off from 1 to that number before starting over again.  Have folks go to the number of the table that they counted off.  You’ll naturally break apart people so they don’t collude to take over one (or more)  of your tables.
  • Check out Innovation Games by Luke Homann and for specific games you can play.  Speed Boat (from Innovation Games) would structure you around projects that create the most short term value — if that’s your objective.  Check out the slide I built for the change management course I’m working on which summarizes the game.
Summarizing the Speedboat exercise

I hope that helps.

Robert Bogue
Thor Projects LLC

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