Early in 2020, one such company engaged our engineering team in Almelo, The Netherlands, for a Creative Workshop for its DNA-sequencing-based personalized nutrition product. Scaling up production and design for manufacturing were the most significant concerns, along with keeping costs low. Then, COVID-19 happened, and the whole world came to a standstill. Travel restrictions, closed offices, and self-quarantines quashed everyone’s plans.
For Benchmark and our customer, however, it was just a slight pause. Not only did the organization want to go forward with its original plan, but it also realized it was holding something that could play an essential role in helping those impacted by the global crisis. With some modifications, the DNA sequencing technology could test for novel coronavirus and provide results in a little over an hour. With the device approved for COVID-19 testing, national health organizations were anxious for the product to hit the market.
This technology would be critical to saving lives, and the workshop couldn’t wait. But how to quickly facilitate a Creative Workshop between 15 people from three companies located in two different countries when everyone was sheltering at home?
If necessity is the mother of invention, urgency might be the evil stepmother—pushing us to reimagine some of our daily tasks in untried (until now) ways. While Zoom, Microsoft® Teams, and WebEx emerged as household names, we knew we needed something more: A means to effectively collaborate on virtual whiteboards with virtual stickie notes over two full days. And we needed to keep everyone on-task.
I won’t say we had a lot of sleepless nights. But, taking a proven, two-day, in-person workshop and turning it into a virtual event that would produce the same results added plenty of pressure. Luckily, my colleagues and I were able to experiment and test different platforms to find something that would work for all involved.
Through this process, I found an incredibly useful online collaboration tool that enabled us to all see the same whiteboards while manipulating our views and individually adding post-its and comments. It might have looked quite hectic from an outsider’s point of view. Cursors were buzzing all over our computer monitors like bees. But it worked exceptionally well as we problem-solved for two concurrent products.
Less than a month later, the customer is now implementing the results of our workshop. Cost-management and supply-chain modifications in a shifting business environment are pushing deliveries as we continue to ramp up.
“There’s nothing extra we can think of that we could have gotten out of the workshop,” the customer told us. “It was as good as a face-to-face session, or even better.”
Without the need for travel, this session was far more cost-effective for the customer, and there were fewer hurdles before starting our collaboration.
Like in a live session, we put a lot of thought into preparing for our virtual Creative Workshop. “We needed to ensure participants blocked off their calendars and were committed to being 100% present for those two days—with no external interruptions, which we know can happen when working remotely,” notes my colleague, Paul Keijser, medical business development executive.
A briefing session with the customer, including collecting all the product documentation and physical materials in advance, were essential preliminary activities, Paul adds. “Our in-house engineers needed to manipulate, deconstruct, and reconstruct the device to understand what we’re working with.”
A prepared agenda with both full-team collaborating and concurrent breakouts for the different sub-groups and well-prepared whiteboard canvases kept us all highly engaged for those two full days. But, because of the urgency for the new coronavirus testing product, we focused on “low-hanging fruit” in this first workshop, leaving longer-term goals for a future session. This future session will be conducted virtually.
To make sure we always give our customers the best experience, we’re now researching other virtual collaboration tools. We’re also looking into ways to turn breaks into more effective socializing sessions, somehow, because we recognize their team-building value in our live workshops.
Whatever our next sessions look like, the opportunity to facilitate more virtual Creative Workshops worldwide is exciting—even after pandemic restrictions have eased. We’re all adapting pretty quickly to this new way of working. I see vast potential for us to consult and collaborate virtually with even more customers—and help facilitate the development of more cutting-edge products along the way.
To find out more about our Creative Workshops and how Benchmark can help overcome your product development challenges at any stage, contact us today.