We’ve been working with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) for about a year and were delighted when they asked us to help them define their 5 year strategy for technology and data for the Coastguard directorate.
To do this, we needed to understand the people using the various systems and what challenges they face before considering areas to improve.
Why we picked drawing
Imagine that you’re the holder of the IT budget. You want to help everyone, but there’s only so much money. One team is complaining that some of the databases, while functional, are clunky. Do you update them or do you pick something else?
The answer is (as always), it depends. For you to make the right decision you need more information. You need to know the context in which they work and what the implications are of that database not being optimal.
Drawing is a way to help (bad pun alert) draw out that context. While a picture is supposedly worth a 1,000 words, it’s merely a snapshot in time.
A drawing can go further and include:
- what happens before and after
- what’s happening in the background
- what the external pressures are
- the feelings involved
- what relationships are factors
- what’s connected
Drawing can therefore be a useful tool when we want to learn more about data.
Tips on getting people to draw
Show them yours
I had drawn a sketch of the complexities of beacon ownership for another MCA project and showed that as an example of the kind of quality (or lack of) for a benchmark. Concept over quality is what you want here.
Tell them why
We’re asking the people in the room because they’re the subject matter experts. Not us. Not even their managers or the board. They’re the ones who experience their jobs every day and know the ins and outs better than anyone. They can’t assume the people understand the context and this was a chance to explain. We made sure they knew how valuable their insight was. People do want to contribute when they see the value.
Give them colour
We put Sharpies on all of the tables but also packs of markers. Some people thought about their systems with traffic light (red/green) coding and others got really creative with using colour in labelling. Let them. Also accept that one or two people will do their whole drawing in neon green.
It doesn’t have to be “a picture”
Our client was initially worried people wouldn’t want to draw or would be too shy. To mitigate this, I offered other options like a flowchart or a Venn diagram or even some words on the page. Some people drew themselves and then words all around them like a persona. We had lots of arrows which was great to show what data was being used. Be flexible and you’ll still get results. Plus, people will feel more comfortable.
Do it for them
Not everyone drew something. Some people drew in groups and had the “best” drawer do it while they contributed ideas. That’s fine too. One person still wasn’t sure. They were at a table that was being really creative with markers, so I took them to a table doing more data flow type drawings and then to a person doing a persona type one. They said as someone in IT who handles Coastguard’s requests they were 60% reactive and 40% proactive, so I drew exactly that for them. Make sure you work with the words people use.
With so many drawings and such a disparate group of subject matter expertise, it was important to make sure that everyone could understand what had been drawn. We asked everyone who hadn’t included a title or a very clear topic to use a blue sticky note to tell us what we were looking at. The nice thing about the sticky note is that it can be removed if needed and the original restored.
Put them up
While some people were keen to stand up and tell us what they had drawn, with 30+ people and lunch ready, we opted to put their work up on the wall. Seeing this all together was quite powerful and provided conversation points throughout the day. People could have a look at their own pace.
Don’t throw their work away
Often outputs of workshops are disposable and exist only to get you to the next activity, but drawings could have some longer term uses. We chose to scan them all as well as creating a spreadsheet with the various themes. The workshop was over a month ago now and we’ve gone back several times to reference an image.
Sometimes we can get more insight from a single drawing than a detailed page of notes. We’ve used them to get team members up to speed quickly and to check our understanding of something complex later on.
I’m a firm believer in workshop snacks, always. But if you’re asking someone to go above and beyond and be vulnerable in front of their colleagues, then you must up the quality of the snacks. This calls for donuts. Remember, happy participants are open and contributing participants.
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