From chaos to clarity

Orchestrating seamless experiences with proven techniques.


Welcome to the 3rd edition of the Building Great Experiences newsletter!

In the 1st edition I shared thoughts on what a “great experience” really means. In the next edition I described four altitudes of experience and highlighted the need to orchestrate across them to create greater impact. I also pointed out the primary obstacle to this, which is getting folks from different parts of an organization to see the bigger picture and work together. This week I’m going to share some practical ways to approach orchestrating these experiences.

First, take time to understand what your customers and employees need and want.

Before you dive into problem solving mode, gather some qualitative and quantitative insights about your customers and employees to understand their experiences and perceptions. Talk with them. Use surveys, interviews, and observation to uncover both the obvious and hidden needs. What’s unnecessarily hard? What hurts? Is there friction? What are they saying? What are they not saying? What are they ultimately trying to accomplish? What is the “job to be done?” (see The Jobs to be Done Playbook by Jim Kalbach) How are they moving between different channels and touchpoints? Are they using your products and services the way you expect or intend? Why or why not? Empathy and curiosity are the name of the game.

Collect any other data to help you understand customer and employee behavior from across the various functional areas, teams, and departments. This might include web analytics and satisfaction scores. It may also include sales, marketing, and operational reports.

Facilitating a north star workshop in Chicago the fall of 2022.

Use this data as a starting point to challenge your assumptions. It should help you discover pain points and opportunities that are not immediately obvious. From there you can create meaningful improvements in the experience.

Next, use a collaborative North Star Workshop to bring stakeholders together and align on a shared vision.

Now that you’ve done some homework – it’s time to bring everyone together to discuss the opportunity areas and crystallize a shared vision and plan to improve.

In my experience, a collaborative North Star Workshop that’s tailored to the company’s needs and stakeholders is the most effective way to do this. I typically use a modified version of the Design Thinking approach and leverage a series of divergent and convergent activities to ideate and align. This is also known as the “Double Diamond” approach. This can be done in-person with whiteboards and sticky notes, or virtually with tools like Miro, FigJam, or Mural. Pro tip – don’t do hybrid workshops. It never works well.

There are many different tools you can use when facilitating an effective North Star Workshop. Here’s a quick overview of my general approach, which I tailor depending on the situation:

1. Pre-workshop

  • Plan – The work starts well before you get to the workshop. Several weeks before you host the workshop, spend some time compiling a list of all key stakeholders across the different departments/teams that should be involved. Ideally this is between 8 to 15 leaders with decision-making authority in your organization. Think through the various personalities and develop an approach for how to cultivate buy-in. Determine the best time and place to host the workshop. Plan to include refreshments and breaks throughout 😊

  • Communicate – Let all stakeholders know why you’re hosting a workshop. Highlight the value and importance of their participation and work with each to lock in dates they can commit to attending. Let them know what success looks like after the workshop is over. Make sure to tie back to broader business goals and objectives.

  • Prep – Before the workshop, share out a summary of the qualitative and quantitative insights for review. Ask everyone to do some homework and come prepared to share examples of experiences they like outside your industry. If you’re hosting the workshop in person, make sure to have enough sticky notes, sharpies, whiteboards, etc. Also snacks, meals, coffee, water, etc. If you’re virtual, make sure everyone has access to your preferred workshopping platform. Bonus points if you coordinate food delivery to each person the day of the workshop.

2. Kicking off the workshop

  • Ground rules – You’ve made it to the workshop! Set the tone up front with a warm welcome, outline workshop goals and objectives, and set clear ground rules. Make sure folks know that phones and laptops should be put away and everyone should be fully present.

  • Ice breaker / show and tell – Give everyone an opportunity to present their homework. Keep it brief and make sure they specifically highlight what they like and why. Capture key themes and ideas as they present. I typically capture on sticky notes and try to keep one idea per sticky. Do this throughout the workshop.

  • Review the research – Even though you sent a pre-read, it’s likely that not everyone looked at it or internalized the data. Before diving in, take time to share key themes and insights so everyone is calibrated.

3. Defining the current state

  • Create proto-personas – Now that the group has been primed, use the insights to rapidly co-create prototype personas that represent the key people involved in the experience. Use this to highlight needs, goals, challenges, etc. This will help orient the group to who they’re designing for and cultivate empathy and understanding.

  • Map the current journey – Once you have proto-personas, spend some time mapping out the highest level of their current journey across different parts of your business – both physical and digital. You could also blend this with value stream mapping to visualize the different elements needed to deliver a product or service.

4. Aligning on the future state

  • Identify and align on the biggest problem and opportunity areas – Give participants an opportunity to reflect on activities thus far and prompt them to capture what they think are the biggest pain points on stickies. Group related ideas, prioritize based on level of effort and impact if you tackled them, and vote on where to focus.

  • Develop hypotheses for the future – Develop a set of hypotheses around what the ideal future state experience could be based on the prioritized ideas. You will likely need to use a series of ideation and voting activities to get alignment on the top ideas. Then set target metrics to measure progress.

5. Planning and next steps

  • Now, near, far – Congrats! You’ve successfully led a group of leaders to the final step. When wrapping up, I like to guide participants through a final exercise to align on actions and activities needed to bring the future vision to life over 3 horizons – now, near, and far.

  • Committed action – Make sure to close the workshop by deciding on an initial set of committed actions for each attendee over the next 2-4 weeks. This will help maintain momentum in the short term and is where most workshops fall short.

6. Post-workshop

  • Synthesize & recap – After the workshop, take time to distill all artifacts, decisions, and actions into a summary document. Share with each participant for additional thoughts and feedback to refine further.

  • Create a steering committee – Consider establishing a smaller group of stakeholders to drive and manage the roadmap. Work with them to decompose the now/near/far plan into discrete projects and initiatives that will advance your vision.

  • Maintain accountability & transparency – Schedule regular touch points to track progress, drive ownership, and keep everyone accountable. Set deadlines and use a project management tool to increase transparency.

Wrapping up

Facilitating a workshop with a room full of executives in London in 2018.

I’ve facilitated and been involved in many workshops over the years. There is a lot of detail and nuance beneath each of the steps above, but this should hopefully give you a good base structure to start from. Ultimately, design the workshop to your unique situation and stakeholders.

Also, here are some common pitfalls to avoid: 

  • Get every critical stakeholder to invest the time. I’ve seen too many situations where folks gather for a great workshop and walk away excited for the future. BUT… one senior stakeholder didn’t attend and blows the whole thing up.

  • Don’t just go with the loudest or highest paid person’s opinion. Make sure to give space for all voices and inputs to increase creativity and innovation.

  • Continually anchor back to customer or user needs. It’s easy to get swept away and forget who you’re solving for.

  • Don’t miss the final step. I’ve seen many wonderful workshops result with a bunch of excited people that eventually leads to nothing. Make sure to get to committed actions from everyone and hold them accountable to deliver.

  • If you have a vested interest in the outcome of the workshop, it could be beneficial to have an agnostic party facilitate. It’s next to impossible to be both a facilitator and a participant without skewing the outcome. 

As we wrap up this edition, remember that orchestrating great experiences is never “done.” It’s an ongoing journey and takes focus and intention. In the next edition, we'll explore other ways to orchestrate the experience including prototyping, testing and iteration, driving change, and measurement.

Hopefully you found this helpful! I tried to provide enough detail to be valuable but not overwhelming. If you have any questions or want to chat about specific tactics, feel free to reply to this email 😊

Each week I’m going to share a few things I’ve found, been pondering, or using. Here’s a few I’ve been chewing on this week:

  • Weld – A simple platform that makes it easy to gather all your data in one place and use AI to identify insights. It will be interesting to see how disruptors like this make it easier for companies of all sizes to understand their customers without large investments in data lakes, enterprise platforms, etc.  

  • Bettermode – An interesting no code platform that anyone can use to build an online community.

  • “Someday” – Great post from Shaan Puri on not putting off your dreams and ideas. “The ‘safe path’ is not actually safe. In fact, it’s dangerous. It’s dangerous to your dreams. Safety murders your ambition. Murders your sense of adventure. Safety is a serial killer. But it operates in a slow, boring fashion.”

  • “How Generative AI is Remaking UI/UX Design” – An interesting take from A16z on how Generative AI can be used to streamline and improve the UX design process. 

Onward and upward!


P.s. In case we haven’t met – hello! I’m Drew Burdick, a strategy, innovation, and design leader with over 15 years in the industry and a track record of delivering impactful, human-centered experiences. If you’re interested in connecting, feel free to book some time with me. I’d love to chat 😊