This post was previously on the Pathfinder Software site. Pathfinder Software changed its name to Orthogonal in 2016. Read more.

Lean UX methods have become popular as a means of getting the core concept of a product and its business value on target with minimal time and expense. One of our favorite “Lean” design methods is the time-boxed workshop.

Why Time Boxing?

The best reason for time-boxing is it virtually guarantees forward progress and positive team work. By defining a clear topic and a time limit, people will literally think differently than if they are allowed to examine several goals without a time frame. They will be more focused, more creative and more collaborative. Better team chemistry results.

Time-boxing is also helpful when you really don’t know how long something is going to take. By time boxing and producing a single result, you’ll be in a better position to gauge future efforts than if you over-invest in trying to estimate something but don’t start moving toward the goal.

How to Conduct a Time-Boxed Workshop

Below is a simple recipe for conducting a time-boxed workshop. Follow each step and you will see the benefits.

1. State the topic and make it specific. For example, “Workflow Definition” doesn’t cut it. That’s way too general. Instead, try something like “Define the top 5 workflows in the product and draw a picture of each on the whiteboard.”
2. Get the right people in the workshop. Make sure the relevant experts are in attendance.
3. Set up a parking lot and use it. Capturing ideas is important, but if they are off topic get them in the parking lot and move back to topic.
4. Let everyone know the ground rules. The goal isn’t perfection, it’s to achieve the objective as can best be done in the allotted time. Off topic ideas will be directed to the parking lot.
5. Watch the time. If you have two hours to define the top 5 workflows, pace the workshop accordingly.

Experience the Power of Time-Boxed Workshops

Whether you are designing a complex system or a game for a mobile device, try time-boxed workshops to increase team collaboration and get the most challenging part of your project moving forward. The more you do them, the more they will become an indispensable tool for getting things done.