How to run a day zero workshop

By Colin Preston,
Head of Design

A day zero workshop is one of our go-to methods when kicking off a new client relationship, product or initiative.

As a product studio working with a wide range of businesses, we find day zeros invaluable, but they’re also a great tool for aligning different teams or stakeholders within a single organisation.

We call them day zeros quite simply because nothing exists yet. It’s completely new and fresh. You could compare it to digging the foundation for your future house. The sales process has finished, the client is on board, and you’re now ready to dig the ground, test the foundations and start building.

Why a day zero?

There are two key scenarios we run day zeros for.

First, when we’re engaging with a big transformational initiative with one of our partners – and we’re right at the start of our relationship. At this point, we want to hear from the organisation’s leadership team about their future ambitions. We focus a whole day of activity around future visionary thinking to create some shared purpose and get everything out on the table from a strategic point of view. 

We also run a day zero for more focused activities, say a product kick-off. For example, if we’re making an ecommerce or marketing website. It helps give a more strategic product focus to inform what we do now, rather than how it might look 5 years in the future.

How should they be structured?

Remember, it’s just a workshop. It’s easy to get lost in the fog when planning and running a day zero – but if you keep that in mind you’re on the right path. 

Think about what you want at the end of it. That might be an agreed ambition of where you want to be in the future, or perhaps a shared goal with the client that you’re going to have a product canvas at the end of it. 

Once you have this identified – work backwards from it. 

Think about what artefacts you need to create, what objectives are you trying to achieve, what methods do you need to use and what input do you need beforehand to get started. 

This is our standard workshop designing and planning thought process – jump to the end and then work backwards.

Day zero methods

Pre-workshop

Before we kick off a day zero, we often get everyone involved to do some workshop prep. This helps get everyone in the same mindset, and you could apply it to the product specifically or the organisation more widely.

We use the POINT method, but questions can really be as open or as focused as you want them to be, as you want them to help fuel the conversations that you’ll have in the workshop itself.

Lightning talks

Lightning talks generally cover the organisation, where they are and where they’re trying to go. For example, an IT director might talk through some architectural diagrams around systems, tools and current limitations, or a marketing team may share some recent market research which instigated the initiative. 

We’ll then take over and shift the focus – as they’re usually very inwardly focused, so we’ll try to help the client step into their customers’ shoes. One way we do this is through an empathy map, which helps everyone understand what customers are thinking, feeling and doing.

By now we’re all familiar with remote workshops, so as the talks are running we’ll listen for key issues and capture them in Miro with some ‘How might we…’ statements. 

Brand positioning

We also sometimes use exercises to explore an organisation’s brand.

We’ll ask whether they’re more modern or traditional, for instance, and generally get to grips with their brand values and how they are performing against them. 

We might also probe where they want to be in three years time. This helps us understand their ambitions around the brand, and get a feel for what repositioning might be required.

Customer journey mapping

We’ll often map out the client’s customer journey together with a low-fi experience map. Here we step into the service to get a deeper understanding of what the product is or the service that they’re offering. 

We might ask questions like:

  • How do customers find us?
  • How do customers engage with us?
  • Why would customers return and purchase again from us? 
  • What would prompt customers to refer us to a friend?

Newspaper headlines

A fun method to end on is another visionary exercise which we call newspaper headlines. 

We ask the client to quickly write a headline about where they’re going to be at the end of this year, in two years and then in five years. 

It really helps them step through mentally where they want to be in the future, and the milestones needed to get them there.

Headlines also help to inform our programme of work, as we can see where certain stakeholders are at in terms of ambition and their goals.

Things to watch out for

A day zero workshop is a tricky exercise. You’ll be dealing with important people who will have a strong view on their business or product. And obviously, you would have been commissioned to work with them so by this point they’re ready to just get on with it. 

So here are some top things to watch out for when running your own. 

  • HiPPOs – HiPPo is an acronym for the “highest paid person’s opinion”. It’s important that a mix of perspectives are heard, rather than a single voice dominating.
  • Internal politics – often day zeros will surface internal issues that are beyond the scope of the session. It’s important not to keep these diversions under control.
  • Multiple conversations – people often drift into side chats (especially in non-remote sessions), but it’s good to have one focus at one time. 
  • Distractions – you can’t avoid distractions entirely, but making sure everyone is present and engaged throughout is vital. 
  • Quiet people not contributing — this is the flip-side of the HiPPO problem. If you’re facilitating, try to get people who haven’t contributed much involved by asking questions. Exercises where people have a chance to think and write notes in silence before sharing can also help.  

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Want to find out a bit more about a day zero and how it could be used to kick off your next initiative? Get in touch for a chat.

You can also watch the recording of our Product Love talk on how day zero workshops help set new initiatives up for success here.