(QFD-)Workshops in Corona Times

Or: The Need for a Magic Moment

Actually, I wanted to do a post about challenges in public traffic but now we all face a much bigger challenge. The new Corona virus causes enormous effects in daily life as well as in the working area. Of course, there are much more important points then Workshops for digitized products and business models but even here are interesting challenges to find.

The Problem

I got the opportunity to make a workshop to test my ISO 16355-based Innovation Deployment method with a very interesting start up enterprise in the field of electric cars. But now there is this Covid-19 catastrophe and – thankfully – politics did all these restrictions: At least 1.5 meters distance between people, as much home office as possible, no meetings.

Of course, as author – and readers – of a blog about Software-intensive Business we all are aware about technologies like web meetings, Skype, Zoom etc. However, I really am a fan of tangible workshops. To discuss, to listen, to write on post its, arrange them, re-arrange them, to play with Lego bricks. I was really looking forward to the workshop with this start up. And of course the idea came immediately, can you do something like this virtually?

Q: How is it possible to conduct a QFD-like workshop virtually?

From a purely technical point of view, this question should be easy to answer. As mentioned above, there are so many different tools for distributed working. In daily life, we use Zoom and WebEx for meetings with the colleagues, FaceTime, Skype and WhatsApp for private video calls, Trello for sharing tasks. We share Files with OneDrive, iCloud and Dropbox. On the hardware side we got the best MacBooks, a Swivl-Robot, even a MS HoloLens. So the lack of tools and gadgets should not be a thing.

On the contrary: I find many virtual meetings very pleasant. The participants listen to each other, there is less interference, I even have the feeling that you are more concentrated.

To stick to the QFD language: I’m not afraid of problems on the functional side but on the non-functional requirements. Of course we do have the possibilities to note things, to use different colors and pen sizes. All the stuff, you do in a “real” workshop. Of course, even in 2020 we got some technical restrictions. The bandwidth of your internet connection is too small, sometimes there are dropouts. But to be honest, these are more inconvieniences, not real problems.

In order to be able to find a good solution at all, we have to analyze which factors we have to consider besides the functions and how we can influence them.

Virtual Magic Moments

Probably one of the most fascinating aspects of these kind of workshops for product development are the “magic moments”. What do I mean? Many of us still remember those touchscreens where you pressed the top left of area A and area B reacted on the bottom right. Do you remember the first time you held a smartphone in your hand and the black surface became colorful and reacted to your touch as if it was the most natural thing in the world? In the world of QFD workshops these Magic Moments are for me: The critical participants, who think “what the hell, I don’t have time for post-its and Lego bricks” when they come in and thaw out during the workshop, have fun and generate great ideas at the end.

How is such a Magic Moment created? I like the term “magic moment” so much because it expresses that exactly this question is very difficult to answer. It would not be magic if you only had to follow a, b or c to reach it.

In my favourite book about Software QFD (Herzwurm, Schockert & Mellis, 2000) you can find a check list for a QFD Workshop. The following aspects are mentioned as k.o. criterias: the company’s influence on the functions, the existence of at least 10 functional requirements and the presence of an acknowledged moderator. Not a word about the need to physically sit together. So we can put a hook under it. But in the same publication, you can find a case study about “Internet-based” QFD and it is really interesting. As a qualification, it should be mentioned that this case study only carries out individual, albeit important, partial steps via the internet. But the conclusions show, that “discussion and work via Internet cannot substitute for personal communication among team members in and between QFD meetings” and “software can substitute for administrative tasks, not yet for creativity”.

Of course, you can argue 2000 is a long time ago, but especially in the last few years you can recognize a trend towards the increasing use of creativity spaces, like this one of Schaeffler Design Transformation Centre. This Design Centre looks like it was made to generate many Magic Moments. Obviously, despite 20 years of research in this field, many believe that physical presence is still important.

Other Magic Moments

Why do we spend so much money to sit on a hard plastic chair every two weeks to watch 22 people kicking the ball? It is about emotions. About the shared joy of scoring a goal, the shared grumbling about a referee’s decision, the cheers, the fan chants, the goose bumps, the stories you can tell when you are at home. You can watch the game in front of the tv from 34 perspectives, but the experience is not the same. During the EURO 4 years ago at the velodrome of Marseille, I saw 50,000 french people singing the Marseillaise. Incredible. Chaotic. Magic Moment.

It is about chaotic conditions. Above I wrote that it is pleasant at online meetings to talk less in between, the discussion is more orderly, more sequential. But maybe it is exactly this chaos that would be missing in a workshop that promotes creativity. So maybe the question is how to create the right amount of chaotic conditions.

Conclusion & Outlook

Conclusion of this brief consideration: An important component for good workshops and good results is the Magic Moment. This key experience, which is difficult to achieve, can inspire the participants and can give extra motivation. We have found that it is not without reason that one goes to this effort to meet, to set up great rooms, to travel, to organize workshops. Although we would have the technical possibilities to exchange information of all kinds, we are still missing something. The spontaneous possibilities to tell stories, to experience emotions, to react. If we want this problem solved and to finally answer the question above, we have to think about new ideas. Maybe we should make an online game together?

Other Ideas? Feel free to comment. I welcome your comments.


Herzwurm, G., Schockert, S. and Mellis, W., Joint Requirements Engineering, Vieweg, 2000

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