Facilitation in Agile Projects

The AgilePM® Handbook names Facilitation as a key technique – but how should you use Facilitation in agile projects?

Three subsequent versions of AgilePM® Handbook name Facilitation as a technique which helps in building the team, decisions making and in identifying risks. Facilitation is scarcely described in the manual and this article will present it in a nutshell and explain how it can be used successfuly in projects.

According to one of the definitions: “facilitation is any action that makes a task easy for others or a task that is supported by others.” The purpose of facilitation is to ensure that meetings and workshops are designed and conducted in an effective manner.

It allows the team to make independent decisions, thanks to an independent person e.g. a Facilitator. A professional who can properly manage the meetings, so that participants do not “harm” each other but appreciate differences in opinion and realise benefits instead.

 

Who is the facilitator?

A facilitator is a person qualified to assign appropriate ”process” (formats, models, techniques and tools) to the “task” (goal of the meeting).

Some of the models/techniques/tools are:

  • Paraphrasing by Feedback model,
  • Four box,
  • Summarise, Propose, Output (SPO)
  • Process Iceberg® Model,
  • Symptom, Cause, Action (SCA),
  • Allegories,
  • Storytelling.

These names seem to be rather mysterious and complicated and suggest the role of facilitator is a difficult one. It’ even more difficult because the facilitator is expected to manifest impartiality even if he/she is involved in the work or emotionally dependent on the results.

 

What is the facilitator responsible for?

 

Facilitation strongly emphasizes the distinction between responsibility for the process and responsibility for the task. As within project management, a process means certain activities that lead to a specific result. Project management standards such as PMBOK® Guide, Praxis Framework, AgilePM® define the processes needed to deliver the product of the project, but the product can be different for each of the projects.

The facilitation manual (“Facilitation. Develop your expertise” by Tony Mann) does not define the contents of the workshop (the “Task”), which may be different for each meeting, but it helps to identify (the “Process”) which will deliver the required result. The required result from project management should be the project delivered within the constraints of the project triangle. The required result from the facilitated workshop should be e.g. identified risks, prioritised requirements within a certain amount of time. As in the case of project management, facilitation should also include stakeholders, especially since the workshop can be implemented on the basis of various formats.

We call a “Format” the way resources are used during the meeting:

  • Group – means that the stakeholders involved will work together in groups,
  • All – means that everyone will work alone,
  • All to one – it will cause all people to work together with one medium .e.g. one flipchart,
  • One to all – one person communicates with the rest, e.g. when they have the experience, knowledge to share.

Task leader and Facilitator

 

Two key stakeholders are mentioned in the facilitation manual:

1. Task leader – person responsible for the definition of the meeting’s goal e.g. Project Manager, Team Leader,
2. Facilitator – responsible for the workshop process.

Therefore, we expect the task leader to have specialist knowledge about the task, and therefore the facilitator doesn’t need to be the expert in it. This specialist knowledge on task could even be an obstacle if the facilitator wanted to engage in creating the solution, loosing their impartiality.

We are unlikely to expect the Project Manager to be the Facilitator, but we can expect he/she will take the role of the Task Leader. AgilePM® Handbook clearly suggests that the facilitator should be a separate and independent role from the Project Manager.

An effective facilitator should:

  • be change orientated,
  • be bold, brave, a risk taker,
  • have broad focus and be ideas oriented,
  • be flexible,
  • be quick to respond and act,
  • be process orientated,
  • be a low profile catalyst,
  • be an extrovert,
  • be able to stay calm under stress,
  • have a low level of tension,
  • have broad business awareness.

Estimating the time and cost of facilitation

 

The Project Manager needs to obtain an adequate person to fullfil the role of the Facilitator but be should also be able to estimate the time needed to conduct the workshops.

However, there are some risks here, as the Tasks can have different levels of uncertainty:

  • In Certainty i.e. the question to be answered is clear and the answer is easy to get from the workshop participants, it is also easier to estimate the necessary time. The time estimated will usually be sufficient to achieve the goals of the meeting.
  • When we are dealing with Complexity i.e. the question is clear, but the answer is not known yet, the originally estimated time may be extended even 2.5 times during the workshop.
  • Ultimately, when we are dealing with Uncertainty (the question / problem / issue is unknown and must first be understood to find an answer or solution), the actual time of the workshop itself can be up to 4.5 times longer.

The facilitator’s role is to properly manage the “golden triangle of facilitation”

 

Additionally, the facilitator’s role is to properly manage the “golden triangle of facilitation”. As in the case of the “project triangle”, where the “scope-time-cost” remain in relation to each other, in the case of facilitation we have an interdependent “task-time-group maturity” triangle .

This means that the workshops’s time depends on the task (which we know from project management as scope) and on the maturity of the group / process, i.e. the difficulty of implementing a given task. However, the level of difficulty can only be estimated by an experienced facilitator.

This means that the Project Manager (as in the case of estimating other tasks in the project) should use the help of experienced Facilitator in planning workshops. This means the logistics of the workshops (location, equipment) will also affect the budget of the project.

Summary

 

An experienced facilitator (like an experienced Project Manager) uses the process so that other people can achieve the goals. It is the skill and experience of the Facilitator (as in the case of the Project Manager) that determines how efficiently he or she deals with the selection of appropriate tools and adjusting the process to the requirements of the task. Facilitation (much like project management) is a different professional activity. The responsibility of the Project Manager is rather to acquire and motivate a suitably experienced professional to achieve satisfying workshop results.

This article was first published on 17 JMay 2021 on APMG portal

https://apmg-international.com/article/facilitation-agile-projects

About the Author

 

Tomasz Nedzi has been managing projects and facilitating meetings since 1993. He became a AgilePM® Approved Trainer in 2013 and Facilitation Approved Trainer in 2015 and now teaches others to manage projects and facilitate meetings effectively. Tomasz is the Lead Trainer for AgilePM® and Facilitation at skills® group of companies (skills® 2004 UG in Germany and skills® sp. z o.o. in Poland).

How Agile Are You In A Crisis?

Much has been written about agility. So how does it deal with crisis situations?

In a well-known saying, it is said that in the event of rapid changes to the environment, it is not the largest animals, nor the smallest, but those best adapted that survive.

There’s hope in adaptation

Individuals that know how to adapt to the environment and changing conditions can be perceived to be agile.

The question though is how to stay agile when schools are closed due to coronavirus and we are surrounded by children, trying to work at home without personal contact with peers?

How about the best practices?

Seeking an answer, I reached for the best practices and turned to AgilePM®.

AgilePM® is the popular agile project management framework developed and owned by the Agile Business Consortium). Its underlying philosophy expresses the view:

“best business value emerges when projects are aligned to clear business goals…..”.

I understand that, in my quest to be agile, I need to understand my clearly defined goals and align with them. This approach will save me from losing money and time, and from “throwing” myself in too many directions at once. If I don’t know exactly what it is I want to achieve, it will be difficult to properly and effectively use the resources at my disposal.

As a simple example, if I don’t know exactly which sport I want to play, I could spend time and money on many of them without achieving significant progress.

Clear goals will also allow us to prioritize what we should be doing and when. So if somebody wants to achieve professional success, he/she may not treat starting a family as a first priority. However, when it is important for somebody to start a family, the individual’s professional career becomes a lower priority.

This is where the MoSCoW prioritization technique (a key technique within the AgilePM framework) can be of great value; it helps us to avoid confusing what is necessary with requirements which can be omitted with limited (or no) impact. In other words, it enables individuals and teams to focus on what’s most important and what will deliver the most value.

When sudden change is coming …

How do we adapt best in the face of rapid changes in the environment caused, for example, by Coronavirus.

It is important to remember that our goals can become (as is the case for projects) suddenly and unexpectedly outdated.

Clinging to outdated goals may lead to projects continuing (or new projects being initiated) which, from the point of view of the current situation, no longer make sense. A personal example: preparing for a holiday trip around the world in coronavirus times does not make much sense!

Changes in the environment and changing goals

It is the changes in the environment (particularly those that come fast and unexpected) which should prompt us to continually review our goals to verify they are still valid. For example, instead of that around-the-world trip this summer, we will adapt and opt for a staycation instead.

It is also wise to verify the MoSCoW priorities at the same time. In almost all scenarios, a change to scope will ultimately require an adjustment of priorities. Using the holiday example again, the requirements and priorities for a round-the-world trip will differ vastly to those for a more straight-forward vacation in our home country.

By understanding values we find harmony

Understanding the values that guide us allows us to live in harmony with ourselves (i.e. in accordance with our own values).

At the same time, it’s important to appreciate that rapid (and particularly unexpected) changes in the environment may also affect and influence our values, as we have seen with the pandemic.

Change in the environment = change in the values?

We, therefore, need to ask ourselves how values have changed in the face of the pandemic.

Certain values which were formerly very important may now be lower down the order. For me personally, and I suspect for most around the world, the value of “love” for friends and family is now more important than ever, to the point where many have sacrificed personal and career goals to ensure the well-being of our loved ones.

I know how my values have been changed. How about you?

This article was first published on 29 July 2021 on Agile Business Consortium portal

https://www.agilebusiness.org/news/575162/How-Agile-Are-You-In-A-Crisis.htm

About the Author

Tomasz Nedzi has been managing projects since 1993. He became a AgilePM® Approved Trainer in 2013 and now teaches others to manage agile projects effectively. Tomasz is the Lead Trainer for AgilePM® at skills® group of companies skills® 2004 UG in Germany and skills® sp. z o.o.

Top 5 Tips for Facilitating Online Meetings

Tomasz Nedzi, an experienced facilitator, explains some simple tips that can help you facilitate online meetings

1. Be early

If you are the facilitator of the meeting it’s your duty to manage the meeting and be prepared. Show that you are prepared by being on time. It’s best to be the first person in the room. Your participants will join gradually and you can meet and greet them. By showing your appreciation for their presence you will reduce stress. Asking them casual questions about the place they are joining from, or the weather at their place will help to build relationships.

2. Understand your participants

It’s important to understand that we humans are not all the same. Even though we like to assume that other people think, see and communicate as we do, that’s rarely the case. According to Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) we can identify 16 personality types and therefore meeting a person with the same profile as yourself might not be so easy. We need therefore to understand participants can prefer different ways of communicating (Introverts vs. Extraverts). In online meetings we need to understand that certain groups will prefer talking to other participants, whereas others will choose the chatbox to communicate.

3. Engage

Understanding participants profiles will help when engaging with them. You might be able to assign delegates to different rooms, using “Breakout rooms” or “Teams”. Breakout rooms are especially helpful if there’s person of authority and power in the main room. This can be intimidating to other participants. Therefore breaking the group into subgroups will create engaging spaces, where different ideas are accepted. Don’t be overly prescriptive about how the groups should work together, because they will find their own rules. Some of the groups will choose to talk through, where others might want to write down their solution(s).

4. Don’t interfere

If you are expected to facilitate the meeting, you are not expected to become a consultant. It’s not your role to give advice or solve the problem the meeting is addressing. You are expected to create a space where other people can actively participate. You are needed by the group when they don’t understand the task to be delivered or the goal to be achieved. It’s the responsibility of the facilitator to maintain the focus on the meetings tasks and not prescribe exactly how these task should be achieved. If you think you have a better solution than your group you should probably keep it to yourself.

5. Build relationships

As a the facilitator you’re expected to stay objective and indifferent about the results of the meeting. You shouldn’t suggest the outcomes or interfere in the work. It’s still your responsibility to create the supporting relationships with the participants though. While facilitating traditional meetings you may have spent some time in coffee breaks talking to workshop attendees. It’s more difficult to do so an on-line meeting, but you might finish your breaks early and talk to people joining gradually after the break to understand their experiences better and collect feedback. You are there for them afterall .

This article was first published on March 25, 2021 on APMG portal

https://apmg-international.com/article/top-5-tips-facilitating-online-meetings

About the Author

Tomasz Nedzi has been facilitating meetings since 1993 and he became a Facilitation Approved Trainer in 2015, teaching others to facilitate effectively. Tomasz is the Lead Trainer for Facilitation at skills® group of companies (skills® 2004 UG in Germany and skills® sp. z o.o. in Poland).

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