Voices on Project Management

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Voices on Project Management offers insights, tips, advice and personal stories from project managers in different regions and industries. The goal is to get you thinking, and spark a discussion. So, if you read something that you agree with - or even disagree with - leave a comment.

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Cameron McGaughy
Marian Haus
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David Wakeman
Roberto Toledo
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Vivek Prakash
Cyndee Miller
Shobhna Raghupathy

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Guidelines to Plan and Facilitate a Brainstorming Session

In a previous post, I referred to brainstorming as one of the most constructive and fruitful techniques to collect project requirements.

Brainstorming can be similarly effective and efficient when applied to solving challenges in a project. Project managers can gather the project team together and brainstorm for creative ways to address the issues.

In a brainstorming session, the project manager can take on the planner role, as well as the facilitator role.

As a planner, project managers might consider the following guidelines:

  1. Clearly outline the problem or the idea to be explored.
  2. Define basic ground rules, such as no criticizing, analyzing or judging ideas during the session. Criticism inhibits creativity. The ideas evaluation should be done at the end of the session.
  3. Depending on the complexity of the targeted problem or idea, plan the session with no more than five to 10 people. In a larger group, it's challenging for everyone to participate.
  4. When looking to develop new ideas or concepts, gather a mixed audience to gain a wider perspective. On the other hand, if looking to solve a problem, gather people from a focused or specialized group.
  5. Schedule sufficient time so that people won't feel constrained. Factor in time for breaks so that people can feel refreshed.
  6. Have someone capturing the generated ideas and the underlying notes. 
  7. Plan the logistics such as use of flip charts, pin boards, snacks, etc.
As a facilitator, project managers might consider the following best practices:

  1. Create a relaxed atmosphere that stimulates creativity.
  2. Start the session with an icebreaker, a warm-up exercise or something funny.
  3. Allow open brainstorming but keep the focus on the initial idea or problem.
  4. Encourage everyone to participate and ensure a fair participation from each attendee.
  5. Accept all ideas positively and appraise them equally.
  6. Encourage people to be constructive, as well as to build on people's ideas.
  7. Keep the session unstructured and unconstrained.
Do you use brainstorming on your projects? What is your experience and results?

Posted by Marian Haus on: August 28, 2012 11:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Group Creativity Techniques to Collect Requirements

In my previous post, I discussed gathering requirements through a facilitated requirements workshop, conducted as part of the scoping phase.

A few creative group techniques allow a project manager to get the most out of a requirements workshop. They include mind mapping, brainstorming, affinity diagram, nominal group technique and Delphi technique. (A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) Chapter 5.1.)

The rigor, the number of applied techniques and the sequence in which these techniques are applied depend on the project's complexity, the workshop audience and the available time for gathering and prioritizing requirements.

Nevertheless, the following approach can be constructive and fruitful for collecting project requirements in a facilitated workshop:

1. Start gathering requirements by using the mind mapping technique.
Start with a topic, an issue or an area that you want to collect requirements for and develop ideas around it. Group the ideas visually, as a mind map, by writing down each idea and drawing how it relates to the initial topic. Ideally, you let anyone in the workshop create his or her own mind map.

2. Continue the process with a brainstorming session.
Allow anyone in the workshop to generate an unstructured requirements list for each idea captured on the mind map. To ensure that the brainstorming remains focused on the initial topic, lay basic ground rules and let anyone freely generate fresh ideas and requirements on the topic.

3. Use the list of unstructured ideas and requirements to build an affinity diagram, where your ideas are organized into groups based on their natural relationship. Let anyone in the workshop participate in organizing the items in the most natural group they can.

4. Identify the most important requirements by applying the nominal group technique. Allow each member or group in the workshop to identify which requirements are the most important for him or her. Rank each requirement on the affinity diagram with a priority: low, medium, high or from one to five. To avoid conflicts, facilitate an anonymous priority appraisal and ranking. Finally, tally the results and identify the most important requirements.

5. Close the process by running several rounds of independent feedback through the Delphi technique. Let any individual or group revise the list of requirements. Share an anonymous outcome from each review round and continue with further rounds, keeping in mind the objective to reach consensus and convergence.

Which of the group techniques are you using for collecting requirements? How do you apply them on your projects?

PMI Members: Learn more about mind mapping in our Knowledge Center.

Posted by Marian Haus on: July 13, 2012 03:41 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Successful Techniques to Lead Project Facilitated Workshops

A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide)--4th edition states in chapter 1.1, "Good practice means there is general agreement that the application of project management processes has been shown to enhance the chances of success over a wide range of projects ..."

"...Good practice does not mean that the knowledge, skills and processes described should always be applied uniformly on all projects. For any given project, the project manager, in collaboration with the project team, is always responsible for determining which processes are appropriate, and the appropriate degree of rigor for each process."

In my experience, these passages are the essence of project management. Think about it: not all processes must be applied to every single project. And the project manager, with his team, is responsible for selecting the applicable processes and the rigor with which they'll be used. Beautiful, isn't it?

Process uses techniques. One of the most important techniques that I've applied is the PM's role as a workshop facilitator. To successfully apply this technique, you have to develop your skills in this area.

A facilitator's success relies on his or her preparation for each session. This includes the opening statement, the icebreaker exercise and the group dynamics you will be using to build trust, among other things.

Remember, every facilitated session has two main elements: An underlying process to achieve desired results and the content.

When you facilitate, it's important to understand that you can only work with process -- not the content. Facilitators must detach from the content. If you want to provide an opinion on it, you have to make it clear to the audience that you are abandoning your role as facilitator, then give your objective opinion and then let the audience know when you're putting your facilitator hat back on.

Finally, trust in yourself and in your ability to execute. In the end, the truly magical thing is the discussion and sharing that takes places within all participants during the session. This will really help you and your team to gain confidence, identity, sense of membership and a common understanding that can only be achieved in this type of setting.

Have you had success in implementing any of these techniques? What tools and techniques have you used to facilitate effective workshop sessions?

See more posts from Jorge.

Posted by Jorge Valdés Garciatorres on: October 03, 2011 11:27 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Project Manager as Meeting Facilitator

A few weeks ago, I was about to start a facilitated workshop with a very good customer. A South African colleague of mine, Michelle Booysen from Pétanque Consultancy, a South African consulting services in the field of project and process management, was invited to the session. We were preparing to start work when I confessed I was terrified. "No matter what, whenever I'm facilitating a session I always get scared."

Michelle is a savvy consultant and has a great deal of experience managing projects and facilitating meetings. She told me: "What a relief -- I am not alone." We both laughed.

That moment reminded me of my mindset when I earned my Project Management Professional (PMP)® credential. At that time, I thought having a PMP® was the ultimate achievement in my professional career.

Since then, I have learned that to excel as a project manager, you have to have more than a credential.

One of the skills you need is being able to facilitate. A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide)--Fourth Edition, chapter 5, mentions facilitated workshops:

"Because of their interactive group nature, well-facilitated sessions can build trust, foster relationships, and improve communication among the participants which can lead to increased stakeholder consensus. Another benefit of this technique is that issues can be discovered and resolved more quickly than in individual sessions."

Being a facilitator is a difficult art that is worth mastering. I have used facilitated workshops to build a project plans, to review mission and vision statements, to map business processes and to review deliverables.

Although it is always a challenge, if you understand how to play that role, you'll be leading (facilitating) the group to success. Prepare ahead of time, visualize yourself doing it and take the time to build an energized environment at the beginning of the session.  

It is said that you don't learn to swim by reading a book. You must dare to try it and learn by doing.

Have you played the role of facilitator as a project manager? What have been the keys to becoming a successful facilitator?

See more on the PMBOK® Guide.
See Jorge's prior posts.  
Posted by Jorge Valdés Garciatorres on: August 25, 2011 11:48 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)
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