The eXtreme Project Management™ Series: No. 7
Based on the forthcoming book:

The End of Project Management as We Know It:

eXtreme Project Management™ for Everyone

by Doug DeCarlo, Principal
The Doug DeCarlo Group

Six Essential Facilitation Techniques
for the Extreme Project Manager

[Author's note: This article has been excerpted from the chapter entitled "Critical Success Factor #2: Leadership By Commitment" from eXtreme Project Management™ for Everyone to be published September 2004. The six techniques featured here are part of a larger topic in the chapter that is entitled "A Crash Course in Facilitation."]
The good news for the eXtreme project manager is that you don't have to be a born leader of people. No rah-rah speeches are required. What is necessary, though, is that the eXtreme project manager be a good process leader. It turns out that when you lead the process you lead the people anyway, be they stakeholders, team members, customers or senior managers. That's because good process connects the dots, enabling individuals to unify their thinking and get something useful done for a change.

Although there are many many facilitation techniques, if I had to pick the most essential, I would vote for these.

Two of the simplest yet most powerful, but misused and underused techniques are brainstorming and the "T". Both go a long way in coming up with new ideas and reaching a decision.

1. Brainstorming
Everybody knows about brainstorming and just about everybody does it badly. The purpose of brainstorming is to get as many ideas out in the open as possible. Having done that, only then does the group discuss the items and narrow the list. The problem is that people tend to be critical and interrupt the free flow of ideas before all of them get out in the open. This stifles creativity and frustrates group members. As a reminder, here are the rules of brainstorming which I suggest you announce each time:
  • No idea is a bad idea
  • Get as many ideas out as possible
  • Don't stop to assess until all ideas are out

2. Reverse Brainstorming
One of my favorite brainstorming techniques is reverse brainstorming. Let's say you have a project to improve customer service for telephone sales. You can generate a lot of ideas by teeing up the session as follows:

"Lets say we wanted create the worst possible customer experience when they call in. An experience so bad that they would never want to do business with us again and also tell their friends how lousy we are. What could we do to make this possible?"

By the way, when you do this, the group is likely to be amazed at how many worst practices are already going on. This is also a very cathartic exercise in that it makes it safe for people to say things they may normally keep to themselves. See, you are a facilitator of not only thoughts, but emotions as well.

Oh, once you complete your reverse brainstorming, remember to reverse all the negative ideas. These become your potential solutions to improve the customer experience.

Tip: Forget manual labor. Don't kill yourself trying to capture all the ideas on flip charts. Instead, hand out large PostIt notes and markers. Let their fingers do the writing and then have them post the PostIt notes onto flips. This keeps the room's energy field alive.

3. The "T"

Reminder: Accelerator 4: Simplicity Wins

The "T" is a focusing technique that ends endless debates and produces a better quality decision. You know this one well, but do you use it often? Set up a "T" for each item under debate. Then have the group brainstorm the pros and cons. I'm always amazed how the preferred choice becomes obvious with little need for further discussion. Use 2 or more "Ts" simultaneously, one for each option:

Angelo's Italian

Ravi's Indian

Chen's Wok

pros cons pros cons pros cons

4. Weighted Voting Technique
Purpose: To rank order a list of options based on the number of points each option receives.

Each voter is given a certain number of votes and points that they can allocate to the items being considered. For instance, in voting on a list of 8 items:
  • Have each voter pick their top 3 choices
  • Tell the voters that when it comes time to vote, to give a value of 3 points to their favorite item; 2 points to their second choice and just 1 point to their third choice.
  • Go down the list of items. Have each voter hold up 1 - 3 fingers to indicate the amount of points they decided to give to their top 3 choices.
If you have a list of 10 or more items, give voters a proportional number of more votes and points to use. For a list of 18 items, give them 6 votes having them give 6 points for their 1st choice down to 1 point for their last choice.

Tally the vote (the points) for each of the items. That's it.

5. Gate Opening
For any number of reasons, certain group members will say little or remain silent. Yet they may have information and ideas that can move decisions ahead. To encourage full participation and buy-in for ideas, be aware of the quite ones. A gentile gate-opening phrase I use often is, "Francisco, we haven't heard from you on this one..." (Tip: Don't say Francisco unless that's his real name.) Or, "Tamara, what data might marketing have that could shed light on the subject."

6. Gate Closing
Sometimes it's tempting to want to say, "Shut up, will ya?" Since that is likely to backfire, a more gentle approach is to say, "Dr. Blurtinski, yes, we've heard from you on that one. I'd like to hear from others as well." Or, "I'm getting a little lost here. Would you please summarize your key points for us?"

Good process leadership transforms storming into performing, helping to eliminate some of the chaos characteristic of ultra demanding projects, and making heroes and heroines out of project managers. You become the light in the dark.

Until my next article, keep the lights on.

eXtremely yours,


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