As a facilitator, how does a scrum master prepare for a workshop?
Welcome to part 27 of our scrum master interview questions series where John McFadyen answers common questions asked of scrum masters in interviews and client engagements.
My rule of thumb is that your preparation for a workshop should take roughly twice as long as the workshop is scheduled to run. So if the workshop is an hour long, I would recommend that you invest 2 hours of your time in preparing the workshop.
The role of a facilitator.
Our role, as a facilitator, is fairly straightforward.
We are there to help the people in the meeting or workshop reach the outcome that they desire.
We aren’t there to be deeply involved in the content, it is instead to provide a structure that allows the content to flow, and to keep the team aligned with the purpose of the meeting. To make sure that we stay on track and focused on the most important outcomes intended for the workshop.
In short, to achieve the most important outcomes within the time box agreed upon.
People are complex and so things rarely run according to plan without facilitation.
If there are valuable exercises to help demonstrate a point or achieve a desired outcome, it’s worth planning those exercises and scheduling enough time to complete those exercises effectively.
Keep people focused on what matters.
It’s important that you keep people on track. You are there to ensure that conversations are guided in the right direction and that people have the opportunity to address the issues on the agenda openly, honestly, and respectfully.
In essence, ensuring that people’s attention is focused on the elements that matter to achieve an outcome that is valuable to the team.
Encourage the right discussion.
As a facilitator, you want to discover and implement ways of promoting the right discussions in a way that empowers the team to achieve clarity around the opportunity/threat, and if relevant, guide the team toward a conversation that achieves a valuable solution to that threat/opportunity.
Ideally, you want everyone to have an opportunity to voice their opinion. You want them to be heard, understood, and where relevant, the opportunity to articulate their line of reasoning.
Create the agenda/structure of the workshop.
A great facilitator will design a strong agenda for the meeting. They will provide a structure for the workshop that allows each of the important elements to surface and receive due attention.
You want to empower the team to work through a series of exercises, discussions, etc. that offer the best opportunity to achieve a valuable outcome.
I will invariably plan for two (2) different structures for a workshop like a sprint retrospective, because I want to ensure that I have a back up plan if things move in a certain direction.
I will keep one agenda because I want the workshop to flow from point A to Z effectively, but the exercises are likely doubled up.
- How does this exercise help the team achieve X outcome?
- How does this exercise flow from the outcome achieved in the previous exercise?
- If we are running short of time, how will this shorter exercise help us achieve an outcome?
- If we have plenty of time, what would be a great exercise that makes use of extra time?
And so forth.
Things don’t always run to plan, so you want some flexibility in the structure and content of your workshop that allows you to optimize the time invested in the workshop.
It is important to plan for the desired outcomes, but it is worth planning for things going wrong. It is worth planning for option B in the event that you’re not achieving your outcomes within the time frames allocated.
It isn’t about trying to control the future.
It is just a recognition that some exercises or moments might be incredibly powerful and elicit the kinds of conversations that the team must have, and so you need to make minor adjustments down the line to ensure that you nail the agenda but optimize the breakthrough moments.
Prepare for different personality types.
There are extroverted, confident individuals who feel comfortable engaging in every topic, whilst others prefer to remain in the shadows or fly under the radar.
You need the contribution of every person on the team. Sometimes, the shy introverted developer is the most skilled and experienced developer on the team, and their contribution is vital, so you need to figure out ways to engage everyone on the team regardless of their personality type.
- How am I going to balance things to ensure all voices are heard?
- How do I ensure that the extroverts don’t dominate the conversation?
- How can I ensure psychological safety for everyone on the team?
- How do I bring an introverted person into the conversation in an optimal way?
And so forth.
Its important to manage this live, real-time but you can also prepare for it in advance.
Some people like to talk, and so how do we encourage that, but how do we follow that with commentary and insights from people who prefer to reflect? How do we draw them out and provide an opportunity for them to contribute value to the team?
Think about these elements when you are preparing for the workshop and then compare how you thought things would go versus how they actually worked out. Make notes on your assumptions and document what worked, what didn’t work, and anything of value that may have emerged.
This kind of post-workshop analysis will help inform your future workshop planning and make you more effective as both a facilitator and scrum master.
About John McFadyen
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