Struggling with the facilitation aspect of your role as a project manager?
Galen Low is joined by Alice Jakins—Founder & Owner of Getting Digital Done—to talk about the reasons why being a good facilitator is one of the most important superhero skills you can hone as a project manager in 2023, and what you can do to get better at it.
- Some of the projects from Alice’s past that really got her blood pumping and how they exposed her to various branches of digital organizations [2:55]
- One project that stands out was a team restructure for a data company.
- The word “restructure” for many people was in itself scary.
- This project needed the right approach. So it was important to tackle the project in smaller bite size chunks.
- They decided to start by creating a real world “experiment / trial” for a new team and their ways of working.
- Ultimately the restructure resulted in better ownership and quality of the work. It came down to ensuring the team’s purpose was clear, roles & responsibilities were understood, a good process was created with some key practices implemented.
- Mix this with a good culture and you’ve got a great recipe for project success.
- One project that stands out was a team restructure for a data company.
- A little bit about Alice’s company and the kind of impact she and her team have on businesses in South Africa and around the world [6:16]
- Her company is called Getting Digital Done.
- It’s not just her. She collaborates with The Bill Murray on process consulting and they believe it’s important to make processes fun, simple and people focused.
- They work collaboratively with businesses ensuring that they own the outputs and outcomes of the work.
- The impact they want to leave them with are better work experiences.
- Some examples of better work experiences could be things like:
- Less but more meaningful & engaging meetings in a business
- More directed management team with clearer goals in place
- Clarity on certain processes and practices and who owns what part in it
- Improved confidence to do one’s job
- A more directed team with better decision making
- More effective collaboration across teams
- How did Alice become interested in facilitation? What made it something that she felt strongly enough about to want to master it and then teach it? [9:18]
- She doesn’t know that she will ever “master” facilitation because it is a skill you can keep developing.
- She fell into doing it because it was really needed in the projects she was working on – those not-so-great project experiences.
- She was invited to meetings where she had no idea what the purpose of the meeting was.
- Wishing she could code so that she could understand what the developers were saying.
- Feeling guilty having to ask the team to work late to meet a deadline when it could’ve been avoided.
- She knew she needed to drive better experiences not just for herself but for the team too.
- She’s very passionate about facilitation because when there is good facilitation unfolding in a project, you can not only feel it but the impact can be seen too in the project results – better work and happier clients.
The reason why people are feeling drained is because the meetings aren’t engaging. It’s got nothing to do with the platform. It’s actually got everything to do with the structure of the meeting.Alice Jakins
- The first session Alice had to facilitate [13:20]
- It was a stand up for a development team who were working across multiple projects.
- She told the team why she thinks stand ups would be good for their work delivery and asked if they were willing to try it out.
- Did she have the skills to pull it off? Back then all she had done was an online introductory course to scrum and there weren’t actual scrum-master facilitation skills learned in that.
- Her facilitation skills have been self taught – learned through lots of practice, taking learnings from meetings that she’s been invited to and meetings she had facilitated – improving her skills along the way.
Don’t let the theory bury the soul of the project.Alice Jakins
- Why do project managers need to be facilitators? Don’t we do enough? [22:01]
- A Project Manager does a lot – but project facilitation is very much part of the job.
- A Project Manager’s job is to drive the project momentum and to do this you need to be really good at facilitation.
- If you think about the project flow, right at the start of a project, a Project Manager wants to ensure everyone in the team understands the project purpose and their part to play. That’s a really important thing to nail at the start.
- A Project Manager wants to ensure every single person on the project team understands the project goals and their part to play in achieving those project goals. This presents a great opportunity for the Project Manager to facilitate a Project Kick Start session.
- Maybe you weren’t involved in business development in the actual sale of the project, but you have to make sure that you speak to the business development person to really understand the value that’s being given to the client in terms of the results that they expect from the projects.
- What is the most common and avoidable mistake project managers and other digital professionals make when it comes to facilitation? [26:37]
- Not actively listening – what might end up being an average meeting could end up being a spectacular meeting just by actively listening.
- By actively listening – using techniques to ensure that the best conversations transpire.
- Asking really good questions to get context would be one good active listening technique.
- How can PMs get good at facilitating virtual and hybrid sessions? What should they be thinking about in terms of session prep, follow-up actions, and keeping things on track during the session? [28:46]
- It is not easy facilitating a session that is half in a meeting room and half through remote working locations.
- Preparation is everything and there are 4 P’s to think about here:
- PURPOSE – “What is the purpose of the session you will be facilitating? What is the desired outcome you are hoping to achieve?” Make this clear in the meeting request you send out because attendees are more likely to respond “yes” if they know upfront what the meeting is about.
- PEOPLE – “Who is joining you in your session and what do we know about them?” Think about their backstory in context to the session you are planning to facilitate. Make sure you check if the people invited to the session have accepted the invitation and if they haven’t followed up until you have the attendance you need for a successful session.
- PARTICIPATION – “What exercises are going to drive participation with your attendees and at the same time help you reach your session objective? How much time are these exercises going to take?” Think about asking for a volunteer to keep you stay honest to the meeting agenda and timelines allocated to certain exercises. The exercises always take longer than you think so take things out that go over the booked time slot.
- PLATFORM – Facilitators need to make sure they are on top of the tech being used and what could go wrong so they can easily guide attendees during the session. Practice with a few volunteers ahead of an important meeting. Also find out what level of experience the attendees have in using the platforms you intend to use for your participation exercises.
- What tools are there to make facilitation easier? [32:19]
- There are some great meeting and workshop templates out there to make facilitation easier. These are really helpful even when you need to create a custom structure because it can help you to set a direction.
- Miro, which is the virtual collaboration platform, has some really great templates to tap into.
- Then there are the standard break out room features you get with Zoom, Google and Microsoft teams – this allows you to dissect a bigger group into smaller groups if you are wanting to get debates or conversations going.
- When should digital project managers take a step back and let their team do the facilitation? [33:59]
- There are lots of opportunities for this – where a team member needs to get input or feedback on something that is outside of the project manager’s skill set.
- For example maybe an Engineering Manager needs some insights from a number of stakeholders in order to produce a system design. They could then design a really good meeting structure to facilitate ensuring they get all the information needed from everyone in that session.
- Alice’s recommendations for a project manager who wants to get better at facilitation [37:44]
- Keep on practicing. If it’s something that you really want to get good at, then you’ve got that curiosity on your side – so explore what is out there.
- There’s some incredible templates that are readily available and those are good starting points.
- Look online for templates. Miroverse is a really great inspirational website to go to for inspiration around some really awesome structures that you could be facilitating – meetings, workshops, focus groups, etc.
Meet Our Guest
Alice is the Founder & Owner of Getting Digital Done. She runs interactive power hours, group learning sessions, and workshops to help teams to work smarter. She equips next-generation leaders with tips and techniques to master smarter ways of working so they can meet project deadlines, be more efficient, and experience joy in the work they do!
It’s not just about the process, it’s about all the things that surround it – the people, the platforms, the purpose.Alice Jakins
Resources from this episode:
- Join DPM Membership
- Subscribe to the newsletter to get our latest articles and podcasts
- Connect with Alice on LinkedIn
- Check out Alice’s website
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Read The Transcript:
We’re trying out transcribing our podcasts using a software program. Please forgive any typos as the bot isn’t correct 100% of the time.
Galen Low: Here you are again leading yet another hybrid brainstorming session for your project. Unsurprisingly, it feels as much like herding cats as it did the last ten times. At the moment, you're awkwardly attempting to conduct the session from the safety of your living room office. Meanwhile, a cluster of attendees who managed to find a physical meeting room are excitedly putting stickies on a whiteboard that none of the remote attendees can decipher via the webcam. Add to that the fact that it sounds like everyone is a million miles away, except for Seth the mouth-breather who decided to sit as close as possible to the microphone.
Meanwhile, you're constantly getting pinged by remote participants about why there are so many cursors flying around on the Miro board. And that would be a great question if they weren't actually supposed to be in the Mural board, which is a completely different tool. You find yourself at the end of your rope, thinking to yourself "Why is facilitation my problem at all, and how can I get it off my plate? I'm a project manager, dammit, not a magician!"
If you've been struggling with the facilitation aspect of your role as a project manager, keep listening. We're going to be dissecting the reasons why being a good facilitator is actually one of the most important superhero skills you can hone as a project manager in 2023, and also what you can do to get better at it.
Hey folks, thanks for tuning in. My name is Galen Low with The Digital Project Manager. We are a community of digital professionals on a mission to help each other get skilled, get confident, and get connected so that we can amplify the value of project management in a digital world. If you wanna hear more about that, head on over to thedigitalprojectmanager.com.
Okay. Today we are going to be surfacing the raw and unfiltered truth about facilitation and project management. We're going to explore why it matters more than ever, how to avoid the most common mistakes project managers make when it comes to facilitation, and when project managers should just take a step back and maybe not try to be the facilitator.
With me today is Alice Jakins, a passionate process design consultant, an expert digital facilitator, and also the owner of Getting Digital Done — a digital consulting practice based in Cape Town, South Africa.
Alice, thank you so much for being on the show with us today!
Alice Jakins: Thank you, Galen! Awesome to be here.
Galen Low: Now, for our listeners, Alice and I, we've been chatting for probably over a year about things like facilitation, things like project management, things like process design. And we were like, "Heck, why don't we just record a podcast because all of our conversations end up getting us to really interesting places, really interesting insights."
And I thought facilitation is probably a great place to dig in. But before we dive in, I just thought maybe our listeners can learn just a little bit more about you, Alice. From what I know of you, you're someone who has just a really wide range of experience. Everything from business process design, to optimization, to digital transformation, to operations, to project management, to teaching and coaching, and of course, facilitation.
I was wondering, could you tell our listeners about some of the projects from your past that really got your blood pumping and how they exposed you to all of these different branches of a digital organization?
Alice Jakins: Sure. Yeah, I think that's a fascinating thing is it's like an ecosystem of all these different moving parts, isn't it?
Especially when it comes to process. It's not just about the process, it's about all the things that surround it — people, the platforms, the purpose, so yeah, all those moving parts, they're quite interconnected. So I think, yeah, if I, to give you an idea of which projects got my blood pumping, they've all been quite diverse, but I think, one project that definitely stands out is it was a team restructure for a data company.
And I think as soon as people hear that word restructure, they go into panic mode. It's am I going to have a job? What does this mean for me? Quite scary. So it was quite important for that project to take the right approach, to how this company was going to actually fulfill on this restructure.
And the approach there was definitely, bite-sized chunks. So what we ended up doing was we actually took the ideal team and we trialed it with a live project inside of that organization. So you know, none of these people had actually worked together in a team before. And yeah, it was really just about making it clear to everybody, why the company wanted to do it, getting their insights and input around, how could we make it a success?
What ways of working could we implement to actually get the work over the line? What were the kind of rituals that were going to work for them? We practice those rituals and, they became the ambassadors for other people inside that organization saying, we want to have similar teams because we can see how well it works.
So yeah, that was a good example, I think, touched on quite a few different areas.
Galen Low: I like that sort of localized experiment approach and the kind of creative/collaborative approach. I think you're absolutely right. And even probably for some of our listeners too, they're like, okay, yeah, restructuring project, like how is that digital?
How can that be agile or nimble? We're so used to having restructuring done to us that we forget that there's a way to do it where it is a sort of creative exercise where we can craft these new processes together in, a little bit of a whatever I'm thinking the word like Petri dish, right?
You've got your little experiment running and you get to be fast and you get to be creative and you get to work with new people.
Alice Jakins: And you get to have fun. Yeah.
Galen Low: Exactly. It's fun and and not weighed down by the past necessarily, or you can just look forward and design a different organization.
And if I'm picking up what you're putting down as well a project that might be called a restructure, in a way, it is this sort of web of everything that's connected. So in other words, tools. In other words, process design. In other words, digital solutioning, like really thinking about how to modernize a business.
And then, to your point earlier, really centering around the people and the purpose, which is, people don't restructure for fun, generally. So, it's just like orienting around that goal. I was wondering, maybe you could talk to us a bit about how some of your experience has just culminated into your consulting practice, which is called Getting Digital Done, which I love, by the way, cool name.
So do you think you can just tell us a little bit about your company and just the kind of impact that you and your team have on businesses in your area in South Africa, but also around the world?
Alice Jakins: Sure. I'm Miss Jakins. That's me, and it's actually not just me. I actually collaborate with another business, The Bill Murray. And The Bill Murray is on the process consulting side. And then, The Bill Murray and myself with my background in project management, we obviously work with businesses on the process consulting side. So yeah, as a collective, know, we're all about making processes fun, keeping them simple and keeping them people-focused, like we mentioned before.
And we like to work collaboratively with businesses, I think that's so important. We're not the kind of consultants that come in and tell people how things should be running. We know that they have a team. We know that they have existing processes. We know that they have existing ways of working. It's just working together with them to make improvements.
And yeah, it's important that the businesses that we work with, they actually own the outcomes, cause we want to leave them in space where they're confident to carry on owning those outputs and owning those things that have been implemented. So it's all about creating better work experiences and I think some of the examples of better work experience could be things like, less but more meaningful engaging meetings in the business. It could be something like more directed team with clearer goals in place. It could be around having clarity on certain processes and practices and who owns certain parts of those.
Could even be like more confidence to do one's job, because that's been made clearer. Could be a more directed team with better decision making unfolding, more effective collaboration. Cause you can have a situation, can't you, where you've got all the collaboration happening in the world, but then decisions aren't getting made because it's not clear, who would actually make a final call on something.
Sure, you need diverse opinions and collaboration, but at the end of the day, someone needs to make a decision with that data. So, that's just some of the work that we do.
Galen Low: I like that approach. The other name I love is The Bill Murray, which I will post a link in the show notes because I was like, wow, Alice works with Bill Murray? Different Bill Murray. Bill, she's great. I really appreciate that company name. It really got me interested. That definitely worked.
And I guess, would you say that like your approach is similar to what you were saying on the restructure where it's, it doesn't have to be wholesale change. It's it sounds to me like sometimes little optimizations, little iterations in different areas of the business, like even coaching and mentoring, not necessarily restructuring every play in the handbook.
Alice Jakins: Absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah, it all depends on, the needs of the business, which we help them kind of surface, and help them prioritize and look for, what are the incremental wins and let's make sure that those are happening and being felt, and yeah. So that's how we like to work with businesses, very collaboratively.
Galen Low: I love that. I love that. That's probably a good segue for us to dive in. Collaboration sometimes entails facilitation and you and I, we've jammed a lot on facilitation. I know it's something you feel really passionately about. And I was just wondering where that came from. I never really asked you this, but how did you become interested in facilitation? What made it something that you felt, strongly enough about to want to master it and also teach it?
Alice Jakins: Okay. Awesome. Yeah. If I'm honest with you, Galen, I don't know that I will ever master facilitation because it really is a skill that you can keep developing. I fell into it, doing it because I needed to when I was working on projects.
So, yeah, I think just through experience really, where I was experiencing not so great experiences on the ground with projects getting written. So, things like being invited to a meeting, but having no idea why I was there, why I was invited even. Or just being part of a team, but sensing that, there's just lack of energy or no vibe.
That's not a cool experience to be part of that project. What else? Wishing I could code so that I could actually understand what the developers are saying, so all of these things drove a need to go, no, like we need to have a better experience on the ground when we're running this project and it needs to be through different experiences of ourselves working together as a team.
And we need to be doing this better and I think that kind of sparked the interest that I had to drive better meetings, to drive better facilitation, to make sure better conversations were unfolding, people did feel more directed, it was a better vibe, all of those things.
Galen Low: I like those two words. I like the word experience and I like the word vibe just because those are things that not everyone's thinking about from a project perspective, is the sort of user experience, so to speak of the people on the project team trying to get work done.
It's the like tone, it's the culture and a lot of people think of facilitation and they they're like, Oh yeah, when somebody stands in front of a group of people and controls everything because they want to drive towards their outcome. And of course, project managers need to do this because they're control freak.
But actually it's a lot more about creating an experience that cultivates some of the collaboration that needs to happen. The worst thing is being in a meeting where you're like, I'm not sure what I'm doing here. Also, I'm not sure what the goal is, and therefore I'm not sure if by the end of this meeting, we're going to feel like gratified in the sense that we accomplished something, or if it was just a complete waste of time.
And then magnify that. Something you mentioned earlier, right? It's maybe having fewer, but more effective meetings as part of a process optimization. And part of that is, is this, right? Because if people are all stuck in really bad meetings that have zero direction and the vibe is not there and people don't feel energized then it's not moving the ball forward at all.
Alice Jakins: No, and it can be really draining, often, there was that whole sort of phrase that was coined about Zoom fatigue and it's just being in back to back meetings the entire day and people feeling drained. And there's a reason why they're feeling drained is because those meetings aren't engaging. It's got nothing to do with the platform. It's actually got everything to do with the structure of the meeting,
and it not being engaging enough and driving participation and letting people be heard or, actions unfolding. I think people would then feel differently at the end of the day. They wouldn't be feeling so drained.
Galen Low: No entirely. And it was something that like, it was interesting. It's probably different for you and I, because we probably did a lot of remote facilitation or hybrid facilitation in the past before the pandemic. But do you feel like some of that has gotten better?
We had Zoom fatigue, people were having really bad meetings. Did we get better at it by the end? Or are we still trying to find our way through? And maybe even you find a lot of your clients are actively trying to reduce like sort of Zoom style meetings because they just never nailed it.
Alice Jakins: I think people are still struggling with this. I think that there's a really desperate need for good facilitation. I'm still seeing, poorly bad poorly run meetings happening out there. So I think that there's a lot of opportunity to make this work better for people, so yeah, I don't think that it's improved that much, if I'm honest.
Galen Low: That's entirely fair. And you know what I think the learning aspect is such an interesting thing because I don't know if everyone's approaching it as this is something that could be better, that I should learn to do better, or that I feel equipped to do well, because we just got, everyone got plopped into it.
They're like, guess what? You're going to need to do your regular meeting that you do in person, but you're going to do it online, or anytime you would have walked by someone's desk we're going to do it on Zoom. And they're like, okay, well, it's automatically going to be bad. It got me thinking about my first facilitation experience, but I thought maybe I'd put you on the spot, do a bit of story time.
Maybe you could walk us through just that first session that you had to facilitate and, how equipped you felt was it planned? Did it just happen? Did you feel like you had the skills to pull it off at the time? And afterwards, was there a thing where you're like, okay, this could be better. I can improve at this.
Alice Jakins: Sure. Okay. Well, I think thinking back, the first session that I facilitated was actually a standup, so with a team of developers. But, in terms of planning a session, well, yes. But I actually gnawed it together with them. So yeah, I think Scrum has been around for many years now. And I had quite an interest in the whole Scrum methodology and understanding agile ways of working and, all the different practices that could unfold.
And I just felt at the time that, the developers, they weren't openly sharing knowledge amongst each other or openly understanding what each person on the team was working on, to show their support or add value. And as a collective, we were working across multiple projects, so it would have really helped if that knowledge was more freely shared and if the support was more felt amongst the team members.
So yeah, I think back then I positioned it as, here's a purpose of why I want to do standups. I think that it's going to, you know, get a knowledge sharing. I think it's going to drive better support amongst the team. I think that we're going to get better work that's produced because we're able to do this, more freely and faster this way.
And how does everyone feel about us doing standups? And, yeah, they all wanted to give it a shot. So that was really helpful, getting there by in, from the get go, back then, this was like 10 years ago, we didn't have these virtual collaboration boards that you have nowadays.
So this was literally as hunting down, one of those whiteboards, hunting down sticky notes from the stationery, begging them, can we have a couple of sticky notes creating this board that was going to work for us? And so it unfolded and it was a success and we just got better at it, with every one that we had. So you were looking for an example, weren't you? The first presentation at it. There you go.
Galen Low: And I love this notion of collaboratively prepping. And I think not everybody, when they're given a facilitation role, I think a lot of folks' first instinct is to be like, Okay, it's my responsibility to do this alone, to craft the session, craft the agenda, figure out a structure figure out the goals, figure out the outcomes.
It's a thing that I have to hold, and it's the me show, whether that's a good thing or a bad thing in their mind. Whereas actually, in a way your facilitation started before the session, before any standup, before any post it notes had been acquired or maybe stolen. Maybe nicked from the supply closet, but all of that started with a conversation with your team. And I'm just tying it back to something you said earlier where you're like, you wish you could code so that, you could have this information available to you, have this visibility and I think part of that curiosity is what drove that, right?
To say that okay, well, how do people want to run this? I'm not necessarily the expert at what they're working on, but also how can I help them communicate well so that they can share with one another, but also share with you in, at a level that everyone can understand so that there's that transparency coming through.
And then the other thing I love is then just iterating on it, right? Getting better and better at it because you've already opened that dialogue. You've already asked for feedback and input even before the first session, right? And it was like, okay, well, like then everyone has his ownership over it and then they can move the ball forward on it.
It's not like a, Oh, that's Alice's thing. If she wants to do the next one differently, that's up to her. It's didn't get stuck there because you had planned it with them.
Alice Jakins: No, it works really well. And to your point about, feeling like as a facilitator, you've got to create the structure alone and facilitate this incredible session unknown and like absolutely not, that doesn't need to happen, I think what is really helpful is to have something to show the team as a starting point, because you'll quickly realize, know, what is going to work as part of that structure and what isn't?
And by having something that you can have a conversation around is a good starting point as opposed to nothing. So I'd always have that in, keep that top of mind.
Galen Low: And that's like the seed of collaboration anyways, isn't it? Is not giving somebody a finished thing and getting their feedback on it or, climbing it down my throat. It's about, Hey, I started this thing is probably wrong. Help me make it better. And then that collaboration starts taking place, which fundamentally I think is the goal of facilitation is to create an experience that allows collaboration to happen effectively, coming back to your earlier point, which I think is really neat.
In terms of just feeling equipped in general, not even just this first go at it, but have you ever done like formal facilitation training? Or is a lot of this sort of just learned on the job through experience, through this mindset of wanting to optimize and get better each time?
Alice Jakins: Yeah, it's definitely self taught. I've always had a very keen interest in ways of working and, agile ways of working in particular. I'd done an online course all about Scrum, but they didn't actually touch on facilitation skills, in terms of how to surface information from a team and the techniques they're in.
So it really has been through participating in a lot of meetings, running a lot of meetings, being curious about these platforms and these, collaboration, these amazing virtual wonderlands. I really call them virtual wonderlands for collaboration to unfold, it's insane what's out there. And yeah, it's just, I've just got a really keen interest in it because I can see the value of, you could have a regular meeting or you could have a spectacular meeting.
Spectacular meeting is where, yeah, you're getting the right things to serve this so that you have an outcome or you can go away and create something because you just had such a really awesome session.
Galen Low: I think not enough people aspire towards a spectacular meeting. I think the other thing that I found interesting is that not a lot of people think of, their role in creating a spectacular meeting as facilitation.
I think sometimes folks are thinking about things like requirements gathering sessions, like the big ones where it's like a room of 30 or 50 people and you do these activities where, everybody writes down their idea and we do some affinity mapping and all this stuff. And yes, that is that, but even the facilitation of a meeting.
And I think you raise a really good point, which is that in a lot of the sort of project management training, the actual soft skill of facilitation is implicit, or at least buried in this notion that, oh yeah, it's a framework, we're going to have sprint planning sessions, here's how they run, you're going to have a sprint review, we're going to do daily stand ups, we're going to do a retrospective, but it's not always so obvious how, right, how to do those things to drive an outcome.
Alice Jakins: Exactly, and also, the importance of understanding the team dynamic and, you know, who they are and what they're used to and because, it's that whole thing. It's like you don't want the soul of the project to be buried under the theory. So, you can read all the course material in the world, they're gonna teach you the theory, but the theory might not be appropriate to the team or to what the business is trying to achieve or the, the kind of work that they do.
They might not just have one project, they might have 20, you're not gonna go through 20 projects, what you did yesterday, what you're doing today, what you need to do tomorrow that might not make sense to everybody. So, yeah, I think the important thing is to make sure that the soul of the project is first and foremost, and the purpose of it, why are you doing it?
And think of, the team and what's going work best for the team in terms of decisions that you want to facilitate. And yeah, I think it's good energy.
Galen Low: Also, I love that quote from you, which I will definitely put in the show notes. Don't let the theory bury the soul of the project. It's a good segue. I know we've been talking a bit about this, but just to put a fine point on it.
If any of our listeners are thinking, I'm a project manager, but why do I need to be a facilitator? I think a lot of the folks I know in my network who are project managers, they're like, we're already really busy, right? This is extra. I'm trying to make sure everything goes well in terms of the technical side of the project, delivering within my constraints.
And now I'm also expected to be, a facilitator, like why is that part of my job? I guess to those folks who are like, yeah, I shouldn't have to think about this. This is extra. What would you say to a project manager like that?
Alice Jakins: It's tricky because you're right. A project manager does do a lot, but I feel like project facilitation nowadays is part of the job.
If we think about the job of a project manager, it's really to drive the momentum, drive the project momentum and to do this, you need good project facilitation skills. So, if you think of the project's flow, from the beginning right through to the end, if you just at that starting point of why are we doing this project, what is the purpose of it?
How are we going to know that it was successful? What are the success criteria? Who's involved in this project and what part do they play? That's a really important part of a project and how that would unfold is probably as a project kickstart, and you're getting all the project team players together in a session to remind everyone like why are we here?
What is the purpose, what are all the skill sets involved? What are each of our roles? We've got the common goal of delivering to those success measures for the projects, but like how are we as a collective going to make this happen? What's going to work for us in terms of how we want to work?
Is this hybrid? Is there a lot of asynchronous work happening? How do we, meet everybody's situations so that we are communicating in the right way? Where are we going to communicate? All of those things are so, so, so, so important and it's up to the project manager to drive the project through all these different phases, so that was just the beginning stage, facilitation can now unfold throughout the whole projects in a different shape or form.
Galen Low: Some project managers are not necessarily front and center, maybe in their role in their particular organization and that culture, they're more behind the scenes-ers.
And they might be like, well, kickstarts the project, yeah, my account manager or business development or the strategist, because we're talking about goals and we're talking about, destinations where we're heading to our north star, et cetera, et cetera. But you raised a really good point about especially someone who's interested in ways of working, like, how are we going to work together?
What are we going to deliver? What's the plan and how is this going to all work? I guess is when I hear that, I'm like, in some ways it's a very difficult question for an average account manager or customer success person or business development representative, or, just like the overall strategist or a UX person. In some ways they probably could, but it's really in the realm of project management ways of working, methods and just, collaboration.
Alice Jakins: Yeah, I know. What you were saying earlier as well about, getting the right people to support you when you're creating the structure. The same would be here. So maybe you weren't involved in business development in the actual sale of the project, but you know, you then make sure that you speak to the business development person to really understand, the value that's being given to the client in terms of the results that they expect from the projects.
And, you would do all of that collaboration ahead of facilitating it, the kickstarts. Yeah, I think to your point, they may not have that information from the start, but it's up to them to go and get that information.
Galen Low: It's really funny. I was having a conversation with someone, a very seasoned project manager, and they were like, Oh, the most liberating day was when I realized I don't do anything, I don't make decisions. I just make them happen.
And when you really break down the semantics of facilitation, I think a lot of people in their head, they're like, it's just control? Facilitate lead. Do all the things, own it, drive the outcome. Whereas actually, facilitation just literally actually means just make sure the things happen, even if you're not doing the thing, even if you're not the expert at what is being talked about.
Just like having the wherewithal to create the experience, to create the vibe, to create that momentum, to get to that place, to get to that decision, to get to clarity, even if you're not the person who's has all the answers, you're facilitating the discovery of those answers, the surfacing of those answers.
Alice Jakins: Absolutely.
Galen Low: I guess, speaking of which, thinking from my own experience, maybe asking for myself, is there like a very common and very avoidable mistake that you see project managers and other digital professionals that you see people make all the time when it comes to facilitation?
Alice Jakins: One of the common mistakes is probably not actively listening and it speaks to this whole notion of having the best outcomes.
So having the best outcomes to the sessions that you are facilitating. So really knowing what those techniques are, one of them could be, if you wanted to get the best outcome of the facilitation session. Could be having a really good set of questions prepared, to allow answers to unfold, to allow a particular conversation to happen. And there are loads of different techniques, but I'd say actively listening could be one of them.
Also, when you're listening to an answer that you might have raised with a really good question, is to be in a position where you're able to then ask another question on top of the question. You can be thinking in one sort of direction and something that somebody says could take it into a whole new area.
Quite an exciting area. So I just think, yeah, that's really quite important to be able to ask really good, effective questions.
Galen Low: I love that. It's like it builds, for all the preparation that is inherent in trying to be a really good facilitator. Like sticking to the script is sometimes, and only looking at what's next is sometimes the worst thing you can do because there's probably, nuggets of gold that you can continue to uncover if you're paying attention and not being so fixated on okay, what happens next in the session?
Okay, well, let's quickly move on. Oh, okay, well, we only allocated 15 minutes for that. We're at 14 minutes. Like I need to shift on, doesn't really matter what this person is saying. We need to get on with it. Which I think is a very I would generalize and say it's a very project manager instinct to be like, okay, keep time, get things delivered.
Let's get this meeting delivered on time. Versus, okay, like actually actively listening, paying attention, being curious, driving and building into the outcome.
Alice Jakins: Yeah, it's hard to do, but it's yeah, you got to go with the flow. And if you're starting to see something really interesting unfold, let it unfold.
Galen Low: I wondered if we could return to something we were talking about earlier. We're talking about tools and I did touch on this notion of hybrid. And if we were to open the aperture here and, not just meetings, but actual kind of group sessions, focus groups, co-creation sessions, brainstorms.
And obviously that adds some complexity to the role of the facilitator, especially a project manager, when you're running a session that is either digital only, right? Remote only everyone's dialed in on Zoom or meets or Slack or what have you, but also the hybrid ones where it's okay, half the people have dialed in, other half the people are in the room.
How do you approach that? Can it be solved with tools? What is your sort of best practice in terms of navigating a sort of hybrid session when it comes to facilitation?
Alice Jakins: Yeah, I think it's tricky to manage a situation where you've got some people in a meeting room and other people dialing in from all over, but it can be done.
I think one of the key things to do is obviously like test your tech, ahead of the session. So if you're not going to be as a facilitator, you're not going to be in that meeting room with three other people, still make sure that you set up time to actually connect with them. Test it out with them to make sure that it's going to work well, especially if you're having like a focus group session or a workshop, or, that it's going to be longer than 90 minutes.
You really need to test it out and see that you're not going to have any hiccups. What else is there? I think, the classic thing, I think for any meeting, whether it's completely remote or some of it's in the office and some of it's not, it's just the basic stuff of being prepared.
So, making sure that people understand what it is you aim to achieve from the session. You don't need to tell them the whole breakdown of the session, but just like what it is you're aiming to get out of the session, like that needs to be clear. Making sure that the right people have accepted the meeting.
How often has it happened to people where they go into a session and like three of the key people aren't there? It's a little bit of a, it's not gonna roll so well, is it? So, making sure that people have actually accepted and are gonna be there is a good one. What else is there just in terms of hybrid versus, the tools that are available to us these days are next level.
So breakout rooms are pretty easy to do. You can do them quite effectively on Google Meets, on Microsoft Teams, on Zoom, and you can even do them in Miro now, that's a collaboration online platform. So also I think there I would definitely test. I've had to do this in the past where, shame, I've got three other sisters, so they often get, me testing with them, especially in those breakout room scenarios where, maybe it was a platform that I wasn't used to, I would always test it out with it.
And so they were like any picks. So yeah, you need your tribe that you can just, call up and say, Hey, I need to do this test. I want to check that everything's going to be working properly. If I send you to that room, you're actually going to go to that room. And then what do you see? And being curious and testing with people ahead of the time is always good. Making sure that if it's a session where there is going to be a lot of participation, that people know that's going to happen, so making sure that they are being prepared, that they're in an area that is quieter, where they can be heard, is also a good one.
So set them up for success, if there's any preparation, make sure that they have it, not 10 minutes before the session, but maybe a day before so that they actually are able to do that. So when you are coming into the session, it can be so much more powerful because that homework was done beforehands.
Now there's a couple of tips.
Galen Low: I wanted to come back to participation because even just speaking for myself and with a hybrid session, I found it very easy to just hide. Sometimes voluntarily, because I was like, I just don't want to get too involved. It's awkward. I'm maybe the one or two remote persons, but also sometimes because I'm just like, it just isn't as clear to me in terms of, what the activity is that everyone's doing.
What tips do you have, I guess, for getting people to participate when you sense that they're either voluntarily or involuntarily blending into the background and, letting all of the mouse cursors fly around in Miro and just standing back?
Alice Jakins: No, I think that is the beauty about these online, virtual wonderlands is that, you can still be in an environment where you're in an office space, but you have your laptop and you're having conversation. But at least then, you're feeling like you're part of the session when you've got a Miro happening because you're all contributing to the exercise.
So, and if I'm in a home office, I can still be part of the session as well as the people that are in the meeting room with their laptop, they're also part of the session. But then they're also feeling like an extra part of connectedness because they're having a conversation. So, as a facilitator, I would just make sure, that, like I said, you you test your technology beforehand and, if it's a case that the person that is sitting at home can't hear, I would always repeat what the other person has said, so, so just sit there and say, what do you think?
So, involve them. Make them feel like they're very much part of the session unfolding and that they're not being noticed, like they absolutely do need to be noticed. So you need to pull them into the conversation as much as you can.
Galen Low: I love that sort of democratized experience. I'm like, I would really appreciate that from a facilitator as well.
So I'm just going to repeat a question that they know was hard to hear. And sometimes, it may be difficult to know when you're there in person as well, whether or not that person was close enough to the microphone. But yeah, that is the one where I'm like, I didn't hear the thing and now I've lost it.
Now I'm like, okay, well, I don't really feel like I can participate in the session because I think I missed a trick in there. Whereas if a facilitator was to repeat that back, I think that creates just an even playing field for everybody. Even if they're in person, on their laptops, not using physical sticky notes, that still levels the playing field for everyone.
So that the experience, again, coming back to that experience, the experience is unified and allows people to collaborate productively. I thought I'd maybe dig into the opposite side of the coin. We've been talking about facilitation and project management and why project managers, should aspire to be good at facilitation, should really take the reins at facilitation because it's in their best interest for the progression of their projects.
But are there times when a project manager should not really try and grab the reins to be a facilitator? Like when are there moments where the project manager should step back and not be the facilitator of that particular session or meeting? Is there such a thing as being too much of a facilitator as a project manager?
Alice Jakins: Yeah, I think when it's outside of your skillset. So if you're working on a project and you've got, a variety of different people all doing their part to make that project a success, there may be somebody that's part of a team. Let's think of a development team. Maybe you've got a CTO, who needs to create a system design for this project.
Alright? And you as a project manager know that the system design needs to happen. You also know that there are a number of stakeholders and partners involved with this particular client. So, you know, it's not going to work for this person to work in isolation. There needs to be a collaboration. So yeah, I guess as a facilitator, you could or even as a project manager, you could say to CTO Hey, listen, we need to make sure a system design happens.
We also need to make sure that you get all the information you need. I'm really good at creating a nice structure. These are all the stakeholders involved. Let's work together and create something that feels like more energetic and more outcomes based that you walk away with all the information you need, but you then ready to go and get us to the next stage so you can show all the stakeholders what you've done.
And then it would be a case that you would design it together, but then the CTO would facilitate either a section of the session or the whole thing. Because they're going to be talking in a language that you as a facilitator may not understand, so I think that's when you should let go, like you should obviously be there as a support and help in the creation and maybe the design of a structure together with the CTO, but then let them take the lead and shine in their expert field that they know so well with people in their expert fields that he knows more about, or she knows more about than you would.
Galen Low: I love that notion of co-facilitation and co-prep, but more than that, I like the notion of proliferating the culture of facilitation and cross training in a way and coming back to what you said about finding your first stand up. That it's okay, let me just give you something to react to, this is how I would normally approach it let's now take this and figure something out together, where I can do some of the facilitation, you can do some of the facilitation.
Or maybe it's just one of us, but in some cases it's going to be better coming from you, CTO, because you know this stuff, it's your initiative, you're more technical, and you will probably service those answers from the participants a lot better than I would as a project manager.
Alice Jakins: Yeah, exactly.
Galen Low: Speaking of proliferating the culture of facilitation and just getting better at it, I think we've identified that facilitation is something that's important for project managers to be able to do. I think we've also serviced the idea that it's not always part of our core training, nor will there always be a just course that you can just throw money at to be like, get good at facilitation and in five days or less. What are your tips? What are your recommendations for a project manager who wants to get better at facilitation?
Alice Jakins: Practice, like really just keep on practicing. If it's something that you really want to get good at, then you've really got that curiosity on your side. So explore what is out there.
There's some incredible templates that are readily available, and those are good starting points for you because it helps you think about a structure and you're always going to probably need to customize it slightly or maybe quite a lot. But it gives you some good ideas and it would speed up the process to allow you to practice facilitating a session, and you do it.
And then the next time you do it even better. And the next time you're like amazing edits and yeah, I would just say just go for it, have a look online at some incredible templates, the Miroverse. If you've heard of Miro, they actually have a platform called the Miroverse, which is a really great inspirational website to go to, to just get inspired around some really awesome structures that you could be facilitating - meetings, workshops, focus groups, go and have a look on there and just get inspired.
Galen Low: I love that. Stay curious, get inspired. And then the thing you said at the outset, actually, which is that you might never master it.
It might not be possible to master and be done with facilitation to be as good as you can get. It's about people. It's about purpose. It's about clarity. It's about collaboration. And all of those things are complex and it's something that we can always be getting better at.
Alice, thank you so much for your insights today. Thank you for your stories. Thank you for letting me put you on the spot to share a story about facilitation. It's been a real pleasure having you on the show. If folks want to learn more about what you do, where can they go?
Alice Jakins: They can go to alicejakins.com. So that's https://alicejakins.com.
Galen Low: Awesome. And I'll include that in the show notes as well.
Alice Jakins: Thanks, Galen.
Galen Low: Again, thank you so much.
Alice Jakins: It's been awesome. Thanks a lot.
Galen Low: Alright folks, there you have it. As always, if you'd like to join the conversation with over a thousand like-minded project management champions, come join our collective!
Until next time, thanks for listening.