Workshop facilitation: a key skill of the agile project manager

group of agile project professionals sat at tables during workshopin office

What is a key difference between a traditional and an agile project manager?

You can recognize the latter today as someone more focused on facilitating and supporting a team.

Steven DeneirFor example, a traditional project manager would expect to present an estimated project budget while the agile equivalent will facilitate a workshop in which the team comes up with their estimate. Similarly, where the traditional project manager manages the scoping of the project, someone using the agile approach mandates the team to discuss and adapt the scope according to the needs of the stakeholders.

The agile project manager knows that the project is not about delivering the initially discussed product but about ensuring the organization achieves the business value it expects and that the product is what it really needs.

The growth of the agile project manager

Right now what I see happening in the market is the appearance of “agile” in every new vacancy. That’s been consistent for at least the past six months.

However, while agile project management is in demand, companies don’t always understand what it means and how adopting agile will impact the entire company.

For someone wanting to become a genuinely agile project manager – ”being” agile instead of “doing” agile – one of the most important skills is facilitation.

Without this skill, you might have people working together but you won’t have a truly agile team that you need to achieve your goals. There are a number of things to think about before you get this right as an agile project manager:

1. Be prepared: you and the team need to know the objective of the workshop. Based on the objective, select different techniques to get people working together positively. Whatever scenario you set out for the workshop, things change during its course and you need to be able to respond to those changes and apply different techniques to address the situation.

2. Empathize: for example, in a given team there was a specific issue in a project where the team couldn’t see a way to resolve a conflict between certain team members. The conflict remained underground until a team member took the initiative to arrange a workshop with those in conflict and invited the agile project manager. The facilitators agreed on the approach to gain understanding of how each person felt. They mapped out steps to ensure that, at the end of the session, everyone would agree on the next steps to take.

As a result of talking to each other, each of the people in conflict understood why they disagreed and were able to continue working together. Without the facilitation, this unspoken conflict would have undermined the relationship further.

3. Understand your effectiveness as a project manager: the effective, agile project manager needs to reflect on how others perceive their performance. For example, if feedback about team meetings is that they are boring, people aren’t focused and they don’t generate many useful outcomes, it’s a sign that something needs to happen. Take it up.

4. Begin the facilitation journey: browsing through the loads of Innovation Games, Liberating Structures and Gamestorming techniques to support your facilitation activity is the start of a great journey. Understand the concepts and reasoning behind them and then be willing to practise them. And if you are – you will be – nervous about your first workshop facilitation, just try and see how it works. Respect for each other is a core agile principle, so your colleagues will respect you for your efforts.

5. Keep using your PRINCE2® experience: in PRINCE2 you have a set of key information of which one is a communication management approach. A workshop is a great way to facilitate communication. Use it. Moreover, to come to all the project information needed for the project initiation information, your job is to facilitate gaining agreement on core themes such as quality and the business case. Involve as many people as needed in identifying, agreeing and sharing the knowledge.

The PRINCE2 principles remain valid for the agile project manager; understanding the team, the organization and the context you’re working in will determine how you use and tailor the facilitation and other agile techniques.

Enjoy your facilitation journey.

Read more AXELOS Blog Posts from Steven Denier

The 4 key factors needed to make an agile project work

Standardize your project processes with checklists

My CPD Life

The top myths about PRINCE2® and agile methods.

Current rating: 4.7 (6 ratings)


15 Oct 2018 John Phillips
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Concise and worthwhile blog post demonstrating the value of facilitated workshops to the project manager and their team.
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