Project Managers often
find themselves in a
frenzy trying to get the necessary project documentation
created and approved. Documentation
such as Project Charters, Rules of Engagement, Business
Requirements, Risk Analyses, and other deliverables
involve iterative cycles of information gathering,
decision making, reviews and approvals by multiple
parties in order to finalize each deliverable.
This often results in
multiple meetings to address different parts of the
These meetings are the breeding ground for
confusion, redundancy and waste. Decisions get
made but not documented or worse, are never communicated
to those not at the meeting. Inaccurate
information is never corrected. Tasks are
repeated by different people, sometimes with differing
Communication and directional changes occur
Wouldn’t it be nice if there
was a way to reduce the number of meetings this effort
requires and still produce the required deliverables?
There is – facilitated work sessions. Facilitated
work sessions can accelerate creation of
project deliverables, contribute to deliverable quality,
and ensure early ownership of results.
What is a Facilitated Work
the Chinese proverb says, “Tell me and I’ll forget;
show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll
Facilitated work sessions are
collaborative group meetings that bring relevant
business, technical and support groups together and
guide them through a structured process to produce a
specific project output or deliverable. These working
sessions can range from ½ to 3 days in length, and
combine the creativity and mind-power of multiple
The participants make key project decisions and
produce outputs based on mutual understanding and
Bringing those with a stake
in the project together to hear the same thing,
understand and build project direction, make decisions
and review results will reduce the end-to-end project
The sequential steps necessary to work with
multiple people become concurrent, thus accelerating the
But that’s not all. When the
relevant groups are brought together in work sessions
early in the project (when planning, scoping and
requirements are defined), the folks who will use the
information to design, code, test or build have been
involved in the process early enough to understand the
intent and head off potential pitfalls later in the
This increases the quality of the output,
reducing downstream rework.
Common Types of Facilitated
Every organization names
their project phases and deliverables to fit their
culture; however there are standard deliverable that are
required by most projects (regardless what they’re
These standard deliverables are key opportunities
for the use of facilitated work sessions.
Bringing the extended team together to define project
scope, establish the project purpose and objectives,
and lay the foundation for a common understanding of
the plan moving forward.
Current & Target
Environment Definition: Bringing subject matter
experts together to understand how work is currently
accomplished and define the target environment context
Requirements: Getting the suppliers,
business users and support teams together to define
what is required of the organization, process and
technology in order to implement the
Assessment: Working with key
stakeholders to identify project, business, process,
product/service, and customer risks – defining
mitigating actions and contingency plans as
Bringing the extended team together at key points in
the project to understand the team’s progress on
deliverables and interdependencies that were
These work sessions create a
shared understanding of the project impacts and risks,
and serve as inputs or checkpoints for the next steps in
the project lifecycle.
Work Sessions Help Me?
people together (in many cases face-to-face) involves a
commitment of time, resources and ultimately cost. So each project
should be assessed to determine if the value gained will
justify the cost incurred. How do you know
if your project would benefit from facilitated work
analyzed the projects we have worked on with our clients
to determine which ones gained the most value from
formal facilitated work sessions. Some common
characteristics exist. If your project
meets one or more of the following criteria, you will
get great value from bringing people together to
collaboratively build project deliverables:
project crosses multiple lines of business or multiple
departments within the business.
project is tied to a critical timeline that allows
little or no slippage.
project is one of the top ten strategic initiatives of
the company or division.
project is attempting to accomplish something that is
new or resurrecting something that was tried before and
project will result in changes that require broad
socialization or group consensus.
project requires input of experts who are unavailable to
participate full-time (or on a regular basis) with your
experiencing scope creep or having difficulty getting a
clear definition of requirements from the
operating in a geographically-dispersed project
if your project scope is small and requirements are
relatively uncomplicated in nature, or the project is
not following a critical timeline, is less visible from
a strategic viewpoint, or is something you’ve done over
and over again, and you have a relatively small team who
are co-located, then facilitated work sessions may not
bring as much benefit to your project.
About the Facilitator?
facilitated work sessions require a “facilitator”. This is not just
a “show up and we’ll figure it out” type of
The facilitator will must have some specialized
a minimum this person must be able to:
the team to discuss, discover and decide without
taking dictating the result.
complex group dynamics – difficult people, getting off
topic, strong opinions, etc.
group activities to achieve the desired
aside their other “hats” and serve as a neutral
challenges to the process and/or agenda without taking
the required deliverables/output and explain it to the
in to upcoming newsletters for more articles on this
facilitated work sessions accelerate your project? For large,
cross-organizational projects – absolutely. It is especially
beneficial when trying to create standard project
deliverables like Project Charters, Business
all projects require this type of formalized
Not necessarily. Smaller projects
will still benefit from the communication and foundation
built through work sessions, but a specialized
facilitator may not be required.
is our hope that you use these concepts to 1) justify
the need for and cost of larger group working sessions,
and 2) determine when facilitated work sessions make the
most sense in your project. And always take
into consideration the thought expressed by Rosabeth
Moss Kanter in her book “The Change Masters”, “Change is disturbing
when it is done to us, exhilarating when it is done by
Means and Tammy Adams, “Facilitating the Project
& Tools to Accelerate Progress for Project Managers,
Facilitators and Six Sigma Project Teams”.
Jossey-Bass, A Wiley Imprint,
Moss Kanter, The Change Masters.New York: Simon
and Schuster, 1983, page 63.