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Techniques for keeping Workshops running on time

As an Agile Business Analyst, one of the key skills that I have had to develop and will always be developing is facilitation skills. Learning how to keep a meeting or a workshop running smoothly takes practice, but there are certainly some techniques that you can pick up from other Business Analysts or even invent yourself.

A couple of weeks ago I facilitated a Project Inception workshop over the course of three days. As a team we wanted to cover a lot within the three days, and we were driven to start delivering the project as soon as possible. This meant that we would need to keep on task and on time during the workshop. In order to achieve this, there were two primary facilitation techniques that I used. One that I picked up a few years ago, and another technique that I developed and wanted to try.

 

Making your workshops POP

I read an article a couple of years ago about the idea of making all of your workshops POP [References: 1, 2, 3, 4]. This is that your workshops should have a key: Purpose, Outcome, and Process:

  • Purpose – Why are we here? Why are we having this workshop?
  • Outcomes – What are we going to achieve by being in this workshop?
  • Process – How will we get there? How will we achieve what we set out to do?

It is important as a facilitator to have a clear understanding of these three points. This means that you need to spend time before the workshop defining how it is going to POP.

My workshop planning began about a week before the actual date. I started off by going through the Project Brief and meeting with our Product Manager. This was to gain an understanding of what the project was and how it was delivering value to the business. This helped me with how to structure and facilitate the Project Inception workshop. By the end of the three days I wanted to have a clear understanding of three key outcome:

  • what was In and Out of Scope;
  • what was in our Project Backlog (which included Story Cards with estimate);
  • what our Release Plan looked like.

Once I understood what the outcomes were I crafted the agenda to answer how we were going to get there. 

Whiteboard Agenda for the Project Inception

Whiteboard Agenda for the Project Inception

So you may ask, ‘How does this keep my workshop running on time?’. Well the answer is that it gets you part of the way there. Planning how your workshop is going to POP is very important, but it is also important that you articulate this to your team throughout the entire workshop. Otherwise all the preparation may go to waste. I achieved this by running the team through our agenda and constantly reminding them what was coming next. At the start of each session, I attempted to articulate as clearly as I could what the purpose and outcome of each session was. The end result as that the workshop ran smoothly and on time!

 

I need to be back by…?

I have worked in a few companies now where getting everyone to your workshop on time is an effort and a half. I knew that if I didn’t get everyone back on time that this would eat into the agenda I had planned out. So I tried to think of how I could get everyone back from breaks on time. The answer ended up being quite simple. I wrote just above the agenda a box which said, ‘I need to be back by:’.

I need to be back by box above Whiteboard Agenda

I need to be back by box above Whiteboard Agenda

The idea was to write what time I expected everyone back when we came to the end of a session. By this time everyone is usually ready for a break and may not be paying attention. I’ve learnt that simple saying, ‘Everyone be back by 2pm’, doesn’t always work. Everyone has to be listening for this. So I combined both listening and a visual prompt to make it clear. To be honest, as a team we felt like we were back in school. We even joked about this technique, but it was incredibly effective. Everyone was back on time!

Facilitating workshops requires a number of skills and takes lots of practice. Making sure your workshop runs on time is just one of the many things you have to think about. Next time you have to facilitate a workshop, ask yourself, ‘How can I make this meeting POP?’. And while you are running the workshop, why not try my technique of writing ‘I need to be back by:’ on a whiteboard. Using both of these techniques helped me keep a three day Project Inception on track, and I’ll definitely be using them again.

 

Further reading

  1. http://makingmeetingswork.blogspot.com.au/2008/05/making-meetings-pop.html
  2. http://www.facilitationfirst.com/newsletter/0310.pdf
  3. http://facilitationfirst.com/newsletter/0709.pdf
  4. http://waterloo-wellington.theiiba.org/…/FacilitationFitness100428FINAL.ppsx‎ [Opens as a Powerpoint]

The above references are snippets of the original article that I read. I am trying to hunt it down and will post it as a comment once I find it.

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