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With our due respects to Steve Jobs, as mentioned in his biography by Walter Isaacson, here is how to facilitate reducing some possible actions a team should consider, down to the final three or four actions your team has the resources to complete.

Mentioned casually in the book, the concept of prioritization is key to group performance, so we will remind you about three remakrably effective and frequently used facilitation techniques from the MG RUSH method; namely Definition, PowerBalls (aka MoSCoW), and BookEnds.

Before you distill your final list of ten or twelve action items, be prepared to more fully define what is meant by something proposed. First, stay conscious of the team’s perspective and possible biases.

Bias Factors that Demonstrably Affect Group Decision-Making

According to the World Future Society, significant factors known to negatively impact decision quality include:

  • Confusing desirability and familiarity with probability
  • Distorting data through selection and repetition
  • Forecasting with a preference for change or patterns
  • Framing complex issues in a skewed fashion (selective perception)
  • Homogenizing multiple data sources (for cost savings)
  • Lacking clear confidence intervals (how clean the data is)
  • Mistaking correlation for causation (a quite common error)
  • Over-immersion in local social values or perceptions

Everyone poorly estimates the time they need to complete any task. Psychologists call it the planning fallacy and the bias of overconfidence. Fallacies and biases put us all at increasing risk of reaching our objectives.

Facilitate Prioritization By Starting with the End in Mind

Are you helping the team define a final output, a desired outcome, or are you having them focus clearly on the next step (that presumably leads to a final output AND a new, desired outcome) or action required?

Describe the objectives with enough clarity that everyone provides their commitment. Next, use our PowerBall tool to build consensus in minutes, not hours. (Known in the Agile world as MoSCoW, see below).

If you are challenged about the scope, characteristics, or details of some proposed action, consider using the Definition tool. In its most robust format, a thorough definition answers five discrete questions (See the Definition tool for an example):

  1. What is the action NOT?
  2. Describe the action in one sentence or less than 50 words.
  3. Provide the specific characteristics that make this action clear or unique.
  4. Draw or illustrate the action or workflow.
  5. Provide at least two examples from the business to vivify or bring to life the narrative definition.

Once you have a list of ten or so clear and potential actions the team has socialized and understood, then apply the PowerBall tool.

Rationale to Facilitate Prioritization

It’s faster to get a group to agree on what NOT to discuss anymore. Therefore, apply the Pareto Principle (aka 80-20 Rule) to help a group eliminate as many options as possible. By deselecting first, the group can stay focused and you can facilitate prioritization around the most important or attractive options.

How to Facilitate Prioritization and Build Consensus Quickly (or, MoSCoW)

MoSCoW Corresponds to Must Have (High), Should Have (Moderate), Could Have (Low), Won’t Have (Null)

CAUTION When You Facilitate Prioritization

Be aware that an optimal approach requires to prioritize the criteria, not the options. If you find yourself prioritizing options, then reverse-engineer by asking WHY—the response will generate the criteria or rationale used for the prioritization. (Also, know that you need to have an agreed upon purpose to facilitate prioritization and resolve arguments.)

Method to Facilitate Prioritization

The following steps should be read with an understanding that the ‘hot linked’ activities and procedures used below to facilitate prioritization are detailed elsewhere on this site (Best Practices) and also found in the MG RUSH curriculum. PowerBall measurements are flexible instruments for measuring anything. For simple decision-making, use the following steps:

  1. Establish the purpose of the object the team is considering (ie, Purpose of _______ is to . . .    So that . . .). Now you have established WHY this action is important.
  2. Build your list of options (eg, Brainstorming). Strive for creativity and innovation by encouraging more, even wild ideas. Set the list of options aside.
  3. Build your list of decision criteria (be prepared to define each “criterion”).
  4. Look at the criteria to see if any options are in direct violation. For example, if Sally is allergic to flowers, then “buying her flowers” is probably an option that should be eliminated. However, using SCAMPER we might discover other options such as silk flowers, a painting of flowers, etc.
  5. Ask the participants if they can support the remaining options. If someone objects, consider eliminating that particular option if numerous others are satisfactory to everyone.
  6. Once your participants can support the remaining options, you have consensus, however, you don’t yet have your deliverable.
  7. To improve the quality of your decision, unveil the visual legend for PowerBalls. Use the economic definitions that are shown.

NOTE:

The terms in black will change. They could be full, empty, half-full. They could be frequent, rarely, occasionally. However, the economic definitions always work.

NEXT . . .

  • Apply the PowerBalls and prioritize the criteria, using the Book-End rhetoric. Here we ask “Which is most?”, “Which is least?”, etc. and squeeze in on the moderate stuff.
  • Find the option(s) that best aligns with and support your stated purpose (Step 1). Appealing to the previously built purpose statement confirms the most appropriate or impactful criteria.

Definitions to Facilitate Prioritization

The definitions are shown in the legend to facilitate prioritization work in almost all situations and can be converted numerically, such as:

  • 5 or a solid ball means high “Pay any price.”
  • 1 or an empty circle means low or “Want it for free, not willing to pay extra for it.”
  • 3 or a half-filled ball means moderate or all the other stuff between high and low, meaning we are “willing to pay a reasonable price” without being forced to define “reasonable.”

MoSCoW Alternative

Alternatively, in the Agile world, PowerBalls also equate to MoSCoW, whereby:

  • M equals Must have and equates to a solid ball, or the number 5
  • S equals Should have and equates to a half-filled ball, or the number 3
  • C equals Could have and equates to an empty circle, or the number 1
  • W equates to Won’t have or the null (the “o”s make the mnemonic easier to remember)

With MoSCoW or or PowerBalls, separate the most/ least important criteria, force-fitting one-third high and one-third low. Cluster the remaining one-third and code them as moderate by default, without discussion. Attempt to force fit one-third of the candidates as each high, low, and moderate—but be flexible. Appeal to the high criteria and isolate the option(s) that best support the purpose statement. To advance understanding further or to optimize or guide discussion (if required), appeal to some of the fuzzy factors that may be difficult to measure objectively.

When you need help creating a robust definition of an option or a criterion that may be arguable, turn to the Definition Tool for support. If you discover the PowerBall technique is not robust enough, use something more suitable for complicated prioritization such as the MG RUSH Scorecard tool or Perceptual Mapping.

 

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Don’t ruin your career or reputation with bad meetings. Register for a class or forward this to someone who should. Taught by world-class instructors, MG RUSH  professional facilitation curriculum focuses on practice. Each student thoroughly practices and rehearses tools, methods, and approaches throughout the week. While some call this immersion, we call it the road to building impactful facilitation skills. #facilitationtraining

Our courses also provide an excellent way to earn up to 40 SEUs from the Scrum Alliance, 40 PDUs from PMI, and 40 CDUs from IIBA, as well as 3.2 CEUs for other professions. (See individual class descriptions for details.)   #facilitatortraining

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Facilitation Expert

Terrence Metz, CSM, PSPO, CSPF, is the Managing Director of MG RUSH Facilitation Training and Coaching, the acknowledged leader in structured facilitation training. His FAST Facilitation Best Practices blog features over 300 articles on facilitation skills and tools aimed at helping others lead faster, more productive meetings and workshops that yield higher quality decisions. His clients include Agilists, Scrum teams, program and project managers, senior officers, and the business analyst community among numerous private and public companies and global corporations. As an undergraduate of Northwestern University (Evanston, IL) and MBA graduate from NWU’s Kellogg School of Management, his professional experience has focused on process improvement and product development. He continually aspires to make it easier for others to succeed.

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