Print Friendly, PDF & Email

In the role of facilitator, you will discover a lot of power by using metaphors or analogies to explain your method. Avoid using the content and experience of the subject matter experts. In other words, a metaphor is worth a thousand pictures.

To use “their” content violates neutrality.  Using a metaphor or analogy about which you have passion. A metaphor helps you to explain it to your grandmother, the test of ultimate clarity. In the following example, we use “Mountain Climbing” to explain one form of a USE CASE, called SIPOC (ie, Source, Input, Process, Output, and Client/Customer).

A Metaphor is Worth a Thousand Pictures: Explain Via Analogy

Illustrative Analogy (SIPOC): A Metaphor is Worth a Thousand Pictures

Previously completed work that helped to identify some of the “requirements” could have led us to understand that one of the activities required to support the purpose of mountain climbing has been identified as “pack supplies” (note the simple verb-noun pairing). Rather than explain the SIPOC tool orally, we can provide a picture or illustration of the tool by using the metaphor or analogy of mountain climbing. 

Right-to-Left Thinking

The phrase “right to left thinking” (similar to “start with the end in mind”) derives from SIPOC.  There are five discrete activities, namely:

  1. Anchor the framework with the activity or process, here previously identified as “Pack Supplies”.  Since subject matter experts (aka SMEs) perform similar tasks differently, socialize and document how the activity is or should be performed, allowing for multiple perspectives.  Later, take this material and transpose or append to process flow diagrams, or swimlanes.
  2. Identify the outputs or things that result from the completed activity. A “thing” could be information, a transaction, or a tangible item.
  3. For each discrete output, discuss where it goes or who is the client or customer of the output.  Note there could be more than one client for each output. For example, information called “Inventory Depletion” is shared with both the purchasing role so that they can reorder and perhaps the vendor to enable auto-replenishment.
  4. Working to the left side, identify the things needed to complete the activity.
  5. Finally, identify the source(s) of each thing, noting again that there could be multiple sources for a single item.  The “Pack” for example, might come from the Sherpa, Supplier, or even the Climber.

By using an illustrative analogy you can now explain to your meeting participants where you are in the agenda and how the agenda steps support one another.  Using an analogy reinforces that your role remain content neutral. The analogy make abstract terms such as “input” concrete or tangible and more easily understood. Remember, a metaphor is worth a thousand pictures.


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.

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.)

Want a free 10-minute break timer? Signup for our once-monthly newsletter HERE and receive a timer along with four other of our favorite facilitation tools, free.


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.

Visit Our Website

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Post comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.