Agile’s Scrum Master facilitator techniques ensure that business communities get quick and responsive results. Constant feedback helps teams prioritize and make adjustments. A Scrum Masters facilitates against impediments and for product owners’ requirements to support development team efforts. Scrum Master experience and discipline prove that every structured meeting should embrace ‘agile’ practices.
Professional facilitation lends essential skills to the Scrum Master role because an agile environment demands frequent meetings. Much of what Scrum Masters have learned applies to your meetings as well. Basic Scrum Master facilitator techniques include:
- Asking open-ended questions
- Bringing people together who should listen to each other but don’t
- Consensus building where everyone wins, NOT voting where there are winners and losers
- Facilitating Scrum events as requested or needed, including preparing and post-processing results
- Helping the Development Team to continually improve their methods
- Mediating conflicts that arise during product development
- Providing visuals (eg., agendas and other information radiators) that provide focus and enable measurement of progress
- Providing a variety of activities to stimulate breakthrough, employee engagement, and product innovation
- Removing impediments to the Scrum Team’s progress
- Structured collaborative tools—too many to list here but many of them also used in waterfall and traditional phase gate approaches
- Timeboxing and constantly pushing the Pareto Principle to get the most out of the least
Clear benefits derive from an agile approach supporting Scrum Master facilitator techniques including:
- Documented and shared knowledge about product and process decisions
- Early identification of high-benefit opportunities
- Encouraging flexibility and adjustments around unexpected developments (that always develop in projects)
- Frequent re-assessment to identify appropriate acceleration or course corrections
- In-depth exploration of more evidence and factors than normally considered by unstructured, intuitive methods
A Scrum Master Facilitator Generates Focus
Keeping participants conscious to “be here now” burns a lot of fuel. Additionally, keeping multiple concepts in mind, at the same time, is virtually impossible. Highly intelligent individuals can rarely think about more than four concepts at once, and thinking about only two at once is optimal, therefore . . . Focus. The hardest part of any session is getting a group of people to focus on the same thing at the same time with the common meaning and intent. Be sure to keep the energy flowing and take a break(s) if necessary.
- Conduct frequent breakout sessions to keep the energy flowing.
- Consider ergonomic stretches and breathing exercises to keep participants vibrant.
- If necessary, use timeboxing rather than burning out participants. A subsequent meeting can pick up where you leave off, with fresh energy.
- Schedule the most important stuff the early in your meeting and, when possible, schedule the meeting for the first part of the day.
- We believe that two ten-minute breaks are superior to the traditional fifteen to twenty-minute breaks traditionally offered. We do project counting timers, however, and do not allow breaks to become eleven-minute (or longer). Do NOT penalize people who are on time by waiting for people who are not.
Demand Evidence (Think Deeply)
Challenge the intuitive, short-term thinking for support that takes a long-term view and deeper insight into implications and consequences. What are the deeper associations? Because the cost of omissions, that is ‘missing stuff’, is exorbitantly high (especially with information technologies). We need to more fully value and appreciate some of the longer exercises that may be required to bring discussions to a higher level. By challenging and demanding evidence, the facilitator removes the myopic view from participants and forces them to be integrative with their thinking. But understand, causal diagrams take longer than ideation sessions.
Visual imagery also stimulates making it easier to analyze. Images (ie, iconic) and sketches (ie, illustrative) are more efficient for capturing complex relationships than narrative (ie, written) terms. If you work in a multi-national organization, graphical displays mitigate some of the challenges associated with translations and transliterations. Mapping stimulates—the power of patterns remains unchallenged and continues to be supported by most scientific research across a broad spectrum of disciplines. Mapping, such as logical models and process flow diagrams, make it easier to identify omissions and more fully explain the complex relationships that exist among the components being discussed.
Write That Down
In addition to providing visual stimulation, if it is not written down it will be forgotten. In other words, if it is not written down, it did not happen. Do not waste everyone’s time, please write it down. It is easier to delete later than to recall what was said, “back then.”
Zen of the Experience (use all the senses):
When physical/ spatial, visual, and sound (and optimally even taste and smell) harmonize, we create more vivid associations that improve our memory recall. Who cannot recall the smell, standing at the seashore, of an “ocean breeze”. To amplify your meeting’s ‘Zen’, use analogies. Educators have known for centuries that learning is amplified when explained via analogy or metaphor. For nearly thirty years now, we have been promoting the use of analogy or metaphor as a way to explain the agenda and how the pieces fit together.
Combining the Scrum Master facilitator practices make it easier for your participants to act on knowledge accessed and developed during your meetings and workshops. For additional activities to support your sessions, search for some of the many tools we provide that support collaborative sorting, experience prototyping, idea generation, and other simulations that build consensus and higher quality deliverables, FAST.
Experience and evidence for the preceding derives partially from Cara Turner, who discusses proof about the relationship of agile methods and neuroscience at her blog site, facilitatingagility.com. Cara, along with numerous authors and scientists she cites in support, refer to key practices proven to improve both decision quality and project quality.
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.)
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