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Ace the Facilitation. Face Your Fame!

Let’s face it – the most excellent people skills are rarer than we’d like – even in ourselves sometimes.  Even as we try to gain the trust and confidence of stakeholders, we are constantly being judged on our performance.  It is rare that excellent documentation can make up for hurt feelings or trashed relationships.

All your thinking, analysis, problem solving will gain you naught, if stakeholders get the word that you are a jerk, or an idiot, or can’t control the jerks and idiots that come to your meetings, or can’t elicit effectively in interviews.

So here are some tips and how to use them:

  1. Set expectations at your elicitations – remember that you are collecting requirements (stated), to turn them into requirements (confirmed), but that decisions to build are completely separate from the discovery process.  Be honest with your stakeholders – you don’t make the decisions, you make sure that all inputs are considered in their proper context.  Most stakeholders understand that priorities come into play; they just want to know that their input wasn’t ignored, or heard by an ignoramus.
  2. Get your attitude right – get neutral – if you favor some stakeholders over others, participation will decline, buy in will decline, and sniping will increase.  It is OK that some ideas rise higher than others, just make sure that you aren’t perceived as a “teacher’s pet”.  Make sure that ALL your stakeholders feel like the teacher’s pet.
  3. Do NOT judge ideas, or try to correct them, when offered.  Capture them, use them to stimulate further discussion – the secret to comedy improvisation is to always say yes to your partners – be encouraging, not judgmental, and don’t allow your knowledge of potential solutions interfere with your goal of completely understanding your stakeholders – completely!
  4. If your stakeholder refuses to cooperate because your project isn’t important to them, get them to talk about what is important to them.  Intersections with your project will arise surprisingly often, and when they don’t, file the stakeholder interview against future projects – as trust builds, you will get them!
  5. When a stakeholder gets angry or emotional in a meeting, use the “attitude ladder” to connect with them rapidly and effectively, and bring them down.  The key is to understand that the emotions about the requirements effort can range from completely negative, to neutral, to extremely positive.  When a stakeholder goes negative, MATCH their emotion with a little (little) of yours, them bring yours down and see if they will come with you.  Example:  LOUD: “This meeting is a waste of time.  No one asked us if we even wanted this, and we are really busy!”  Response:  NOT QUITE AS LOUD: “I GET how frustrating this is for you!”  CALMER:  If we agree to keep it really short, can we focus on the assignment for the short time we take?”
  6. Use humor – always risky, and yet the right joke can take ALL the tension out of a room.  Safer to focus humor on yourself, such as:  “This meeting is idiotic!”  Response:  “I resemble that remark – that is why I have to ask all these questions!”  Use with caution.
  7. Don’t use WHY.  Don’t argue with me, just don’t do it.  Don’t ask me WHY, or I will ask you “Why don’t you already know this?”  Any WHY question can be changed into a WHAT, HOW, WHERE, WHEN question.  Example:  “WHY is it important to do X,” can be turned into “WHAT happens without X in place?” or “WHAT will change, given a project to do X.”  No, don’t quote “Root Cause” at me – Why are you still confused?”
  8. Prepare, prepare, prepare – put yourself in the stakeholder’s shoes and think of everything you can that might be of concern to them.  Don’t use your preparation just to control the encounter – use it to allow the encounter to flow comfortably for the stakeholder.  When you are ready for most things to come up, it is not stressful if things wander, and it can be productive. Over- Control is NOT loved, and don’t think they don’t notice when you do it.
  9. Here is a neat link – some homework, for my diligent readers.

Learn How to:

  • Prepare for a successful engagement/meeting
  • Gain the groups interest and support from the start
  • Get executives to transfer their power to you
  • Keep the group focused
  • Handle disagreements and dysfunctional behavior
  • Guide groups to effective business solutions
  • Reach consensus around a decision
  • Close the session with clarity and commitment

DO NOT DO THESE IDEAS IF YOU DON’T LIKE BEING POPULAR.  Your phone will ring too much.

Thanks to all my discerning readers – until next month, when we talk more of QA, BA, Deming and some reader responses!

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