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Author: Caprice White

Meeting Facilitation Boot Camp

Meeting facilitation is a soft skill that is a vital part of your business analyst toolkit. It is rare to be a business analyst and not facilitate meetings.

Over your Project Management or Business Analyst career, you will attend, schedule, plan, many, many meetings.

As a facilitator, you must remain a neutral party. You are responsible for meetings and works shops that uncover and reveal requirements, are productive and provide an environment that fosters open communication and enables all stakeholders to reach agreements and consensus. You can do this, Of course, you can! YOU are a superstar when it comes to meetings.

Even superstars need a refresher once and a while, so it’s meeting facilitation boot camp time!

1. Plan Your Logistics

Logistics are the who, here and when part of the process. The list below should assist you with your logistic preparations:

  • Who are your participants? Ensure that you invite the correct stakeholders to your meeting.
  • Where will your meeting take place? Make sure your meeting space is the appropriate size for the number of stakeholders who will be in attendance. Do not make the rookie mistake I did in my early days and book a meeting room suitable for 8 when I had 15 attendees. You want to make sure your stakeholders are comfortable and have enough room for any presentation materials.
  • Are there time zone considerations? Does your company have people working remotely offices located in various time zones? If so, you need to take this into consideration when booking the time for your meeting. Make sure it is at a reasonable time where all parties can attend.
  • Pre-book any resources required such as shared conference call lines, meeting room, projectors, laptops or web-sharing software.
  • Ensure you familiar with all of the equipment you will be using during your meeting. Just to be on the safe side, schedule a dry run before your meeting so you can address any technical issues to ensure things don’t go pear-shaped.
  • Print out any documents or handouts required for your stakeholders. If your meeting requires pens, paper, post-it notes or larger writing sheets ensure these supplies are on hand and ready to go before your meeting.
  • Who will be taking notes? If you are facilitating the meeting, will you have time to take notes or do you need assistance from another Business Analyst or Admin? Arranging this beforehand can help with the efficiency of your meetings.
  • Will you be serving food or coffee? If so, ensure these are pre-order for your participations. I find a box of donuts and coffee goes a long way in eliciting requirements from early morning stakeholders.
  • Always have a backup plan in place. Sometimes resources fail, or rooms get double booked. Ensure you have a backup plan.

2. Set the Agenda

Once you have your logistics sorted, it’s time to send out meeting invitations and set the agenda.
Have you ever received a meeting invite and had to contact the organizer because it was unclear what the meeting was about and what the expectations were? Any confusion can be avoided by sending your stakeholders a clear agenda that includes the following:

  • An objective for the meeting
  • List of discussion topics
  • Need your stakeholders to do some homework? Don’t forget to include attachments or pre-reading for attendees to review.

3. Ice Breaker and Introductions

Once your stakeholders have arrived and are settled in, take the first 5 minutes of the meeting for people to introduce themselves and what their roles are on the project. This allows your attendees to understand other’s roles and responsibilities on a project, creates context, and gets them comfortable and ready for the meeting.

If there is time, I like to throw out an icebreaker question, unrelated to the project or meeting to get people comfortable in the right headspace to communicate. A few sample icebreaker questions for the group are:

  • When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
  • What is the strangest food you have ever eaten?
  • What is the longest you have ever stayed awake and why?

4. Review the Agenda and Get This Party Started!

Now that your participants are settled, take 5 minutes to review the agenda. This establishes meeting guidelines and context, which will make the meeting a lot more productive.

  • Review the objective of the meeting and the agenda
  • Restate the project objective as a refresher to the stakeholders.

This demonstrates that the meeting or workshop you are holding is relevant and aligns itself with the project objectives and priorities.

5. Facilitator Not a Participator

Remember, you as a meeting facilitator are a neutral party. Your job is to lead the discussions, and drive out requirements by engaging your audience. You are the liaison between the project sponsors, stakeholders, and software development teams. Remember to remain neutral and allow your stakeholders to make decisions required to move forward.

6. Manage Distractions

If your stakeholders are holding or being distracted by side conversations or are getting way off topic, it’s your job as the facilitator to bring their focus back to the agenda.

7. Parking Lot items

Sometimes it seems that your group may wander off topic or wish to discuss items not on the agenda, or have questions and concerns that will not be addressed during your limited meeting time. I have found the best way to address this is to create a “Parking Lot” list of items. This lets your stakeholders know that you are listening to their questions and concerns and that they will be addressed in the future but not during this meeting.

8. Use Visual Business Modeling Tools

Using visual business modeling tools during your meetings and workshops can help drive out requirements or uncover processes for your stakeholders. These assist with identifying and analyzing user requirements, system requirements and capture business rules.

9. Conclude with next Steps and Action Items

Once your meeting is complete or if you run out of time, it is a good idea to wrap up your session by reviewing the following:

  • Parking lot items
  • Action Items
  • Next Steps

10. You are not done yet superstar…follow up with your stakeholders

Just because your meeting has concluded, it does not mean your work has ended.

  • Distribute your meeting notes including action items. It is best practice to do this within 24 hours of your meeting.
  • Set deadlines and follow up on any action items
  • Set up and send out invitations for the next meeting if required
  • Remember to thank your stakeholders for attending. A simple thank you can go a long way.

Early Feedback Makes all the Difference! – Reducing Risk With Agile

As Business Analysts we traditionally gather project requirements early in the process. We hold focus groups, we interview subject matter experts, we gather all we think we need for a project and then create the Business Requirements Documentation, get the green light, and hand it off to the developers.

Risk is high during this time, as we do not get valuable feedback until our client sees functioning software. This software may or may not align with what their vision was in previous months. So much could have changed in the time between requirements sign off and the demo of functioning software to our clients. The Business could have changed. Management could have changed. Software or processes could have changed. Technology will definitely change. We run a higher risk of not delivering what the business or client requires.

This is where Agile comes in – we provide feedback early and often during the development process. We also include client input when creating the Requirements (user stories) and show them working software piece by piece, as we develop. This reduces the risk and allows for feedback early and often so that we can be sure that what we produce is in alignment with what our clients require. If technology changes along the way, we change with it. If management changes along the way, we work with new management to ensure that we are still aligned during development. We can produce a higher quality product with the feedback and interaction along the way with Agile. Isn’t that what we wanted all along?

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