A PM’s Toolbox Tour: Tray 2

Toolbox Tray2The second tray of my toolbox has two compartments, one for key components of various project management methodologies/ approaches, and one for facilitation exercises.  The number of variables per project ensures that every project will be unique: a standard methodology does nothing to change this, though most do their best to control them (control change? Good luck: ). 

In addition to basic career development benefits, being familiar with the key components of several methodologies keeps me tuned with a range of possibilities for addressing uniqueness and creating best-fit solutions when: 

  • There’s a mandated methodology that cannot be avoided for the purpose of tracking and reporting; however, I’ve determined that using it for getting the “real” work (providing the customer with a desired solution) done would be less than effective 
  • There are no useful project management processes in place and I need to create one.

How do you create the biggest set of possibilities for project management processes?  What do you do when given no alternatives?   What’s your decision-making process?

The methodologies/approaches I currently work on keeping up with are: Agile principles and practices, Lean concepts and the PMBOK knowledge areas & processes.  I spent some time with ITIL about ten years ago and have noticed a resurgence lately, so I’ll need to do some catch-up there. 

Because so much of project management involves working with groups, I spend just about half of my PM hours in some kind of meeting – something I didn’t expect when I first got started.  Regardless of who’s involved, the project team, testers, QA, customer groups, management, sponsors, product owners, etc., I’ve learned that there are only a few meetings that need to be managed – controlling the process toward a pre-established outcome.   I believe most meetings do better with facilitation – enabling the group process so that whatever was going to happen happens anyway, faster and with more effectiveness.

There are thousands of exercises and activities available in books and on the web, the trick is matching the exercise to the situation, what you ultimately want to accomplish and your comfort in using it (just like any other tool).   The exercises I use most frequently are for: decision-making, information gathering (some general, some meeting focus-specific), problem solving, prioritizing, creating a safe environment and dealing with difficult situations.  

Five Whys.  Here’s a short description of an easy exercise to help uncover conditions that contribute to a problem.   It was developed by Toyota and is used in their problem solving training, and also used by Six Sigma.  Participants work in pairs or small groups for a 15-20 minute period.

  • A questioner asks the other(s) WHY an event or problem occurred
  • In response to the answer, the questioner asks WHY that happened
  • Record the responses to the fourth or fifth WHY
  • When the time is up, each group reports and the findings are discussed

What do you do when meeting participants defer to management or are uncomfortable/feel unsafe saying what’s true for them?  What options do you provide for group decision-making?  What methods do you suggest for building a shared understanding? 

My informal project management survey on essential tools produced a few replies related to facilitation: “seek to understand” (Stephen Covey), the appropriate way to ask questions, calm: a sense that we can get through it, team building skills, group decision-making. 

For more information, check out the Facilitator Resource Center on the IAF website – http://www.iaf-world.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=1 , Jean Tabaka’s Collaboration Explained and The Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision-Making by Sam Kaner.

Ainsley Nies


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