• What Successful Agile Team Facilitators Know

    Written By: Marsha Acker, CPF

    If you work with an agile team, possibly as the Scrum Master or Product Owner and you are frequently in the role of facilitating agile meetings – sprint planning, retrospective, release planning, etc., what do you need to make the meeting successful? Here are five things that an agile team facilitator knows before going into a meeting.

    1.) Who does the meeting serve? A meeting should have at least one sponsor (a person or group of people who will be the primary beneficiaries of the outputs of the meeting). Sometimes this may be the person who asked for the meeting. In a retrospective, the team is often the group who will benefit the most from the output, so they become the ‘sponsor’ of the meeting.

    2.) What does “success” looks like? Before the meeting, interview the sponsor and ask them: What will we have accomplished at the end of this meeting that would make it successful? It’s hard to be successful if there isn’t an agreed upon definition about what success will look like. In the case of a retrospective, talk with the team or survey them prior to the meeting to find out what they would like to achieve in the meeting. It can focus your retrospectives, and give you different topics to talk about than just the typical ‘what worked’ and ‘what do we want to keep/change’.

    3.) Who is needed at the meeting? Not everyone who attends each meeting needs to be there and not everyone who needs to be there is always there. This can be a source of great frustration for meeting participants and facilitators and is often a source of dysfunctional behavior in the meeting. Make sure to get clear on who needs to attend and confirm their commitment to attend in advance.

    4.) How will we accomplish the outcomes? Successful group meetings don’t just happen. It requires some level of process design - depending on the desired purpose and outcomes. If the meeting is a daily standup – little to no design may be required – it’s a quick facilitated dialogue. A four hour retrospective to address some challenging team dynamics during the last iteration may require on average about 4- 6 hours of planning and design time. Including interviewing the team, crafting an agenda – a series of questions that will be asked of the group, and designing the facilitator script – the group process (brainstorm, mind mapping, facilitated dialogue, etc.) that you will use to reach each desired outcome. This level of planning gives the facilitator and the participants a clear focus on the purpose of the meeting and keeps everyone on track. Without a clear plan, meetings can quickly start to spin into details or unrelated topics and never reach an outcome or decision.

    5.) The plan will change. As Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “Plans are useless but planning is indispensable”. The facilitator’s script is an excellent tool but it’s good to remember that often the most valuable part is in the creation. Don’t be so tied to your plan that you can’t adapt to what’s happening real time with your team.

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