Chapter 9: Workshops

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9. Workshops

9.1 Introduction

Since organisations and information have become more complex, the Facilitated Workshop practice has been used extensively, particularly to achieve greater buy-in to decisions quickly. Organisations often achieve success (or not) through the behaviours and interactions of their people. Understanding or influencing by exerting hierarchical power is less effective and less common now than by consultation and direct relationships. As a result, enabling people to interact more effectively in a group pays enormous dividends. For many years, facilitation and Facilitated Workshops have proved to be an efficient and effective way of quickly achieving greater buy-in to decisions, solving problems, generating ideas, and action-planning.

Facilitated Workshops are a specialised type of meeting, with:

  •  Clear objective deliverables,
  •  A set of people (Participants) specifically chosen and empowered to deliver the required outcome
  •  An independent person (Workshop Facilitator) to enable the effective achievement of the objective

In Facilitated Workshops a neutral Workshop Facilitator guides the group through a process which enables them to work together to achieve an agreed goal; whether that be solving a problem, building a plan, gathering requirements or making decisions. The Facilitator has no stake in the outcome of the workshop and no opinion on the content. They are focused on the group dynamics and enabling the group members to collaborate to achieve their goal(s).

Facilitated Workshops ensure a team-based approach through visual and verbal communication and collaboration, where results can be achieved with speed, commitment and buy-in to the outcome.

Enabling people to communicate and collaborate effectively pays enormous dividends. Facilitated Workshops are an extremely efficient and effective way of achieving this enhanced communication. It is increasingly important for organisations to achieve success through enabling teamwork, interaction and shared understanding.

Facilitated Workshops are a proven practice: they have been used successfully throughout the business world and within DSDM for many years. As one of DSDM’s core practices, they offer a way of making high quality, team-based decisions in compressed timescales. They can be used throughout the DSDM lifecycle, wherever embracing several viewpoints at the same time is advantageous, for example, when capturing and prioritising requirements, creating plans and strategies, modelling cross-functional business processes or reviewing a project deliverable or a document.

Facilitated Workshops are also a useful catalyst for effecting and supporting cultural change in an organisation, as they promote buy-in, necessitate empowerment of the Participants and require individuals to take responsibility for, and honour their commitments.


9.2 Workshop Benefits

Using facilitated workshops brings both direct and indirect benefits to a project.

  • Rapid, high quality decision-making – Facilitated Workshops can reduce the elapsed time required to achieve objectives, such as the identification, agreement and sign-off of requirements. As all relevant stakeholders are present at the same time and able to communicate and collaborate effectively with each other, they will have greater confidence in the result. The group is focused on the objectives to be achieved in the session so that the information-gathering and review cycle is performed with greater speed. Also, misunderstandings and disagreements are made visible and can be worked out at the time, in a safe environment managed by the Workshop Facilitator. Any concerns should therefore have been raised and resolved, or noted for action after the Workshop, with appropriate people assigned as owners of specifically recorded actions.
  • Greater buy-in from all stakeholders – Facilitated Workshops lead to Participants feeling more involved and committed to the end results due to having an opportunity to participate in, and contribute to, both the content and the decisions that are made. This builds and helps maintain enthusiasm throughout the project.
  • Building team spirit - As well as delivering results, Facilitated Workshops are a managed way of building rapport across the community. The output of the Workshop benefits from the Participants building on each other’s ideas and gaining a better under standing of each other’s viewpoints. A successful Workshop depends on high levels of synergy being achieved and it is a major part of the Workshop Facilitator role to ensure an environment where this can happen.
  • Building consensus - The Facilitated Workshop provides an opportunity for Participants to discuss the relevant subject matter, including the major issues and problems and, where possible, reach a consensus (and not compromise) on important decisions. If business procedures and practices are reviewed, Participants can gain a greater understanding of the inputs and implications of their work. This can lead to improved efficiencies, led by the Participants themselves, giving greater buy-in and commitment and therefore a greater chance of successful implementation.
  • Clarification of issues - Workshops help to minimise ambiguities and misunderstandings. In a facilitated environment, Participants can explore and model ideas, which in turn will simplify and accelerate the review and sign-off of the Workshop deliverables.


9.3 Managing the Workshop

9.3.1 The process

This is how the group of people will achieve the objective. It is the responsibility of the Workshop Facilitator to plan, design and amend the process, in conjunction with the Workshop Owner, to assist the group in achieving its objective. The Workshop Owner is usually the person who asked the Workshop Facilitator to run the Workshop and who has a strong interest in its outcome.

There are a great many tools and techniques that may be used in Workshops. Physically gathering, modelling and presenting information requires the use of tools to help Participants see this information. A whiteboard, flipchart, brown paper and sticky notes are commonly used tools. Workshop techniques are used to achieve the objectives and include brainstorming, storyboards, rich pictures, SWOT analysis, grouping and many diagramming approaches.

9.3.2 Group dynamics

Group dynamics is a term used for describing how people interact together, their relationships and feelings displayed by their behaviour. This is the organic part of any group interaction. Systems and procedures do not take account of human beings with their fears, hopes, aspirations and feelings. The Workshop Facilitator’s role is to manage the people through the process towards achieving the goal. Typically, this will mean making sure that individuals or factions do not dominate; ensuring shy people with valuable input are heard; ensuring discussion around issues is productive and does not become emotive or personal and keeping the group focused on the aims of the Workshop. It is the responsibility of the Workshop Facilitator to try to create the appropriate dynamic for differing situations, such as problem-solving, creativity, conflict resolution or strategic thinking and to identify and manage (and encourage the group to manage) the dynamic operating within the group. Other matters that can affect the dynamic are internal politics, pay and conditions, room layout, length of meeting, refreshments, seating and lighting. Some are within the Workshop Facilitator’s control, some are capable of influence, but all need to be facilitated. An important part of the Workshop Facilitator’s role is to consider all these aspects during preparation.

9.3.3 Roles in Facilitated Workshops

This section gives some guidance on which DSDM roles would fill the roles of a Workshop. Facilitated Workshop roles are defined as: Workshop Owner, Workshop Facilitator, Participants and Observer. Workshop Owner

This person owns the objective that the Workshop is aiming to achieve and usually also owns the budget to run the Workshop. It is up to the Workshop Owner to set the objectives and deliverables of the Workshop, although the Workshop Facilitator should help the owner in clarifying and scoping these. The Workshop objectives should also be understood and agreed by the Participants at the star t of the Workshop.

The owner of a project kick-off Workshop may be the Business Sponsor, whereas the owner of a Timebox planning Workshop could be the Team Leader or even the Business Ambassador. What is important is that the Workshop Owner is involved in the definition and resourcing of the Workshop and retains ownership of the objective throughout. Workshop Facilitator

The Workshop Facilitator manages the process and dynamic of the Workshop, enabling the Participants to concentrate on the content and the deliverables. The Workshop Facilitator should be neutral to the Workshop objectives, the deliverables (outcome) of the Workshop and the Participants. He/she is responsible for helping the group to meet the Workshop objectives. Ideally, the Workshop Facilitator should come from outside the project to ensure - and signify - neutrality. Some organisations have internal facilitators that are allocated to Workshops and other organisations employ external consultants. If the Workshop Facilitator is from within the project, it is important that their behaviour is also seen by the group as remaining independent of the outcome.
The Workshop Facilitator’s skills and abilities include:

  • Listening effectively and accurately
  • Summarising
  • Observing and recalling conversation and behaviour
  • Communicating clearly
  • Identifying similarities and differences between statements
  • Recognising and understanding different viewpoints and perspectives
  • Assessing content and information for relevance
  • Identifying assumptions
  • Recognising effective and ineffective behaviour
  • Intervening appropriately as necessary
  • Being a model of effective behaviour
  • Providing feedback impartially and tactfully
  • Accepting feedback calmly
  • Being in control of own behaviour and using own behaviour effectively
  • Developing trust with and within groups

The Workshop Facilitator may engage a Scribe to record and publish the Workshop outputs. To support or speed up the process there may be more than one per son allocated to this role in a Workshop, for example, sometimes a Technical Scribe is used where models and documentation are to be created directly into a specific toolset. Usually the Scribe is not a Participant, since it is difficult to participate fully at the same time as scribing outcomes and decisions. Participant

A Participant is chosen because they are needed to produce the deliverables or achieve the objectives of the Workshop. Participants must add value to the Workshop. To do this they need to have the knowledge, skills and experience to be able to contribute to the objective of the Workshop and be empowered to make decisions. Group facilitation is a lean process so only the people essential to achieving the objectives and deliverables should be there. In order to make the group dynamics as effective as possible extra/uninvited Participants should be avoided, as larger groups exponentially increase the number of possible communication channels.

A Participant could perform one of many roles within the organisation or may represent suppliers or customers from outside. They may hold any of the DSDM roles, including Advisor roles. Observer

Observer is an optional role, with no direct input to the production of the Workshop’s immediate deliverables. The Observer gains from attending and hearing the discussions, but is silent and has no influence on or input into these discussions. Typically the Observer sits outside the Participant group so that they do not distract the active Participants. The Workshop Facilitator should pay attention to the effect on the general group dynamic when Observers are present and manage any impact they may have.

Examples of the use of the Observer role could include:

  • Auditors of the Workshop process or the Workshop Facilitator’s competence
  • A trainee Workshop Facilitator who wants to observe the group dynamics without being part of the group
  • An auditor of the project processes
  • Solution Developers and Solution Testers gaining understanding and background around requirements being defined by the business roles
  • Support staff gathering useful background information 
  • Whenever an Observer is present in a Workshop, they should not contribute towards the content, process or deliverables. If they need to take an active part, they should be invited and acknowledged as Participants.

 9.3.4 Facilitated Workshop activities

The key activities within a Facilitated Workshop are:
  • Define and plan the Workshop
  • Prepare for the Workshop
  • Facilitate the Workshop session:

   - Run the Workshop

   - Workshop retrospective 

  • Document the outcome in a Workshop Report if required
  • Follow-up with post-Workshop actions and review Define and plan the Workshop

The Workshop Owner, with support from the Workshop Facilitator, defines the objectives of the Workshop, nominates the Participants and agrees, in outline, the form that the Workshop should take. It may sometimes be necessary to define several Workshops to achieve the objectives. Workshops can be effective with any number of Participants, from 4 to 100+. A Workshop needs a minimum of 4 Participants to create effective group dynamics. Significant planning and structure will be required for larger Workshops, which may include the use of co-facilitators and possibly splitting the Participants into groups. Prepare for the Workshop

In preparation for the Workshop, the Workshop Facilitator circulates information to the Participants in advance so that they fully understand the objective of the Workshop and the background to it, and have time to prepare. An agenda detailing when and where the Workshop will take place, who will be attending and the order of proceedings, will be sent out, together with any pre-Workshop reading. In particular, individuals will be advised where their input to the Workshop is needed so that they may prepare the information that they need to make an effective contribution, and where necessary, collect the views of those they are representing. Facilitate the Workshop - run the Workshop

The tight timescales of a DSDM project mean that the Workshop needs to maintain its focus and pace. One ground rule some Workshop Facilitators operate is the principle of the five-minute rule where in any disagreement that cannot be resolved in a period of five further minutes is parked as an ‘open issue’. Such open issues are documented and deferred to a later session or possibly taken outside the Workshop for resolution.

For Workshops to be effective, there are a few basic guidelines which the Workshop Facilitator should define and agree with the group and which can be highlighted to bring people back on track, should it become necessary. Sample guidelines (ground rules) are:

  • Please be on time - as timescales are constrained
  • Respect the views of others
  • One conversation at a time
  • Each individual in the group has a responsibility to maintain focus
  • Phones/technology off/silent Facilitate the Workshop - Workshop retrospective

The effectiveness of the Workshop should be examined before the end of the session and any lessons learned fed back into the operation of future Workshops. In particular, did the Workshop meet its objectives fully and did all Participants contribute to the process? Most importantly, how effective did the Participants feel that the Workshop had been e.g. did it run to time? Document the Workshop

The Workshop Scribe should produce and distribute the output very soon (usually within 48 hours) after the Workshop, to all Participants and, if appropriate, to other interested par ties who will be affected by the output of the Workshop. This report should be brief and should document:

  •  Decisions
  •  Actions with action owners
  •  Open issues
  •  The output of the Workshop itself, as appropriate
  •  And sometimes the process used

It does not record minutes or verbatim statements. Workshop follow-up

The satisfaction of the Workshop Owner with the Workshop’s results should be confirmed. All actions marked for follow-up activity outside the Workshop forum must be addressed, not just documented! The responsibility for taking the actions lies with the Participants and the Workshop Owner.


9.4 Success Factors for Facilitated Workshops

  • The factors which have been found, in practice, to greatly improve the success of Facilitated Workshop are:
  • An effective, trained, independent Workshop Facilitator
  • Flexibility in the format of different Workshops, but clearly defined objectives
  • Thorough preparation before the Workshop, by Workshop Facilitator and Participants
  • A mechanism for ensuring that the outcomes of previous Workshops are built in, where appropriate
  • Decisions and agreements that are not forced. If the Participants cannot agree on a point within the Workshop (perhaps due to lack of information or time), the Workshop Facilitator should recognise this outcome and elicit from the group the appropriate action to remedy the shortfall
  • Participants receiving a Workshop report, describing decisions, actions and the outcome of the Workshop, very soon after it has been run.

Much can be learned by scheduling a short retrospective just before the end of each Workshop and documenting the benefits and concerns from the Workshop. Sometimes this is also useful at key points during long Workshops e.g. before lunch.


9.5 Other Types of Workshop

Sometimes project Workshops are run without a Workshop Facilitator, although such Workshops can be difficult to manage. However, if Participants are familiar with Facilitated Workshops they can be reminded of the process and encouraged to act as they would if it were facilitated. If Participants are unfamiliar with Facilitated Workshops, as a minimum it would be useful to review the ground rules suggested in this session for applicability. It would also be useful at the beginning of the Workshop for the leader to suggest a few minutes discussing how it should be run.


9.6 Summary

Facilitated Workshops are one of DSDM’s key practices. The skill, independence and neutrality of the Workshop Facilitator are important to ensure successful workshops. DSDM describes the Workshop roles, together with the Workshop activities (before, during and after the workshop). DSDM also describes the benefits of using Facilitated Workshops.

If you would like more information about facilitation a good place to start is;

Next chapter: 10 MoSCoW Prioritisation


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