Back to Basics – Facilitation 101

After facilitating nearly 30 requirement gathering sessions in the past weeks, I had a chance to take a step back for some self-reflections. For starters, these sessions can be darn exhausting! And after numerous interactions with the many different personalities, I found myself needing to exercise recurring tactics, which were rather fundamental and, by no mean, earth shattering. Yet, it was refreshing to have been reminded of how important these things could be during any requirements gathering interview. I hope to keep them in mind and continue to hone my skills based on these basic principles:

Practice Empathy
Getting people to talk about what they do or want to do, could be challenging and uncomfortable. Sure, there are ways to make the process smoother. But ultimately, doing self or need-assessments and stepping someone else through that – is a hard ask. Throw technology in the mix, and you have what could be a very daunting experience for any information worker.

That being said, be sure to level with them. Hear their comments, concerns, complaints. Even in the most adversarial of interactions, I often experienced that listening to people and just simply nodding could be the best remedy to defuse the situations.

Come Prepared
These participants are setting aside their normal 9-to-5 to talk with you. Without doing anything (good or bad), you are already a distraction to their day. Knowing that, come prepared and be ready! Never discount any prep work, like arriving ahead of the meeting time to setup. Boot up your devices, hook up that projector, straighten out the room. Should your meeting be virtual, sign in to the meeting and start sharing your screen in advance.

You need to prepare your mindset as a facilitator. You want to make a good impression and let your participants know that you are present and you are ready from the moment they enter that room.

Different Strokes for Different Folks
One of my favorite mantras to live by in the professional setting is to “Over-prepare but be flexible.” As mentioned, preparation is key to a successful session. That being said, however, a common mistake is to put a meeting plan on a pedestal. Of course you want to meet the meeting objectives. But remember that you are there to facilitate, not dominate.

Some people are creative, others are analytical. Some groups are visual learners, others are auditory. What works for one person or one group could be a flop for another. You won’t hit a homerun every time, but you should do your best to adjust your approach, if you have to, so you don’t strike out.

For instance, if your open-ended-questions were getting nowhere, then try 20 close-ended-questions. If “Tell me about your morning” were simply getting an “I’m fine” response, then don’t stop there. Ask if they ran into any traffic in the morning, what their favorite morning coffee is, the kind of pets they had to kiss before leaving for work, the names of their kids they had to drop off on the way to the office.

Be flexible to change your method to cater to your audience and the room. Don’t fall in love with your agenda!

2 Heads are Better Than 1
If your project could afford the time for a peer review, always take advantage of it. I realize that in this competitive market with fast-tracked project schedules, that’s often a *big* if. Whether you are a more junior member or not, having a colleague or a mentor review your requirements really goes a long way for the project. Whether it’s to bounce ideas with or to let him/her poke holes on your theories, a peer review provides a different perspective, which keeps you more honest in your progress and approach.

Through my current project alone, the peer review sessions have helped me to be better prepared as a facilitator, allowed me to think more creatively about potential solutions, and has boosted my confidence as a technologist, which would ultimately impact my overall professional development.

Dilbert - Requirements Gathering

I thought I would end the post with this Dilbert cartoon, which I found to be very fitting. I often say (half-jokingly) that if we were to remove people from the equation, then everything would be too easy. At the same time, you would also be removing all the fun.

Thanks for reading. Let me know what you think and please do share any personal tips that you have to keep your requirement sessions productive and engaging.


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