Process Facilitator “Smells”

I have now trained over one hundred people in my Agile Project Managmenet / ScrumMaster Certification course. I’m starting to see and hear some of the results of this training. There are a couple specific “smells” that I have become aware of.

Fortunately, I’ve been able to provide coaching to some of the organizations that have sent people to my course. There are quite a number of good things that happen, but there are a couple of things that seem to be “natural” misunderstandings.

  1. Spectating
    I put a lot of emphasis on the idea of a self-organizing team in my course. There are a number of exercises, an hour-long section, and many other points during the course when it comes up. With all of this emphasis, it seems that a few people have come away from the course with an extremely hands-off approach to the Process Facilitator role (ScrumMaster/Agile Project Manager). I think this is a natural and probably good reaction to the heavy-handed command & control approach that these people come from. However, there are a few things that should be considered minimum levels of engagement (listed below).
  2. Problem Solving
    There is also a great deal of emphasis put in the course on removing obstacles. I have seen several cases where it becomes the habit of the Process Facilitator to start solving every problem. This can happen in day-to-day work, and also in the retrospectives. Again, this seems to be a natural consequence of the desire to get in there and be of value. However, if the Process Facilitator writes down all the “things that need impovement” from the retrospective and then says “Okay! I’ll take care of these things.” then you know that the Process Facilitator has gone too far.

Appropriate Process Facilitator Engagement

Here are a few ideas on an appropriate level of engagement. Finding the right balance of enagement is not easy and there is no exact formula to follow. Partly it depends on your personality and skills as a Process Facilitator, partly it depends on the capabilities of the team, and partly it depends on the constraints of your work environment. Nevertheless, there are some types of engagement that you can persue with confidence. Here are a few concrete guidelines:

  • Team Membership
    If you aren’t saying “we” when referring to the team, you aren’t engaged enough. The Process Facilitator is a member of the team.
  • Colocation
    Most of your time should be spent sitting with the team. If the team isn’t colocated, then you should be spending most of your time physically visiting each team member.
  • Obligations
    The Process Facilitator is a catalyst. You must track all the obstacles and “needs improvement” things that the team raises, and then make sure that they get fixed… without going in and fixing everything yourself. Ultimately, your job is to work yourself out of a job.
  • Assertiveness
    The organization that the team is working in will be creating some of the obstacles that the team is facing. Being assertive is critical to helping the organization face and then overcome some of these obstacles.

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