Managing Process Facilitators


The term "Process Facilitator" refers to the people in your organization whose primary responsibility lies in improving the effectiveness of the work that the teams are doing. This responsibility is mainly around the process the teams are using, but also encompasses less tangible aspects of work such as team development, organizational culture change, administrative and technical tools, and working with other Process Facilitators both inside and outside of your organization. Since the role of the Process Facilitator is so broad, it can be difficult to understand and effectively support Process Facilitators who report to you. This article helps you with this challenging task.

Hiring or Finding a Process Facilitator
At some point, you will need to find your first Process Facilitator. Like filling other positions, you will likely start this search within your organization. Your search should itself manifest some of the qualities and values that are important in agile methods such as self-organization, truthfulness, and management support.

The qualities you are looking for in a Process Facilitator are simple: truthfulness, assertiveness, gentleness, and a firm belief in the Agile Axioms: We are Creators, Reality is Perceived, Change is Natural. Of course, past experience with agile methods also helps! Be cautious: enthusiasm and willingness are not enough. Copious experience is less important than attitudes and relationships because Agile Work is a values-based approach.

Most managers start to find a Process Facilitator in one of two ways: either by looking to people who are project managers (the nearest comparable role) {sidebar id=1} or by looking to people who have, frankly, been pestering you about doing this "agile" thing for quite some time now! Unfortunately, the Project Manager will likely have some trouble changing his or her non-agile habits, and the agile evangelist may have too high a personal stake to be truthful about the success or failure of the agile approach. Nevertheless, many organizations start like this and can still be successful.

It is unusual for organizations to take a more systematic approach to finding a Process Facilitator. However, a systematic approach can help you to avoid some common problems with Process Facilitators. A more systematic third method that has worked well takes the following steps:

    1. Introduce Agile to your organization. Provide introductory training or learning materials to people who are in your organization. Make sure everyone is aware of the basic agile concepts.
    2. Ask for volunteers.Look for Process Facilitators in your organization who would be interested in facilitating a pilot agile effort and team. Make sure you are clear that this is neither a management position nor a promotion nor a permanent change. Hopefully you can find at least three people interested in doing this. If you have many people who volunteer, then you need to find a way to reduce this number early on. Start by asking the group of volunteers to trim itself down. Make sure to be clear on the number of volunteers that you need. This early support of self-organization will serve you well later on.
    3. Give the volunteers some experience. Run a pilot through enough iterations so that each candidate Process Facilitator is given a chance to facilitate at least two iterations.
    4. Have participants assess the volunteers. Have everyone on the team and the candidates themselves provide feedback on each candidate's capacity and potential as a Process Facilitator. Some candidates may excuse themselves after a taste of the work.
    5. Select a Process Facilitator. Using this feedback from the participants and your own judgment make a selection. Let everyone in your organization know the full set of reasons for your choice. You should not need to provide additional private feedback to any of the candidates.
    6. Provide intensive training and/or coaching for your newly-minted process facilitator. Get this person off to a good start. Make sure that the training or coaching will cover all the aspects of the Process Facilitator's responsibilities.
    7. Without delay, get the Process Facilitator started on the agile effort.

The core features of the above method are that it allows people in your organization to self-organize, and that it provides transparency and an appropriate level of management support. If you are having trouble finding an appropriate candidate inside your organization, you might consider hiring a new employee or contracting with a coach. In either case, you want to find people who have excellent references, specifically pertaining to their agile experience and to their honesty and trustworthiness. Again, because Agile Work is highly values-based, copious experience is less important than attitudes and relationships.

The Hard Part
At some point, the Process Facilitator has matured enough that he or she will start to deal with the fact that you as a manager will be doing things that are obstacles for the team. This can be extremely uncomfortable and awkward. Try your best to welcome it when it happens.

Managers produce a large variety of obstacles. Sometimes managers have a "command-and-control" or micro-management approach. This prevents team self-organization. Sometimes managers are too hands-off and leave the team floundering. Sometimes managers are not open and honest about the reasons behind their actions or the actions of the organization which leaves team members feeling cynical or apathetic. Sometimes managers set a bad example by being unwilling to admit to mistakes and take efforts to improve. Sometimes managers just don't give their teams enough face-time.

The person who is your Process Facilitator will be obligated to point these failings out to you in order to do justice to the team. Hopefully, you will be able to take this as your opportunity to contribute directly to the improvement of the process, the team, and ultimately the success of the organization.

Career Path
The career path for a Process Facilitator is often unclear when you are first looking at agile methods. If you are in a small organization, you can probably get away without defining this clearly for quite some time. However, as a manager in a larger organization, it won't be long before your Process Facilitators start thinking: "is this a career choice?" "What do I do next?" There are many possible ways to set up a career path. However, it is again important to realize that the values of Agile Work must not be sacrificed when this is done.

At one large financial organization, the first draft of a career path went like this: Apprentice Process Facilitator to Process Facilitator to Master Process Facilitator. An apprentice had to work with and be recommended by a master before graduating to the next level. To become a Master Process Facilitator, there was a certain amount of experience required as well as the approval of the other masters.

The problem with a formal, well-defined career path is that the role of the Process Facilitator actually becomes less important as the organization and the teams within it become more mature in their implementation of agile methods. A formal path encourages the same kind of excessive specialization that self-organizing teams are trying to get away from. Specialization leads to inefficiency and other unhealthy organizational behaviors. In fact, the ideal career path for a good Process Facilitator is to be rewarded on how many teams he or she has developed to the point that they are independently self-organizing and consistently improving.

Toyota has created an organization where the notion of "career path" is very different. It has an extremely flat management structure (since management is overhead). Therefore, there is very little space "up" the organization into which people can be promoted. Rather, people are rewarded based on how many jobs they can do well on the factory floor.

In an agile environment, the Process Facilitator has several aspects of expertise and skill to develop, and not all of these can be developed simultaneously:

    • Basic Agile Work administrative skills.
    • Obstacle removal.
    • Team dynamics and development.
    • Coaching individuals.
    • Organizational development.
    • Training groups and teams.
    • Promoting agile methods.
    • Strategic application of agile methods.

Reward your Process Facilitators as they take on and master each of these areas of skill and knowledge. A Process Facilitator is successful when he or she is able to help a team to become self-sufficient. The team has learned and perfected the basic Agile Work process. The team has gone through the stages of team development (forming, storming, norming and performing) and is now capable of self-directed self-improvement. The organization is no longer resisting the team's efforts to self-organiz, but rather is fully supportive of these efforts. Once all this happens, the Process Facilitator is no longer necessary as a separate role. The person who has filled this role may then go on to become the Process Facilitator for another team or another part of your organization, or even be loaned out into your supply or customer chain in order to help make those relationships with your organization more effective.

Agile Work promotes and provokes evolution of the organization. As a manager you have an opportunity to guide and support this evolution. Process Facilitators are your agents supporting this evolutionary process that allows organizations to respond to a rapidly changing world.

About the Author
Mishkin Berteig is the co-founder of Berteig Inc. Mishkin leads, mentors, trains and coaches teams and organizations. Mishkin helps organizations become more effective by using methods such as Agile Work, Scrum, and Lean. Mishkin believes that these methods present a good balance between chaos and bureaucracy; they allow human creativity to flourish in the service of tangible goals. Mishkin has served as a project manager, a senior consultant, a mentor, a methodology consultant, an instructor, a senior software architect and a team lead on various projects, mostly in the financial services industry, but also including education, healthcare, engineering, high-tech, oil and gas, and others. Mishkin has 15 years of professional experience. Mishkin publishes articles and thoughts about agile on Agile Advice - How and Why to Work Agile.

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