Penny Pullan is the Director of Making Projects Work and the Author of "Virtual Leadership" and "Business Analysis and Leadership" amongst others. Penny is a master facilitator and in addition to her contributions for the 1st edition of the book I'm thrilled that she is also sharing her insights on facilitation in the 2nd edition.
I learnt how to get things done through others
Project mangers tend to get overloaded and then think that the solution is to go flat out doing all the work themselves and jettison all the important things like stakeholder engagement and communication as nice to have but not enough time for! I personally fell into this trap years ago, when I was less experienced and given a big chance to take on a major project. The project in question was already late, hadn’t delivered anything and I was the third project manager. In short, it was failing. Those of you who are more experienced than I was then will see many danger signals, but for me, it was my first big chance. I relished the opportunity to deliver something big. The project team’s motivation was rock bottom after all the delay, changes in project manager and lack of delivery, and within a couple of weeks starting, all of the rest of the team had resigned. All of a sudden, I was both project manager and project team! There was so much work to do that I stopped communicating with stakeholders, bar sending out hundreds of e-mails each day, and put my head down to get everything done. Needless to say, overload followed. The project delivered a good product just before the deadline, but it wasn’t fun. I had put the doing of the project work (by me as it turns out) above the need to influence others to get things done.
A few years after this poisonous project, the lessons I’d learned so painfully about getting things done through others were bearing fruit. By this time, I was programme manager for a global endeavor involving the United Nations, government ministers and directors of multinational companies as key stakeholders. As before, when I joined, the programme was running late and hadn’t yet delivered. This time, within six months, we’d delivered the key product. Did I say that only 50% of my time was allocated to this global programme? What a difference! So what was it that made the difference? By then, I knew how to get things done through others, even those who were much more senior than me and in different organizations and even based on different continents. My transformation had begun by learning lessons from the overload and frustration of my earlier project. I had modeled what I saw the very best project managers doing and found what worked. I was also lucky enough to have a coach and mentor and had developed very strong facilitation skills over the years. – Penny Pullan, co-author and editor of several project management books
Co-creating is the most engaging way of relating to others
Leading a team is way more than telling. Telling someone what to do is the least engaging way to relate to others, closely followed by selling. Much more engaging are consulting and (best) co-creating. – Penny Pullan, co-author and editor of several project management books
Collaboration doesn’t happen on its own. We need to facilitate it
In this new age of collaboration, project leaders work with groups of people all the time. Some are based in the same building and work for the same organization. Others may be based on different continents, with different mother tongues, time-zones and cultures to deal with. Somehow we need to build these disparate people into teams who can work together to create something beyond what we could do as individuals.
On my travels around the world, I find that many project professionals are ill equipped to work effectively with groups. When I talk with them, they confess that they’ve never been trained in facilitation, don’t know how to facilitate and are unsure what it is! While a few project leaders are natural with groups and instinctively know what to do, unfortunately most are not. Facilitation means ‘to make easy’ and there is a huge body of knowledge on how to do this effectively. Those who master it well are skilled at:
- Gaining clarity and agreement at the start of a session,
- Designing a session to suit each situation,
- Guiding groups to outcomes,
- Providing a safe environment for conflict to emerge and handling it well,
- Keeping people participating,
- Keeping an appropriate energy state within the participants, and…
- Doing all of this virtually.
Like many project professionals I too felt this lack early in my career. A project workshop almost ended in disaster as key people felt disengaged and threatened to leave. Luckily, I was able to turn this around with support and I spent years developing facilitation skills so that I’d never be in that uncomfortable position again! I found that not only my workshops but also my projects became much smoother, as I was able to lay the foundations for my teams to collaborate effectively throughout the project. I noticed that I could handle projects with more senior stakeholders, including government ministers and board level executives, who I was able to keep engaged and interested. Over the years, when people have developed these skills, I’ve seen their projects and programmes transform in a similar way.