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9 Lessons Learned from Facilitating Bottom-Up Solution Sessions – Getting it on the Strategic Agenda

east-tower-198013_1920Taking the time to create lessons learned is a powerful way to improve your facilitation skills and abilities. I have learned this lesson from years of facilitating meetings, workshops and planning sessions across diverse industries needing to apply an approach to solving business issues.

For example, some years ago I was engaged to facilitate several Information Technology Service Management (ITSM) work sessions within the oil and gas and utility industries. The challenge was to get ITSM on the strategic agenda of the organizations (bottom up approach), build consensus through identifying what was important, making recommendations and decisions and establishing a direction that would enable the IT organization to improve processes and services offered to their customers.

Related Article:  5 Common Mistakes To Avoid During The Strategic Facilitation Process: Part A

The lessons learned here can be applied to any department in your organization. It just happens the business case is ITSM. This blog briefly outlines 9 lessons learned from the ITSM facilitation experience that can be applied to almost any situation.

Bottom-Up Approach:  In this case it is important to have an approach and methodology to apply. It helps in getting things on the strategic agenda of the organization. Often these sessions provide blueprint to propel a department services forward with emphasis on business value. The key is understanding the business rule and drivers and focus on business value.

Engagement at All Levels:  This is a tough one, since what you are seeking to do has not been approved yet. In the example provided there are three levels of engagement required; the strategic (CIO and Directors to establish strategic intent, vision and enterprise objectives), the tactical (Directors and Managers to establish improvement objectives, priorities and program charter) and the Operational (Managers and Key Stakeholders to establish solutions, roadmaps, business case and project charters).  Maybe you have something that you are working on that needs all levels of engagement. Having a strong sponsor and influencer helps. Find that person.

Clear Mind and Thought: The fundamental to any bottom-up approach and facilitated session is to develop a clear problem definition that is approved by management or senior steering committee. Many departments, trying to get heard, fall short of achieving clarity. The lack of a clear problem definition negatively impacts the tactical and operational levels of the organization and limits the ability to move forward. Get clear as you will need to sell the issue and eventual solution to all levels for approval.

Related Article: Eight Tips for Facilitating Your Next Planning Session or Requirements Meeting

Understanding the Working Department:  When working with your teams, build an understanding of all the work that is taking place in the department right now and how it fits within the support, process and people delivery relationship models. By engaging people in a defined work exercise, your teams can map out and see how their work aligns within the department and the organization. This is effective in getting a present state, getting teams talking and building buy-in.

Points of Pain and Maturity:  Establish a clear understanding of your points of pain (PoPs) and the department’s maturity levels. PoPs can be established through focused brainstorming sessions. Once collected, your PoPs should be looked at from an organizational and process maturity perspective. Align your PoPs with the industry maturity model standards (non-existence, chaos, reactive, proactive, service, value). It is important that the content be translated into a service maturity. You can work on obtaining various teams, customers and business representatives’ perspective on your organizational and process maturity levels. This builds some reality into the PoPs and maturity levels thinking by dislodging you from a position of working in isolation.

Plans that Can Be Activated:  Build a business case and program plan that can be activated by your people. At this point you are seeking clear recommendations and improvement objectives (what), benefit realization (why), tactical needs (how) and time frame (when) for which to move your organization forward with your initiative or program. This can be done at a high level of details.

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Create a Business Case for Change:  Building a solid business case is foundational for any program to move forward. You will need a member of the executive team or steering committee assigned to provide clear guidance. When forming and using a steering committee, their mandate must be strategic and clear. Tactical task-based reporting can be left to the project management teams and their need for task-based results and status meetings.

Program Initiative Alignment:  From a business perspective, most departments in larger organizations need to stop chasing tool solutions, and “flavor-of-the-month quick fixes.” Ultimately, their solution is a business change program that seeks to align the departments with the business objectives and requirements, improve processes and change culture in an effort to control or decrease costs, increase productivity and contribute to the bottom-line. Make sure you are aligned to the bigger cause.

Dealing with the Big Questions:  Work with your teams to have them answer “WIIFM” and “WIIFT” questions (what is in it for me and what is in it for them). Ensure you established the fears, uncertainties and doubts (FUDs). Be prepared to have a long FUDs list. These will need to be acknowledged and managed within the context of the solution program and the change management and communications plans.

Final Thoughts

The information in this article is based on feedback obtained during facilitated ITSM work sessions and the work of dedicated IT professionals. However the lessons learned can be applied to other departments or organizations that are seeking to get solutions on their strategic agenda. One thing I have learned, larger issues and solutions require a team who is willing to get in the boat and row in the same direction. This means building consensus at a number of levels. It can be done. Good luck.

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