Thursday, 12 March 2009

Workshops are great – just don’t forget the biscuits…

We have the knowledge, we have the method, we have the templates – but how do we… well, how do we get started?
By Graham Devine, Training Consultant at Maven Training.

A common problem faced by many organisations is that the investment in Project Management training, methods and ‘frameworks’ generates benefits that are averaged across the whole piece – in reality, what is needed is a ‘step change’ in a distinct area of change (project or programme).

Workshop events (when well facilitated) are a powerful way of creating this step change – all the while being excellent value for money, as well as complementing education and learning perfectly. A recent experience of mine illustrates the obvious benefits.

A London Local Authority had identified it had to re-write its Housing Lettings Policy to meet new legislation and address serious flaws in the current Lettings Scheme – they wanted to do this as a workshop. Why? Well, they had been exasperated by their experience over the years of consultants being brought in to solve the problem – in reality the consultants only tinkered with the problems and did not involve nor understand the needs of staff, stakeholders or partners.

So, a workshop it is then! Note that the client wanted to do a bit of Project Management training in the workshop as well as generate some Project Definition outputs (clear objective, scope, identified deliverables/dependencies, people involvement – team & stakeholder).

Day 1

You need a great facilitator (that’s me then!) to carry a workshop group. Naturally delegates are suspicious, unsure, unclear, and wary, so the person running the event has to be able to meet the people at their level whilst still moving them on.

We played games such as ‘Draw a Project’ (to ensure we all understand what one is), plotted ourselves on a ‘how do you feel/what do you know’ grid (allows individuals to be really be open about their current place), ‘spot the user/provider/influencer’ (to get a view of people needs in a project). We also took the mickey out of the Project Manager by pulling their draft Project Brief together (to clarify: I had already talked to him in order to understand his ideal objectives so this was wholly appropriate in this case!).

End of day 1 results – people were working hard, but they also had fun. Some delegates now understood more about this potential project and their involvement than before (no amount of Project Brief/PID would have given them this). The workshop individuals were also culturally changed – they had never been told before that they had the answers – and that’s the beauty of the workshop: this event was designed to show them that the organisation they worked for had faith in their opinions, experience and capabilities.

Day 2

Re-wrote the project objective to be very different from the draft Brief – this time it was more relevant, realistic and measurable. We also determined what jobs needed to be done and hence appointed some likely roles (e.g. we found a Project Support person and highlighted two others for Assurance). The key output on this day was agreement on key deliverables (about 50 items), the dependencies between them and, importantly, what the first two key milestones were. As a wrap-up for the 2-day event I had captured all of their outputs in both digital photo format, and electronic documents which were sent back the day after to the Project Support person. The digital photos of the team at work were also put into a Project Kick-Off bulletin as a communication to the rest of the organisation.

And hey, I had fun too – because it lifts the human spirit to see individuals and groups be given ‘permission’ for doing and thinking in a fun and open way.

The two key measures of success for me on this event were, firstly, the Project Manager saying – “we’d like you back for other workshops please” and secondly, the picture I took of the most negative and entrenched person in the group giving a big smile and a thumbs up to the camera!

PS: I also provided tons of biscuits – that always works!

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