The Virtual BPM Facilitator – Part 1

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Faculty Member, and President, i4 Process
Ms. Shelley Sweet is a Faculty Member of and President of I-4 Process (Ideas, Involvement, Implementation, Impact) in Palo Alto, California. Shelley works with companies that need to transform the way they do work and use information. She provides a unique method of modeling processes and analyzing data that accelerates operational improvements, and builds leaders and employees who sustain process excellence. She is the author of a new book, The BPI Blueprint: A Step-By-Step Guide to Make Your Business Process Improvement Projects Simple, Structured and Successful, which is available on Amazon.

A Facilitator helps participants in a group work together toward the meeting objective by providing a meeting structure, engaging the participants, keeping them focused on the content, and remaining neutral himself.  A BPM Facilitator is a person who guides a business process improvement (BPI) project, using the same group process skills and behaviors of a generic facilitator but in the context of BPM.  So the BPM facilitator needs to know the BPM Methodology, have a structured method of working with BPI teams, be able to coach a Process Owner, and be able to work with the BPI Project Leader toward the improvement targets of the Process Owner. And the Virtual BPM Facilitator needs to do it virtually – not face to face but using telecommunications by phone, by video conference, by Web Ex, or similar tools.  That makes the medium a bit more challenging but it’s the reality of today’s global world.

I began doing BPM facilitation virtually over 10 years ago when I did a BPI project with developers in India and Mountain View, CA.  I have just taught four BPM  Advanced Facilitation courses for BPM Institute (two online and two face-to-face).  Although I like face-to-face more (I think it is more fun!) I am finding several techniques to engage all participants online which is very exciting.  Let me share some of my experience and learnings.

First, here are some ideas for dealing with the virtual technology:

  • Test the technology yourself.  If it is difficult or you might have problems, have a second person on board to help with the technology, so you can remain in the role of the Facilitator.
  • Start off the meeting with a quick roll call with each person speaking – just name if this is a regular meeting, and name and role or name and something fun if there are any new people.
  • Establish some ground rules.  Use the same ground rules as the group uses for face to face meetings (I suggest some ground rules and let the group add to them, or just agree to them.) but you need a special ones for virtual facilitation like:
  • Always say your name before you speak, such as “This is Shelley, I think blah, blah blah. “  You have to model this as the Facilitator every time you speak, and interrupt them if they do not say their name for the first few times. You need to do this for any meeting over 4 people, or any meeting with new people in it.
  • Ask everyone to indicate with an icon if they step away.
  • Use a technique of asking open ended questions when you can and asking everyone to write in chat.  Then call on a few people from the chat to say more, or comment on a few chats.  Having people write in chat keeps them engaged.  They are not as likely to multi- task.
  • Prepare to have different people in the group do mini-presentations, or lead the session for short sections.
  • Make sure you use people from the remote areas, not just the headquarters or lead site.

Here are some more tips for specific BPM methodology activities:

Prepare an agenda and send it out ahead of time.  Think about what the outcomes are, what agenda items you need, what methods you will use to engage participants and accomplish the agenda items, and how long each item will take.  Remember to allow time for introductions and wrap up, and know what section you will drop if you need to.  I like to plan an important agenda with a colleague.  I always find two heads are better than one.

The BPI Charter.  I have done this over the phone many times with the four key players, the Executive Sponsor, Process Owners, Project Lead and internal Team Facilitator.  It takes 60-90 minutes.  I send ahead a charter template (not filled in) and an example charter completed.  I take all the notes and send them to that the same day.  I follow the template and type it in real time, or you could do it online and type it into a BPM modeler or BPMS that everyone could see in the cloud.

A Swim Lane As Is Diagram.  I work ahead with the Project  Lead to identify an instance we will use and have them gather some initial data if they can.  I have someone else enter the diagram while I facilitate, sticking to the Instance and constantly asking, What happened next?  The recorder builds the process diagram in the tool the company uses.  Everyone  can see it.  It takes a bit longer than face to face but it works fine.  The group can stand two to two and a half hours.

Analysis Techniques. (such as Notched time line, or Five Whys,  or identifying data  categories for quantitative data gathering).  All of these a possible, but it is best to be keeping the notes visually so everyone can see how the ideas are being tracked.

Scheduled meetings with the Executive Sponsor, Process Owner, Project Lead, and Internal BPM Facilitator.  This can be done by phone (audio only) or using a tool with screen sharing.  I prefer the latter, and would have a documenter if the task is cumbersome.  The BPM Team facilitator could also do the recording if it is easy.  I prefer a format vs. just text as is it more structured.  Send ahead any materials you want them to look at and make a request in the email of what you want them to do, such as ‘Look at the data in Figure 3.  I think it has some interesting opportunities for improvements.  What do you see?’

Making Decisions. Gaining consensus.  Many virtual tools have a poll which allows you to take votes.  Use it.  Think about what decisions you know will come up in the meeting on have the written out ahead of time, with possible answers.  You can tell participants to vote for one, two, three, or as many as they support.  Then look at the results and see if you already have high agreement or there are still some points to discuss.

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