Agile Leadership with Facilitation = Fast Decision Making

In my previous article Agile Leadership with Facilitation = Hyper-Productive Teams, I introduced three wasteful activities that create barriers for teams in creating outcomes when they conduct collaborative events (e.g. architecture forums, big room planning, retrospectives or regular executive review meetings)

Topic jumping ranks as the first wasteful behavior.  I covered the antidote for that behavior in the article Agile Leadership with Facilitation = Hyper-Productive Teams.

Lack of focus in collaborative events ranks second in wasteful practices. For details on tools that help drive focus for collaborative events see the article Agile Leadership with Facilitation = Highly Focused Teams.

And the third issue that waste time in collaborative events is inferior decision-making mechanisms.

Inferior decision-making processes include following:

  1. Decisions driven by power of personality of one individual
  2. Decisions driven by positional authority
  3. Decisions missing input from people physically present, but vocally silent
  4. Decisions missing crucial facts
  5. Decisions missing consensus (when consensus is advertised as the rule for deciding)
  6. Decision that don’t have clear criteria and therefore the outcome seems arbitrary

The list above represents the worst possible combination of decision making patterns used in today’s meetings.   In collaborative events, time wasting meeting processes reduced the focus and ultimately hamper the output of a collaborative effort.

To counter these time wasting forces of evil, the Agile Leader and Facilitator brings a plan to the meeting or collaborative event.  The plan includes the mechanisms to ensure that participants give information and provide feedback to other participants throughout the collaborative event.

The previous two articles provided the tools to focus on the goal of the meeting or collaborative event.  Maintaining focus throughout a collaborative event enables a team to create more solutions and ideas and provides a better outcome from the event.

Most meetings or collaborative events follow a flow that results in a real outcome.  I call the full process, “Better Meeting Magic.” This article focuses on Narrowing and Deciding activities.  In previous articles, I covered the steps from “Planning,” “Opening” and “Brainstorming.” Now it’s time to narrow and decide.

Having followed a good facilitation practice the activities leading up the “Narrowing” resulted in a robust list of items representing possible alternatives to a problem.  Perhaps the list of contains repeated items and also items that with high-value solutions and low-value solutions.  The solutions might include expensive solutions and cheap solutions.  It’s the goal of narrowing to find the best options.  The graphic below represents the quadrants of the solution space.  The low hanging fruit resides in quadrant 1.

Before finding specific high-value solutions, the remove duplicates from the list of items.   If you don’t remove duplicate items, you’ll discuss them throughout the rest of the meeting or collaborative event. After removing duplicates, I like to use blue painters tape and a couple of sticky notes and create the following free-form axis-es with labels.   The Y-axis goes on the right-hand side instead of the left-hand side.   The top of the Y-axis gets labeled “High Value, ” and the bottom gets the label “Low Value.”

The X-axis extends from left to right (again opposite) with the “Low Cost” on the right and “High Cost” on the far left.

Take the de-duplicated stickies and have participants place them on the coordinate system based on cost and value.   To get a more inclusive experience, have them do this one sticky at a time.  And then revisit the stickies again and allow each person to adjust at most one sticky when it’s their turn in line.  Repeat the exercise until each person says, “done,” meaning they are done moving stickies.  Revisiting and reordered items sound like a long process, but usually, the activity ends rather quickly.  Sometimes disagreements on a couple of stickies requires conversations, but that usually only occurs on a few items.

After ordering finishes, I usually come through with another round of blue tape and create the matrix by putting a horizontal line of tape roughly through the middle of the coordinates system and a vertical line of tape approximately intersecting the middle of the x-axis.

Sometimes people are uncomfortable with the resulting items falling inside the specific quadrants.  Items overlapping different quadrants get moved into an adjacent quadrant by mutual consensus of the participants.

Now comes the deciding part of the adventure.  Narrowing resulted in a few items, and now the list needs further reduction down to 1, 2 or 3 items. You might decide on more priority items.  For decisions that have a life of many months, more things make sense.  If the decision impacts only the next two-week sprint, I recommend only 1 item.  More experimentation sometimes results in overload or not enough time for results gathering.

Once you’ve decided on how many results you need to move the initiative forward, there are many ways to determine the outcome.

Multi-voting remains one of my favorite decision tools.  Assume that you’ve capped the number of priority items to tackle at two.  Give all participants two votes.  They can place all votes on one item or spread votes around to individual items.

The example above assumes four participants, each with two votes.  The items with three votes get selected as the priority #1 item.  When many participants need to vote, I hand out different colored markers and tell people to vote on the honor system with your two votes.  Each person then marks the stickies with their votes.

Note: This system works even better with blind voting (e.g. having each individual write down their votes on a piece of paper privately and then hand the paper to the facilitator).  In situations where I have someone who likes to wait until the everyone else votes and game the system by putting all their vote on one topic just to make sure it wins, I resort to private voting.  In most cases, the participants vote how they want without trying to game the multi-vote.

Remember our solution space only allows for two items, so there remains one last reduction before we end.  A dialog can quickly pick between the item or sudden death round if there are an odd number of individuals.

Bottomline: The Agile Leader and Facilitator creates plans that enable teams to make decisions with speed and with holistic involvement from all participants

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