Vicki James, PMP, CBAP, PMI-PBA, CSM

formerly of Professional Project Services, LCC

Tag Archives: Facilitation

Vicki is typing…

Image depicting virtual chat

Image by: nokhoog_buchachon /

I have been working with a team where most of our communications are virtual. It is rare that we get together in person with other gigs, commuter issues, and lack of space at the central office prohibiting full team face to face except on rare occasions. Most recently, we have been relying on Google Talk for group chats to conduct our morning Scrum. My observation is this; we are much more polite to each other in the IM setting.

I have been amazed at how rude meeting participants are in every office environment I have worked in. Speaking over the top of each other is the norm rather than the exception. I do not have this in me. I am nearly incapable of talking over the top of someone. Instead I will give “a look” when I have been trying to talk or simply raise my hand to indicate I need a turn. I have had success with a round-robin format for meetings I facilitate. However, often I am a meeting participant rather than facilitator and other times I want to encourage open discussion. I realize I should invest in a “talking stick.” I resist having to go to such lengths to ask for common courtesy.

This does not seem to be an issue in group IM chats. I noticed early on that people seemed to type their say one message at a time. I observed team members while in the office one day and watched someone start to type, realize someone has already started, stop, and wait to see what that person has to say. In rare cases is there a flurry of messages over the top of each other. Why is this? Are we that much more in tune visually that “Vicki is typing…” is stronger than me verbally “but, but…” while jumping up and down in my seat? Is it because it takes more effort to type a response that we are waiting to see if necessary before taking the energy? I hope some of my neuroscience friends have some answers to these questions.

In the meantime, chat anybody? You can find me through Google Talk at

“Building” a Team

One of the hardest jobs for a Project Manager is team building.  What exactly does a “built team” look like? How do you build a team? And where exactly are the blueprints?

Team building is not a science with hard specifications, but rather an art that takes skill and experience to find what works.  To complicate things even more, what worked well for one team may not have a positive impact on a different team.   As project managers, we need a large collection of tools to mold and shape the team into a cohesive whole. When the team is a cohesive whole they support each other with the goal to do whatever it takes to make the project a success.   This article will describe several exercises that I have used and liked with context on the types of situations you may want to try this.

Team Bingo

  • When: Early in the project, preferably the Project Kickoff Meeting.
  • Participants:  Team members and key stakeholders
  • Preparation:  Get “fun facts” about each player on the team.  Some things  related to the work they do that others may not realize, and some fun personal facts such as hobbies or skills.  Create a bingo card with a “fun fact” in each square.  Don’t have enough fun facts?  That’s okay. Create some FREE spaces as needed or use generic items such as “born outside of the US” or “speaks another language fluently”.
  • Exercise:  Use this at the start of a kickoff meeting.  Each team member gets a bingo card.  The object is to find the person who matches the “fun fact” and write their name on the bingo card.  They must actually talk to this person about the square before writing the name.  The object is to get a bingo (as defined by facilitator).
  • Notes:  Make sure the room you are in has enough room for people to walk around.  Provide a good amount of time on the agenda for this item to give team members a chance to visit and learn about each other.
  • Expected Outcome:  Team members get to meet and learn things that each brings to the team that might not otherwise be realized.  Some items may come into handy throughout the project such as “Jane was editor of her college newsletter”.

Communication Style Round Robin

  • When: Early in a project but after the team members have had some exposure to working together. This will help them decide what tidbits of information will be of the most value.  Conduct this session one to two months into the project.
  • Participants: Core team members
  • Preparation: Decide what you want team members to reveal through the process.
  • Exercise:  Provide a set list of questions that each team member has to answer about themselves about their communication and work styles. Once the person has answered the questions, other team members may comment on their own observations.  Make sure to capture notes and send the results out at the conclusion. Questions I have used include:
    • What is your preferred work style?
    • How do you prefer to communicate?
    • What is one thing your team members should know about you?
    • How will we know when you are stressed? What can your team members do to help?
  • Notes: Generally when a team member provides comments in another’s turn, it is truly positive aspect of that person that they have not even realized or known was appreciated (e.g., “Dave likes to think of what’s coming up next, he is very proactive.”) Other comments include advice on the best way to get another team members attention (e.g., “If you have something you want Art to look at, take it to him and put it on his chair and not rely on email.”)
  • Expected Outcome: Team members have information that will help them understand each other better and work more productively together.  The outcome is that team members are able to meet in the middle where their work styles will work well together.

Daily Scrum Meetings

  • I use daily Scrum meetings on most of the projects I work on whether an Agile project or not.  It gives team members an opportunity to hear where each other is on project tasks and potential, or real, barriers to support each other in moving forward. This is a great way to avoid “heads down work” impeding communications and therefore decreasing overall project momentum. More on Scrum meetings can be found at

Informal Retrospective

  • When: Frequently throughout a project beginning one or two months into the project.  The goal is to get early feedback on how well things are working and what can be done to make it better before the project is over.
  • Participants: Core team members
  • Preparation:  Lots of 3” by 4” sticky notes and markers for posting on a wall.  Predefined legend for rating overall project team satisfaction.
    • 1 – Get me out of here
    • 2 – I have reason for concern and see potential for improvement
    • 3 – I am fairly satisfied
    • 4 – I am glad I’m part of the team and satisfied with how our team works together
    • 5 – This team is awesome!
  • Exercise
    • Team members write project team satisfaction rating on sticky and post to the wall anonymously
    • Determine the averages of the project team satisfaction rating and posts with description for participants.  Track with each retrospective so you and the team members can find trends.
    • Team members write one word to describe how they feel about recent progress and posts to the wall anonymously
    • Read each one word description, asks the reason for the word, and document on white board or flip chart
    • The words and result list can be used to facilitate a brainstorm on process improvement.
  • Notes:  This meeting is for the team members only.  The results do not get posted or shared with stakeholders except when they will be impacted by a changed process with.  The process improvement discussion can easily be adapted to meet your preferences for capturing and tracking improvement ideas.
  • Expected outcome:  A quick and easy way to get a pulse on the satisfaction level of team members and explore ideas to improve.  The one word exercise can produce some interesting results for discussions that can be much more insightful then asking “how do you feel?”   The words provided may be abstract, but the conversation gets you to the important conversations.
These are just a few examples.  Please respond with some of your own team building experiences.  If you now use or try any of the above ideas please post any tips or results you have experienced.  I look forward to the sharing!
Additional Resources

Project Sponsorship

This week I gave a presentation to a group of people who made up the governance stakeholders of a newly initiated, multi-agency, federally funded project.  The presentation was developed to be generic and geared towards a large, diverse audience that may include a mix of sponsors and project managers from different organizations and different projects.  There was an unforeseen advantage to giving a general sponsorship presentation to a specific group that I wanted to share.

The discussion at the presentation was among individuals with a vested interest in the governance of the upcoming project.  They were able to review general the definitions, responsibilities, and recommendations within the presentation and have candid conversations about the needs for this project. It helped open the minds and the discussion to who should be invited on the Steering Committee, how the sponsors could work together to complement each other and acknowledge competing interests in the project, and helped give light to what they will need in selecting a project manager to help the project succeed.  The downside was I had to cut the presentation short because we ran out of time, but given the work and discussion that did happen, I’m okay with that.

The point in posting this is to say that by presenting sponsorship in a way that promotes discussion of the concepts with all of the governing stakeholders allowed that group to discuss their needs rather than being told what the needed to do.  For me, their discussion was validation that they understood the roles of the sponsors and steering committee, and how they could set the project up for success.

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