Today, Scrum.org announced a new skills-based course focusing on facilitation. Professional Scrum Facilitation Skills (PSFS) provides a practical, hands-on learning experience focused on developing facilitation skills and the mindset to apply them. The focus is on the practical skills necessary for any member of a Scrum Team to facilitate meetings and events effectively. I wanted to take an opportunity to put some context around these skills and answer the question of why Scrum.org is teaching facilitation.
First, let’s look at the context.
I think everyone understands that complex work requires teams of people to work together in an open, safe, and focused manner. The most diverse teams often create the most innovation and value. Diversity of ideas and experience not only comes from cross-functional skills but also from background and culture. But there is a rub. Diversity, complexity, and openness can challenge safety and focus. Add to that the practical challenges of hybrid working environments where team members are not collocated or even sharing time zones. Work can be both challenging and sometimes almost impossible. Imagine a situation where the team has data that questions the Sprint Goal, with some of the team wanting to move on and other team members feeling that the team should change focus to investigate it further. Imagine the even worse situation where no one says a word and work continues. Scrum requires courage. It encourages openness. It stops working when teams stop collaborating or communicating. And even with the most mature, capable teams, it can happen anytime. Also, facilitation is not just about the Scrum Team but also stakeholders interacting with the team.
Many times, success is determined not just by the team but also by external parties. Working with those parties in a group setting effectively can sometimes be the difference between success and failure. This way of working may be new to those external parties, which puts more pressure on collaboration. Recently I was reminded of the value of facilitation by a senior leader working for a consumer packaged goods company. He described how often the difference between a good Sprint Review and a bad one is not content or attendees (but that can help), but how the meeting is managed or facilitated. In the case of this company, senior stakeholders often move from one meeting and context to another, back to back. This leads to an attention and attitude problem, with many of these people trying to close off the previous meeting while dealing with the emotions created by that meeting for the first 10 minutes of this next meeting. When the Sprint Review is not structured around outcomes, is not well organized or uses facilitation techniques that the senior leaders feel are silly, the meeting outcomes are not good. And to quote the person I was speaking to, senior leaders are “once bitten twice shy of agility.”
There are many amazing facilitation courses on the market, from Visual Facilitation to Liberating Structures. These courses teach you how to use the techniques, and some provide good examples, but they are context agnostic. They describe the techniques but without the context of Professional Scrum. PSFS is not agnostic; it describes facilitation in the context of Professional Scrum, teaching practical skills that enable learners to start applying them as soon as the class finishes. PSFS is a great complement to any team member doing Professional Scrum teaching mindset and practical skills.
Also, the course’s audience is anyone on the Scrum Team, including the Product Owner, Scrum Master, and Developer. We also dispel the Scrum myth that only the Scrum Master facilitates. The truth is that everyone in a Scrum Team can use these skills, and Scrum Teams that share these tasks get better outcomes and are more fun to work with.