|The Facilitative Project Manager | Gary Rush, IAF CPF|
Why can't a Project Manager be Facilitative?
Coming from an IT background, I learned that the role of a Project Manager was to manage both process and content. Project Managers defined the project process, made content decisions about scope, budget, and sometimes even about specifications – therefore, a Project Manager could not be a Facilitator, the role violated neutrality. But, with the growth of Project Management, thanks to the Project Management Institute (PMI), and the growth of Project Management Offices (PMOs), I have changed my view. “Why can’t a Project Manager be Facilitative?” Project Managers are more successful if they are able to guide their group through a facilitative process to accomplish their task. They produce better results that have the buy-in of all stakeholders enabling the greatest chance of success.
Project Management Institute’s (PMI) handbook for Project Managers (PMI, 2004) – A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBoK® Guide) describes project management independently of what type of project is being managed and independently of what type of business the project is for. In other words, project management is project management – whether it’s for IT, construction, marketing, or any other business.
Facilitator Role versus Project Manager Role
“A Facilitator is a content neutral person who guides the group to consensus using effective processes to enable a group to make effective decisions and accomplish their task while supporting a collaborative and respectful environment that encourages full participation and helps groups overcome barriers to accomplishing their task. The Facilitator is responsible for the Context.” (Rush, 2007, p 1.20)
Looking at the definition, a Facilitator defines a process for a group that enables them to accomplish a task and then guides the group through the process to accomplish their task.
Effective Facilitators are able to seamlessly integrate the process to accomplish a task along with the emotional group cycle while considering the people’s characteristics. They are content neutral – that is, they must not engage in or bring in information or opinions regarding the subject matter or business being discussed. They do however, through preparation, provide effective processes for a group to follow. The effective processes brought by the Facilitator focus the content knowledge brought by the group, enabling effective decision-making.
Facilitators are process experts – experts in the Facilitation process.
Project Manager Role:
According to the PMBoK® Guide (PMI, 2004, p 8), “Project management is accomplished through the application and integration of the project management processes of initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, and closing. The Project Manager is the person responsible for accomplishing the project objectives. Managing a project includes:
Looking at the definition, Project Managers are process experts – experts in the Project Management process making them responsible for the context. It doesn’t state that they have to be content experts.
Rethinking the Role – The Facilitative Project Manager
What is required to manage a project, as described, leads me to rethink the role and believe that a Project Manger who uses facilitative skills and facilitates a project can focus on the project management process and be more effective.
Let’s look at the similarities between them:
Project Managers lead the project team during a project just as Facilitators gather information during a workshop to accomplish a task. If project management is project management regardless of the type of project, why do Project Managers need to know content? So, why can’t we redefine the traditional view of the role of the Project Manager?
Let’s start with the IAF Core Competencies of a Facilitator (IAF, 2003):
Given that the two roles are similar, we can apply the same core competencies to a Project Manager as follows:
1. Create Collaborative Client Relationships
Facilitator: This addresses the Facilitator’s relationship with the client before the workshop. The Facilitator prepares properly to meet client needs.
Project Manager: The Project Manager must develop a collaborative client relationship to ensure the requirements are what the client wants.
Project Managers must collaborate with clients to identify project processes that ensure that what is being delivered is what the client wants. This includes:
2. Plan Appropriate Group/Project Processes
Facilitator: This addresses the Facilitator’s knowledge to design and select the right processes and tools that deliver the agreed to outcome while supporting a diverse group of people, characteristics, and thinking styles to reach consensus.
Project Manager: The Project Manager needs to define and select the right processes and tools that deliver the agreed to requirements while supporting a diverse group of people, their characteristics, and thinking styles to reach consensus.
Project Managers must understand their audience - both the project team and their client. Project Managers knowledge of project management processes properly defines the processes they follow when they facilitate. This includes:
3. Create and Sustain a Participatory Environment
Facilitator: This addresses the ability of the Facilitator to manage communication, creativity, conflict, and encourage participation.
Project Manager: The Project Manager must manage communication, creativity, conflict, and encourage participation.
Project Managers must know how to listen, how to enable the creativity of the project team, and how to manage conflict all while ensuring that everyone has an equal opportunity to participate. (Understanding how groups evolve (Tuckman, 1965), how diversity impacts groups, and how people think and learn are important to creating and sustaining a participatory environment.)
4. Guide Group/Project to Appropriate and useful Outcomes
Facilitator: This addresses the Facilitator’s ability to execute the designed processes, guide the group, stay on track and achieve the desired outcome.
Project Manager: The Project Manager needs to execute the project processes.
These are the skills related to the sensitivity and agility of the Project Manager with the client, the project team, and the Project Manager’s ability to execute the processes or adjust as needed in support of the client and project team. (Effective Project Managers don’t do the project work, they guide others ensuring that barriers are removed and that the client and project team are able to execute the project.)
5. Build and Maintain Professional Knowledge
Facilitator: This addresses the professionalism of the Facilitator. The Facilitator continues to be part of the profession and continues to learn new concepts and ideas.
Project Manager: The Project Manager must maintain professional knowledge through continuing education.
Project Managers must continue learning new concepts and ideas.
6. Model Positive Professional Attitude
Facilitator: This addresses the Facilitator’s ability to remain neutral, act with integrity, and be self-aware.
Project Manager: The Project Manager must manage process, act with integrity, and be self-aware.
Project Managers set the tone. Project Managers model behavior that avoids, “Do as I say, not as I do.” Project Managers do as they say.
NOTE: These six competencies define the “Facilitative Project Manager Core Competencies”.
The Facilitative Project Manager is a combination of his or her capabilities, personality, and beliefs (“The Self”) to lead the project through active listening, believing in the group and process, respecting and honoring the individuals and the wisdom of the team, and applying the competencies to achieve the project vision. Together, this looks like:
When Project Managers practice Facilitative Project Management, they support their competencies by being informed and prepared, listening to all stakeholders and enabling them to listen to each other, believing in the wisdom of the stakeholders, and respecting all stakeholders.
Facilitative Project Manager
A Facilitative Project Manager is more flexible and agile in moving from one project to another because he or she does not need to know the content. The Facilitative Project Manager becomes a Facilitative Leader who builds a project team with stakeholders who:
Making it Work
Creating Facilitative Project Managers requires a change in how organizations view and train Project Managers. Responsibility for the success of a project rests with all of the stakeholders, not just the Project Manager. Organizations need to emphasize this.
Creating an environment that enables Facilitative Project Management requires:
The Organization Gains
By redefining the Project Manager’s role as a Facilitative Project Manager, organizations gain:
Facilitative Project Managers produce better results that have the buy-in of all stakeholders enabling the greatest chance of success.
A Project Manager should BE a Facilitative Project Manager.
PMP and PMBoK are registered marks of The Project Management Institute, Inc.