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The Importance of Facilitation Skills on the Scrum Team

September 13, 2022

In this episode of the Community Podcast, Patricia Kong leads a discussion with PSTs Todd Miller and Glaudia Califano focused on how Facilitation can help Scrum Teams, the importance of Facilitation Skills for Scrum Team members and the themes that inspired the creation of the new Professional Scrum Facilitation Skills training course. 



Patricia Kong  0:05  
Welcome to the community podcast. I'm your host today, Patricia Kong. Today, we have two Professional Scrum Trainers, Glaudia Califano based in the UK. And we also have Todd Miller, who's based in Pennsylvania in the United States. Alright, so a little bit of background for you today, listeners. At, we've been focusing on how we can help individuals on Scrum and Agile teams develop their skills. So as individuals, what could they do to get better? So we've been thinking about this. And I reached out to  Gloria  and Todd earlier in the year, probably earlier this year and said, We need to try to really help people figure out how they can work a little bit more effectively with their teams. And what do you do when that person is just even starting on their journey? So I know that I reached out, and we were talking. And then we started talking about, you know, one of the most underrated skills, one of the most underrated techniques and tools and principles is facilitation. So we started thinking about that. And lo and behold, we created a course. So that's really cool. We have a one day course or eight hour course that's out there. So today, I get to talk to them, the co-creators of the course who worked obviously a lot with other Professional Scrum Trainers and even outside of the community. But today, I really want to take that time, pick your brains. And I will be trying to get your best tips, your mistakes, your worst mistakes out of you and what you think that we should be really focused on working on with teams and in terms of facilitations so Hey, Todd and Glaudia so before we get started speaking of underrated, I promise this to both of you and in terms of facilitation. Here's a little something that I'd like to ask for. Todd, give me 15 seconds of your best rant right now when you think about facilitation. What's that?

Todd Miller  3:03  
Okay, I got one. I don't think we discussed this one before. So, my best rant 15 seconds is that only a Scrum Master needs facilitation skills. Everybody talks about how a Scrum Master needs to be a great facilitator. But I'll tell you what, as a Product Owner having facilitation skills as a previous Product Owner in the past, you need them

Patricia Kong  3:26  
That sounded like a great teaching moment. Okay, Miss Gloria, your 15 Second rant about facilitation go.

Glaudia Califano  3:38  
Um, all right, my rant is about that I do see a lot of over facilitation or facilitation just for the sake of it, and that people just come out of let's say a Scrum Event. And actually, there's no action coming out of retro or you don't need the outcome. But people just facilitate things without understanding why.

Patricia Kong  4:01  
Sounds a lot like... it made me think of facilitation is like there's a lot that we could do and then you just kind of don't follow up and it just dies. And then yours is a great myth. So why don't we get started Todd with yours? Why do you think people think that Scrum Masters are the ones that should be facilitating? Why are the Scrum Masters the one that invest in it the most?

Todd Miller  4:27  
Um, you know, I'm not really sure I know that a Scrum Master is a facilitator is a stance that's been written about quite a bit and has been really documented. And I don't disagree that I think a Scrum Master needs to have a good amount of facilitation skills that I start to think about and put myself in situations that I've been in in the past as a product owner with stakeholders that don't quite disagree with having attended a million meetings that have no purpose and offer new outcomes, kind of like Glaudia's rant was all about and I think about how One of the most under leveraged scrum events, the sprint review is oftentimes just a meaningless PowerPoint presentation where nobody talks and everybody leaves. So that's been a rant I've been kind of enrolling with for about a year now. But you know, I, I know I mentioned Product Owner hear about I just think about how useful the skill of facilitation is to a Product Owner in where a lot of my career has been the most dicey situations for me has been when I was a Product Owner. And it really helped to have some facilitation skills at those moments.

Patricia Kong  5:36  
So for both of you, then I'm just wondering if you are coaching a team or you're on a team, you're a Scrum Master, Developer, Product Owner, and you see that it's always a Scrum Master, who's facilitating what, what suggestions would you have to kind of loosen that up? Where would you have that conversation?

Todd Miller  6:03  
I'm thinking oh, my first reaction is a really good Scrum Master is going to maybe recognize the fact that they're facilitating too much and offer developers the opportunity to facilitate their own retrospectives. Right. That's awesome. 

Patricia Kong  6:19  
What if you're not?

Todd Miller  6:23  
Right, then I mean, so developers and Product Owner, you own the process to step in and offer to facilitate? Maybe, maybe if it's a i, we've, we haven't done the rant yet, which I think we'll probably get to about facilitating and participating. Right, that this is something  that we've had a lot of conversations on, and we get a lot of raucious, like reactions to that you can't facilitate and participate. People. People think you can, we don't think so necessarily. But my reaction is like, everybody owns the process. It's not just the Scrum Master that, you know, that is running around scheduling events?

Patricia Kong  7:04  
that's a good reminder. Glaudia, what are you thinking?

Glaudia Califano  7:08  
The only thing that while the thing of that I'm think of is that people just first of all, make people aware of it, that it's not just the Scrum master job. Now you know, it's not the Scrum, only the Scrum Master facilitates and just make people aware of it. I've worked with a lot of I think there's different as well, what did not have a lot of developers who, for example, have a community of practice, and you have developers then facilitating that community of practice for the development, people UX the same. So I think people actually do facilitate already within companies, I think it's just to reiterate them when it comes to a Scrum Team or the Scrum Events that that can be done as well.

Patricia Kong  7:57  
That's true. All right. All right. So over to your rant, Gloria. And then, of course, Todd brought up some more, but I know people are looking to see where facilitation is appropriate. And so you talked, you brought up in your rant, kind of this misplaced intent, there were a couple things like, you know, we just think that facilitation is I go there, I do some something and then I leave and that's it, you know, the event is over? That's cool. What, um, what are you thinking about? Are you thinking about this in terms of like liberating structures? Are you thinking about this in terms of just not being prepared and understanding what facilitation is what what causes people to just kind of, Oh, I'll try something. But I did my job and just walk away.

Glaudia Califano  8:47  
I think we sometimes just get very hung up on techniques and formats. And there are some really awesome, for example, Retrospective format, so some awesome formats there. But what I do see is then that sometimes we run into this mechanical way we use the format, but not really understanding why, or we use a certain technique, but we don't really understand why what what the benefits are obviously, using that particular technique, what do we want to get out of it. And then we lose track of the outcome of the event, for example, as well, because we're so busy doing this awesome format and these awesome techniques that we just actually forget, you know, it's more about the outcome, facilitating people to a shared outcome and objective. And I think that's the thing that we need to bring it back to a bit more. So yeah, awesome techniques that can help you. But I think always keeping an eye on that objective. What you want to come out with, I think, is probably more important.

Patricia Kong  9:51  
 That's really something to explore a little bit because there's a danger in that so it's like, oh, we're trying to have fun And then I have talked to several Well, it's actually in two camps. I've talked to engineers, and I've talked to managers. I don't know, Todd, if you've had these conversations do where they're just like, oh, this just that those I am not, why can't we? What is this? Why do we need to have this facilitated? Again? What are we doing with this 124 All or this 35, or the 25%, or all these things. And I think that that's what happens when we don't think about the outcome. So they've experienced and experienced these things, and then it kind of just falls through and they feel like they're just playing games, and they're not really interested in that.

Todd Miller  10:41  
 I think facilitation is not just going out and collecting a whole bunch of different techniques that you can pull out of your hat at any given moment. To Gloria's kind of whole point here, right? Like, you can go into a retrospective, and you can talk about your missing taco ingredient. And not really come out with anything, but more than we're gonna do better next time. Right. So it's like, I'm not, I'm not busting on Taco Tuesday, it's just speaking to that. But uh, you know, I've gone into something like a retrospective with very little format in mind, but a few ideas of things that I felt like that you there were things happening with tension on the team, right? And so like, you can have a loose format, but it's the way that you kind of ask questions, and I don't want to say lead, necessarily know that that's true, but kind of just be able to pivot the conversation so that people are getting out what they need to get out. Right, and that you're also coming out with an output that isn't just let's be better.

Patricia Kong  11:51  
So let's talk about this, then really quickly, good versus bad facilitation, you know, it when you're experiencing it, what Glaudia, to you is an example, because you just brought up one example, like we don't have next steps, what else is bad facilitation look, like?

Glaudia Califano  12:14  
I think comes back a bit about the mechanics, again, just running through the mechanics. But also, I think pushing, pushing people through, you know, if you're bias, for example, and pushing people through a certain, you know, solution that you want, you know, what I mean, instead of actually, you know, getting the team to explore, toward an outcome. So, I think pushing your own ideas. And one really simple one that I make myself so guilty of, like often is, I think you need to be comfortable with silence, and especially in a virtual space. And sometimes we just jump in too quickly, but just, I think, leave that silence for people to explore as well.

Patricia Kong  13:03  
That's a hard one. But yes, yes. So you tapped on the elephant in the room. Alright. So, Todd, you talked about this. When you are facilitating, can you participate? That's the whole notion of facilitation and neutrality. I think we talk about that for coaching, also coaching and neutrality. All right. So if I'm a scrum master, and I am in the sprint retrospective, I'm facilitating the Sprint Retrospective. Am I neutral? Do I keep do I stay back and go? Hey, guys, little little PDCA a little let's do a fishbone. What do you guys think about the notion of facilitation, neutrality, when you think about that in terms of a scrum team, and how it might be somebody on the Scrum Team who's facilitating that conversation?

Todd Miller  13:56  
I think that when it comes to participating in facilitating at the same time that it's impossible to do without coercing. So to Glaudia's point,  you were mentioning earlier that you can mold your facilitation stance into the outcome that you are expecting, or that you want. I think that facilitating and participating at the same time, is impossible to do that without coercing. And I'm saying that from my experience me doing it because I've made mistakes there before. I'm like, This is what I want out of this Retrospective. So I'm going to facilitate and then I'm going to steer it with Barbara says,

Patricia Kong  14:37  
Tell us how you did that. Tell our friends? 

Todd Miller  14:41  
Oh yeah. So I mean, I can think of a particular time when there was when there was tension between two teammates. And I basically did everything I could to set up the tension between those teammates to teammates and have them call it out to one another and come up with a resolution for it, and the resolution that I wanted was that they would work together on things more. Right? That they would pair program because I felt like that was a good idea for how they could potentially resolve it. And I steered them down that path. And then I got to listen to days of them arguing while they're pair programming together. But I thought I was being sneaky and really getting them to, you know, pair program offer these things up. And so like I had, I was a Scrum Master and I had a Retrospective and I was doing it. This was coming to mind I remember the remember this is like the yesterday but it was many years ago. Yeah. It didn't work. Thanks. So it's kind of coercive.

Patricia Kong  15:46  
Yeah, I would just picturing it like, don't you think you anyways, that buddy? Yeah, what, uh, what about you in terms of what is your opinion about about facilitation and participation neutrality, especially on a Scrum Team?

Glaudia Califano  16:00  
I think for me, it's quite a difficult one for on the Scrum Team just purely because, of course, if you look, you know, at the Retrospective where the whole Scrum Team, you know, will participate. But I do think you just need, I think, for me, it's more being aware of the trade offs, like Todd mentioned. So I'm actually often Todd in action doing it quite well, where he, for example, said when he was facilitating a retrospective or facilitating the event where he said, I've put my Scrum Master hat now on. And then 10 minutes later, he says, um, now I'm gonna put my Developer hat on. So and I think that was quite a good. I think you did very well, Todd. I think that was a very good compromise. I think he just needs to think of the trade offs that that it had that it brings. But yeah, I think that's one of the things so yeah, so I'm a bit on the, you know, on the fence, as long as you're aware, and you have the trade offs on it. 

Patricia Kong  16:57  
All right, well, congratulations taught and being a great communicator.

Todd Miller  17:02  
The one time I did something, okay this year.

Patricia Kong  17:06  
Well, so this class, this course that that, that we we launched, Professional Scrum Facilitation Skills is really taking this notion of facilitation and saying in a Scrum Team in a Scrum environment, through all the different venues, how can we apply facilitation? Because I know we've talked about sometimes it's just a little bit of better facilitation would be more effective. And I know that there's the opinion of it's a small team, why do you need that? Why do you need that and the person facilitating is probably just the person who can't do the work. So, you know, when we think about that, I would love to know, from your experiences. And Todd, let's, let's start with you, because you and I have argued about 50 scenarios, like this of our experiences, what is something where you've seen something just go off the rails and not work well, in a Scrum Team? Or at a at a Scrum event? And what did you do? Or what did you observe maybe the Scrum Master do during the, you know, from a facilitator stance? What happened that changed it?

Todd Miller  18:15  
Yeah, I feel like we've been talking about Sprint Retrospectives quite a bit. So I think I think I'll maybe we can use a Sprint Review. Right. And so like a sprint review, I can think of this happening many times. But I can think of one particular instance, where a sprint review, there was a set agenda, right? We're going to talk about A then B, then C, then d, then E. And honestly, it was a little bit of always being married to the agenda that caused stakeholders not to participate until a stakeholder that really was the person that held the purse strings a lot, in this instance, lost it. Or like, what are you doing? Like, I don't see this is not this. All this seems like you're going in the wrong direction. I don't even know why we have these meetings because you don't listen anyway. And in that particular instance, the whole Scrum Team froat, they were not expecting that at all. They were caught off guard with it, the Product Owner was caught off guard with it, the Scrum Master was caught off guard with it, and it was just like dead and utter silence. And then the meeting was like adjourned because of it. And so that was like an instance where I think had a person maybe maybe including myself, maybe I should have taken action. I was an advocate in that regard. Maybe I should have stopped that put my facilitation pants on and done something about it. But instead it was just decided to adjourn the meeting. And really one on one conversations and unproductive things happen. I mean, productive things and unproductive things happen. But I think at that very moment, that was an opportunity that was missed for someone to step in and facilitate and maybe drive to an outcome like misaligned expectations. Were there something was going on things weren't trying as parent, rather than just trying to follow an agenda and because the agenda was kind of thrown a wrench at it, it just was like, Okay, well, the meeting is over now.

Patricia Kong  20:09  
Well, what so so let's get in that time machine put on your facilitation hat and your facilitation pants. And what would you what would you have done? Let's try this. This meeting is terrible.

Todd Miller  20:21  
I think I think that it's okay to say let's take five, take five minutes.

Patricia Kong  20:27  
People don't think of that as facilitation like just three. Yeah, yeah.

Todd Miller  20:31  
When you think of that, Glaudia, that's facilitation. It doesn't have to take five minutes.

Glaudia Califano  20:36  
Absolutely. Taking a break. I think is such a good environment. Yeah, yeah, absolutely.

Todd Miller  20:42  
Yeah, me having that person talk with the Product Owner, one on one, figure it out and then come back into spec. We have hallway conversation about this. You're right, we're out of alignment. This is what we need to do now.

Patricia Kong  20:52  
And the alignment and the outcomes. Yeah. What about what about for you? What Scrum Event do you think really could use with some better facilitation? And what are some easy things for let's say, there, there are, you know, people who are on a Scrum Team, they're looking for something to fall back on, there's that that event that's just always painful to go to? What would what are your tips for making that a little better?

Glaudia Califano  21:24  
I'm just thinking, I do agree with Todd, by the way, but the Sprint Review, in my experience that has runs into the most not most problems, but you know, I mean, that you see that it gets misunderstood, I think the next one that can be painful for people, Sprint Planning, when it's not facilitated correctly, because people galore just have to sit here for hours in a room. Which it shouldn't be, but you know, I do see that. I think Sprint Planning is it's an interesting one, I think you can just over plan, or completely under plan. Okay, I started in Scrum in 2004. Long time ago, we were like we did monthly Sprints back then. And we plan everything quite in detail. I think over the years Sprint Planning and planning something for Sprint has become so much more lightweight, the focus is now very much on the Sprint Goal. And you can just plan in the first few things that you know, to get you started into the Sprint. So I think kind of getting people to understand that they don't have to plan everything in detail. You know, for them. If you have a two week Sprint, it also makes people a bit more comfortable as well. So it's, you know, things that they're not really you know, if they know that they don't have to plan in for the, you know, to have to know everything in detail. It can flow the conversations a bit better as well.

Patricia Kong  22:55  
So what would your advice be to someone who tell me if you've heard this one? I think we've all experienced this with the Sprint Goal everything you get to plan and you think this is going to be great. And then people can't even get to a Sprint Goal. They can't agree. What What if we were facilitating that, that planning? What would you do there? Because that's a big one for me.

Glaudia Califano  23:16  
Yeah, I think I had this and so one thing that only use usually works for me is I just usually ask them to question. Okay, if this was really one thing, you know, when it really comes to it, when you know, we come to our two weeks, but there's really one thing that you as a team would collaborate to get over the line and then failures not every 10 times they will come up with the answer will be there because you and you start crafting your Sprint Goal. So it's more that usually works for me

Patricia Kong  23:52  
Todd, I'm wondering this as or, as we're kind of running out of time is why? Why facilitation? Like as it stands like I we talked about this is underrated. And always there's a lot and it's not bad. It's really excellent. But a lot of people go oh, let's take the coaching stance fear, which there's a lot of it why? How does somebody make that decision when coaching when facilitation when something else? You know, like how do we how do we we're ultimately just trying to help in terms of helping teams have a little progress move toward the goal. What do you think?

Todd Miller  24:34  
Yeah, it's an interesting question. You know, I wish I really wish there was a PST out there that that describe facilitation to me in a way and I cannot remember it was a face to face or something. So whoever you are, this has stuck in my mind for like many years now. I don't remember who it was though. But what they what they said when they were describing facilitation, if you Google definition for facilitation, as So I'm looking at the definition of facilitator right now it's a person or thing that makes an action or process easier. Right? And so to Glaudia, you mentioned before, right, like when you're going into an event as a scrum event, where you're going into a meeting, to having explicit inputs, and then an output in mind, right. And the idea as a facilitator is to take a stance to make and drive to that output or that outcome, and make it easier, right, make it easier. And that doesn't necessarily mean consensus. It doesn't have to mean consensus, it just means that you've made that event or that meeting, and you've made it easier to come to that conclusion. And that's, that's always really, really stuck out to me, the person that kind of for like, just Google the definition for facilitator, it's about making it easier. coaching, coaching, isn't that right? Coaching isn't going into an event and making it easier to drive to an output or an outcome of that meeting. Coaching is not that coaching is a different stance altogether. Right? I'm just rambling at this point.

Patricia Kong  26:10  
No, I think we got Yeah, no, that was great. We're giving you that space of silence for us to reflect No. So facilitation. It comes from well in French Facil right, it makes it easy. So it does it is what can we do to make some of those things easier? And no shortcuts to so thank you both so much. I glad to hear some of the different techniques that you used or wish you use if we got in the time machine. So thank you everyone. For today, we really learned about some great techniques from Todd and Glaudia, some techniques that they wish they applied in the past and some tips on what you can do in the future. I hope this was good and useful for our listeners. Thanks for joining today. And also thank you, Todd and Glaudia, for your time today. I really appreciate it. I'm looking forward to seeing how this class goes how the how the course is helpful for people when they think about these different dynamics they face on Agile and Scrum teams and we'll be putting a lot of materials out for everyone to read, watch, consume share, like, so thank you.  That'll be it for me today. Thank you. If you would like to learn more about the new Professional Scrum Facilitation Skills training course, visit


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