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Facilitation and project management

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APM Hong Kong gathered once again at the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club, Kellett Island, Causeway Bay, on 24th February for an excellent evening.  The interesting event entitled “Facilitation and project management” was presented by Mr. Marcel Ekkel, who is a committee member of the APM Hong Kong Branch. Marcel runs his own boutique project manage,ent consultancy firm SynergySynQ Ltd, and delivers APM training through Lucidus Consulting. 

The presentation also included a facilitated workshop with a team size of 11 members. The participants’ mission was to recommend new ideas for the monthly event topics for the APMHK, as an example for illustration purpose. Marcel Ekkel has been based in Asia since 2003. He runs his own boutique project management consultancy firm SynergySynQ Limited. He has worked on transformation, mergers and acquisition, system implementation across Asia, Europe and in the United States. He also provides APM training through Lucidus Consulting. With this extensive experience, he is well placed to conduct such facilitated workshop to revisit some of the tools and techniques to maximise the team’s knowledge and skill around facilitation in the project management.

Marcel firstly explained facilitation as “the act of making it easy or easier” or “the state of being made easy or easier”. Facilitation is a powerful tool that can be used to help individuals and groups more effectively and efficiently achieve their project goals. Marcel went on to highlight the benefits of applying facilitation. Under the leadership of a skilled facilitator, meetings and team building sessions can achieve results not possible without facilitation. A good facilitator can keep meetings focused on the subject of discussion, enhance creativity, manage expectations, or deal with problem solving or conflict resolution more effectively. He also enhances communication among participants of the workshop sessions or meetings.

A facilitator is responsible for helping the group clarify its goals and helping group members use the same tool at the same time on the same problem to achieve its goal or desired outcomes. A good facilitator, according to Marcel, should be an active listener, asking questions, staying neutral on content and on track. They should plan appropriate group processes, creates and sustains a participatory environment. They need to check energy level, test assumptions, collect ideas during the workshop, and summarise the group consensus on issues at the end of it. More importantly, the facilitator does not evaluate idea but helps find win-win solutions. They should be able to manage the event and manage the process. Further, they should manage the potential difference among the group and individuals. It is crucial to the facilitator’s role to have the knowledge and skills to be able to add to the group’s creativity rather than taking away from it. Finally, the facilitator should manage one’s learning on how to do better next time.

Marcel suggested some examples of facilitation in the project management space. They included project definition workshop, planning and scheduling, problem solving decision making and idea generation. He further detailed the agenda items for a Project Definition Workshop (day 1 and day 2) as an example. In addition, he gave the audience an example of his previous workshop showing key points on the flipchart.

The presentation concluded with a real life workshop. After explaining the monthly event topics as the product that was expected, Marcel separated the audience into two groups. Each group was oriented to the three-minute timeframe to brainstorm and write down the proposed events on the small cards, one idea on each card without talking to each other. There were 30 written cards in one group and 18 in the other. In the next session, the two groups’ written cards were merged and each group member was allowed to exchange ideas and combine all the cards into similar or related topics.

After the sharing of ideas, an agreement was reached among members to summarise all topics into 13 headings. They were:

1. Skills and technique,
2. IT,
3. Soft skills,
4. General project management,
5. Qualifications / APM,
6. Operations,
7. Cost estimates,
8. Culture and people,
9. Legal and contracts,
10. Risks and change management,
11. Resources,
12. Case studies, and
13. The future.

The workshop was successfully conducted within the timeframe and the fruitful result came from the full participation from the two groups under a good facilitator. Marcel was able to keep the groups on topic and focused, using care to avoid repetition. They just brainstormed 48 items for events in that 5-minute time period.

Marcel has kindly shared the slides from the evening below.

Joe Wong
Committee member, Hong Kong branch


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