Kerry Wills had a blog post this week describing what he believes are the key skills (some would suggest “soft” skills) a project manager must develop. On his list was facilitation, which he described as, “The ability to ask good questions to solicit information whether that be plan activities or status.” The business analysts I know would refer to that as elicitation. I’ll definitely vote for elicitation as a key skill, but let’s explore facilitation, while we’re on the subject.
The most basic definition of facilitation is “any activity which makes tasks for others easy,” but I’d like to focus on facilitation as a technique for guiding a group in a problem-solving process. The process is managed by the (ostensibly neutral) facilitator with the consent of the participants. The goal of both the facilitator and the group is to arrive at a collective decision through substantive, structured discussions.
The facilitator works with the group as a whole and provides procedural help in moving toward a conclusion. The facilitator keeps the discussion on topic, without controlling what is said; ensures equal participation; probes for consensus or agreement; and helps the group reach and state a shared conclusion. Sometimes facilitation is about asking questions, other times it’s about reflective listening; still other times, it’s about enforcing “equal access.” There are a variety of useful techniques and strategies, and experienced facilitators are always on the lookout for new tools, but all will agree that the key strategy is to help the group to communicate as peers.
So, Kerry, I’ll agree with you on both your original point, re-named “elicitation,” and your original term, with my long-winded definition.