Notes on Kevin Hoffman’s Creating a Design Facilitation Practice

(added 07/17 to’s All You Can Learn video library, link here)

Meetings can reflect an facilitator’s confirmation bias—”everybody must think like me and run meetings like me so no discussion necessary”

Kevin advises a careful facilitation practice to expose assumptions and manage constraints

  • Careful facilitation shows you value everyone’s time and endeavor to use it wisely

Part 1: Define facilitation for your org

  • Facilitation is a role that manages conflicts by following a productive pattern of conversation
  • A facilitation practice:
    • Designates a facilitator
    • Defines that role and provides best practices for recording the proceedings
    • Follows a conversational pattern of divergence & convergence
      • The facilitator decides when to shift one from to the other—and whether to cycle through the loop more than once

Ideally a facilitator’s role:

  • Is neutral & doesn’t evaluate or contribute ideas
  • Coordinates the process
  • Balances conversation
    • Decides who talks in what order, and changes it up during the meeting
    • Has the ability to cut people off and redirect convo back to core issues
  • Designs questions and related design activities
  • Makes sure everyone is heard. If there are too many people to be heard individually, there are too many people in the meeting

Good facilitation isn’t taking notes to capture action items (though this is important and someone else should be doing this)

  • A good facilitator creates and shares visual artifacts in real-time as the recorder on a whiteboard etc to:
    • Create a group memory
    • Create a public record
    • Follow up afterwards
    • While remaining passive in the convo
    • A sample whiteboard by Kevin:

Screen Shot 2017-07-16 at 4.35.03 PM

  • Note red and blue used sparingly as highlights

Productive converstation patterns

  • A good pattern directs to convo to make decisions that everyone in the group feels invested in
  • Focuses on quantity first, than quality
    • Allows for some blue-sky discussions, followed by the power of the group to winnow down to the strongest, most viable ideas
    • By broadly soliciting and recording ideas first, folks’ preconceived ideas get released, making them more amenable to other ideas

Part 2: Probe with better questions

A good question starts with active (or hear & now) humility

  • As a facilitator, you are dependent on everyone’s honesty and accuracy to complete your goal
  • You need to occupy a space of active humility characterized by conscious dependence on your partners
  • Questions should center around intentions not challenges

What questions should you ask to get that honesty and accuracy?

  • You need to allow meeting participants to be vulnerable
  • “Why is this design right/wrong/good/bad” etc isn’t helpful in this regard—the makes the convo binary (it is or isn’t) and doesn’t allow space for exploration
  • Instead, try:
    • How do you feel about the design? (helps probe the designer’s intent and your response to that intent)
    • Where are you in your process? (you might find you agree about some qualities of the work before you even begin discussion)

Edgar Schien in Humble Inquiry summarizes this with 4 question types:

  1. Feeling questions—designed to elicit an emotional state
    • How does this work make you feel?
  2. Motivation questions—could be the intention of a designer or of a user
    • Why did you make that change in the design?
  3. Action questions—try to define behaviors that have occurred or that you want to occur as a result of your design
    • What would the customer do next?
  4. System questions—designed to elicit more detail in a complex system
    • Might consist of actions and motivations, or even an entire mental model
    • What happened when we changed that design?

How to design a good question

Make sure not to include the answer in your question! Don’t insert your assumptions

Start in advance by recording all the questions you want answered in the process

  • Break down the questions and probe around the essence of the question, not the peripheries
  • The question should center around a feeling, motivation, action, or system. This can help you focus your questions appropriately
  • These reformed questions can lead to the most interesting and useful discussions and will highlight what conflicts your need to manage as a facilitator
    • I think this is a key point—create questions that center around the 4 categories and avoid discussing peripheries (visual design, label language etc)

Part 3: Critique facilitation sessions objectively

Facilitation styles are subjective—so approach facilitation critique with an objective framework

  • What style of facilitation makes the most sense for the outcomes you desire?
    • You may need to adapt your usual style for a particular group you’re facilitating

3 objective spectrums for facilitation critique:

  1. Are you more improvisational or scripted in style? Do you like to plan everything in advance or just go with the flow? Know your overall preference
    • A mature working groups benefits most from an improvisational style, but you need folks in the meeting who will take the lead and a shared vocabulary
    • Having a loose script is a good fall back
    • New or inexperienced groups benefit from more scripted meetings
      • But make sure they’re not too deterministic—let the tone of the room guide the flow of the convo
  2. Do you prefer to draw or talk to describe things?
    • Drawing is great for visual thinkers but can be less helpful for those who don’t think visually (generally your business/content/product partners)
  3. Are you a space filler or space saver?
    • In both contexts, it’s key to think about how much space you are taking up and how much space you are giving to others during the proceedings
    • Some folks are natural space fillers, filling up awkward spaces and keeping things moving
    • Some are space savers, comfortable with prolonged silences and the deeper issues that can bubble to the surface
    • Adapting to one style or the other can be very difficult for facilitators
      • A nervous silence can be ok, but an angry silence can damage the meeting

About Kevin (from his site): Making things cooler since 1972.
Founder, Seven Heads Design



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