Strategic Alliance – Business and IT

A Strategic Alliance is needed…

In the 1970’s, IT or DP (Data Processing) as it was called then, frequently was part of the finance department. Those of us in IT promoted the position that we should view business as “customers” and we (IT) as ”service providers”. In some ways, it helped as most organizations established a Chief Information Officer (CIO) and many now have a Chief Data Officer (CDO) and/or a Chief Technology Officer (CTO). However, I believe this to be a problem in the long run. Why?

The Problem 

Business Analysts and Project Managers are brought into projects after the business has already thought quite a bit about the project – they do the cost benefit analysis and, once approved, they assign a team. That puts IT in the service provider role (order-takers) – simply providing what the “customer” wants. The problem is that the real “customer” is whoever buys the company product, not the business. IT serves the wrong customer. Therefore, the organization loses out because:

    • Business doesn’t get input from IT. That input helps with ideas – by enhancing them, expanding them, or enabling them to work.
    • IT has many ideas about how to use technology for competitive advantage and the business loses opportunities if IT doesn’t have the chance to bring its own ideas to the table.
    • Once a project starts, business often wastes money by going down a path that could have been avoided simply by involving IT from the beginning.
    • The relationship between business and IT becomes strained because it remains a “we, they” relationship instead of “us”.

How do we Change this?

Business must involve IT, Business Analysts, Project Managers, and other departments, from the initial germination of the idea to ensure that they are looking at the whole picture. This comes from a holistic approach, System Thinking, i.e., seeing the impact to the overall system. An added benefit is that ideas that help provide a strategic advantage to the business don’t get lost.

Business Analysts and Project Managers should schedule 10- to 30-minute periodic discussions to keep on top of what is happening and how they can participate. IT also must spend time on relationship building by networking and engaging with business.

I recommend that all projects use facilitated workshops to develop scope, schedules, requirements, design, etc., as facilitated workshops produce better results while effectively engaging all.


IT is a strategic partner with business. IT and business need to be on equal footing and work together. Both must be fully engaged in identifying and executing projects. The best way for this to happen is for IT and business to view each other as strategic partners instead of customer/service provider.focused logo

“Why?” Gives us Purpose

Arguably the most important question asked is, “Why?” Even children drive parents crazy asking, “Why?” “Why?” challenges our paradigms. Simon Sinek describes how Steven Jobs begins presentations with “why” then moves to “how” and “what” to increase impact and acceptance of an idea. I instruct my students to focus on “why” in their process designs so participants understand the purpose of what they are doing. Why is this question so important?

Whenever people get together they do so for a reason. That reason describes the “purpose”. When people do things without knowing the purpose, the end result is unproductive. We need to know why we are doing something – it’s part of our DNA.

How often have you been asked to do something and didn’t ask why? Did it work? Well, it seldom does when you cannot explain why – the purpose. Employee satisfaction surveys often assume that salary will be the biggest complaint, but the results generally indicate that the biggest complaint is that employees don’t know how their work fits into the big picture, i.e., they don’t know “why” they are doing the work. Business processes exist for a reason; data is gathered for a reason; an organization exists for a reason – they answer the question, “Why?”

When I train Facilitators and Leaders “how to” effectively run meetings and workshops, I insist that they write a purpose statement for every step in the agenda so that if someone asks, “why?” there is a legitimate response – purpose. Whenever he or she doesn’t have a legitimate response, he or she will find it difficult to guide the group because when the why is not known, groups resist or don’t participate.

The same is true in defining processes, data, organizations, building computer systems, buying software, etc. When “why” is not known, decisions, selections, and actions serve no purpose. It must be the first question asked in any effort. “Why are we buying this software?” “Why do you need this data?” “Why does this process exist?” If you don’t have or receive a legitimate response, it’s to your benefit to keep asking until you do.

So, begin whatever you do by asking, “Why?” When we ask “Why?”, we start our efforts off on the right track. We do work that gives us purpose. purpose

Make People the Real Next Big Thing!

You’re drowning in technology; inundated with work that not only requires engaging with others, but also requires meetings that you find a drag and a waste of time.  Technology helps you communicate but it’s at a distance.  You send and respond to emails and text messages, but you don’t know if the other person is smiling or recoiling.  You read about methods, such as Agile, that promote face-to-face interaction, requiring training in “soft” skills – people skills, but you find getting training difficult.

Wouldn’t it be great if everyone in your organization had the skills needed to facilitate interaction?  Meetings would be a pleasure to attend because you actually accomplish good work.  Even short stand-up meetings are productive.  People would work well together because miscommunication would be lessened.

So, let’s do something radical.  Why not have everyone in your organization trained in “soft” skills?  These people skills cover communication skills needed to correct the problems you encounter.  “People” are the single most significant resource of your organization, so why not invest in your future working with people?

When you propose this type of training, cost and time resistance invariably comes up.  Your organization wants justification.  I’ve documented the value of using facilitated sessions in projects as improving productivity in ¼ the time.  If we look at return on individual (ROI), the savings are even greater because not only does productivity and engagement increase, but morale and collaboration improves, innovative ideas are brought to the surface, and risk and responsibility is shared throughout your organization.

Investing in “people” is the single most important investment your organization can make.  Just think:

  • Meetings will become valuable and productive events.
  • Technology then would be a useful tool to support human interaction.
  • Your organization will become more agile because business agility relies on people working well together.

We’ve had many “next big things” in technology, such as Augmented Reality, AI, Internet of Things, Big Data, Blockchain, etc., so, instead, let’s do something radical, make “people” the real next big thing!

The Must-Have Critical Skill-Set

I spoke at two conferences within these past two weeks – (1) IIBA Chicagoland Business Analysis Develop Day (ChiBADD) and (2) Data Modeling Zone (DMZ2017). At multiple sessions at each conference, a skill-set that is critical to the success of Business Analysts and Data Modelers kept coming up – facilitation skills, also referred to as “soft” skills. I also facilitated a “Data Hack-a-thon” at DMZ2017 and the only skill-set listed that was common to all 11 tables was “facilitation”. At ChiBADD, Bob Prentiss (Bob the BA), in his keynote presentation, called Business Analysts “Facilitators of Understanding”. There is a shift. Let’s explore.

After years of promoting group facilitation skills as a must-have skill-set to any role, I can say that people finally are listening, e.g.,

  • Agile recommends facilitation in every aspect of a project.
  • Data Modelers recommend facilitation in engaging the business in building business data models.
  • Business Analysts are realizing that facilitation is required for effective requirements elicitation.

Yet some people don’t get that learning facilitation skills is about developing a skill-set that is essential to their job. Business Analysts, Project Managers, Data Modelers, Six Sigma Green Belts, Strategic Planners, and others who don’t develop this skill-set are not prepared for today or the future. Unfortunately, too many people also believe that they have effective facilitation skills (“soft” skills) because they’ve presented or get along well with people. Not so…

Facilitation skills are a broad mix of skills. Some critical skills include:

  • Active listening – Hearing what others are really saying.
  • Group dynamics – Developing trust, teaming, and authentic collaboration amongst the group.
  • Dealing with difficult people – Turning difficult people into productive contributors.
  • Communication skills – Knowing “how to” present yourself ensuring that what you say is heard and understood.
  • Critical thinking – Pulling together the fragments of the message into a whole to form a better understanding helping people synthesize what has been said.

If you believe that you can learn this skill-set on the job, you are missing out. Learning on the job is a hit or miss effort where mistakes are perpetuated and there is no consistency – trial and error – and it demeans those people who, through proper training, spent a great deal of effort learning these skills. You must seek out proper facilitation skills training to be successful. Some Agile classes, data modeling classes, business analysis classes, etc., lightly touch on facilitation skills, but these classes focus on the specific technical knowledge required. That’s fine, but not sufficient.

You need an understanding of the “why”, practical applicable techniques, and structured thought processes in order for this must-have skill-set to be effective. Learn group facilitation skills, not because you want to become a dedicated Facilitator (which, by the way, is an option if you so desire), but because you can enhance job performance, drive collaboration, and achieve quality results.

Applying Agile Concepts to Strategic Planning

The Agile Manifesto may have been written initially for software, but its application to Strategic Planning works and it changes Strategic Planning from an event into a process. So, why not apply Agile concepts to Strategic Planning? I believe that planning should be a process not an event.  See “Swift” Strategic Planning.

I facilitated an Agile Strategic Plan for a group of organizational leaders who had hired a consultant a few years prior and the plan wasn’t working for them. The consultant took the leaders off-site for a week to work out their plan. The plan ended up being 84 pages long with loads of Baldrige Key Performance Indicators, but the plan ended up as “shelfware” for two years. The leaders wanted me to develop the plan a different way, so I applied Agile values to make the plan useful, as follows:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.
  • Working software (plan in this case) over comprehensive documentation.
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation.
  • Responding to change over following a plan.

First of all, we set a plan target of four pages long – the length of the U.S. Constitution. That’s adhering to the second value – working plan over comprehensive documentation. Reading 4 pages, versus reading 84 pages, makes a big difference. It also means that it makes it easier for the stakeholders to absorb and understand the plan, making it useful.

Looking at the first value, individuals and interactions over processes and tools, we developed the plan in facilitated workshops. Structuring the workshops to include multiple layers of leadership as participants incorporated the third value, customer collaboration over contract negotiation. We kept it simple, i.e., no complex processes. The leaders of the organization knew their industry – if not, strategic planning was not the solution to a lack of industry knowledge.

We further followed the Agile values by scheduling the facilitated workshops to last 4- to 8-hours to occur once a month. That meant that we never attempted to hammer out the entire plan in one workshop and each subsequent workshop began by reviewing the feedback and suggestions. We defined each “sprint” to define a portion of the plan, e.g., a complete Mission statement or a complete Vision, or a complete SWOT. In between, the leaders took what they had developed and shared it with others gathering feedback and suggestions. This brought in stakeholder collaboration and interaction.

Finally, once the Agile Strategic Plan was complete, the organization leaders defined a process for continuous review. They assigned a person to manage the plan and they reviewed the plan at every monthly staff meeting. The review was for progress, changes, and additions – i.e., it was a living plan and never “complete”. That supported the fourth value of responding to change over following a plan.

In addition to following the Agile values, we also were able to follow the Agile principles. Our measure of success was the plan. We provided continuous delivery of a working product and welcomed changes through the iterative workshops (“sprints”). Stakeholders were involved and leaders were motivated in a supportive environment. Face-to-face conversations were the norm in gathering feedback and suggestions. Sustainable development was accomplished through short, iterative workshops with continuous attention to excellence, good design, and simplicity enabling the plan to be useful. In the facilitated workshops, the leaders drove the process and we began each workshop with a reflection on previous work to improve following work.

Developing a Strategic Plan once a year and then waiting until the next planning cycle to update, makes no sense – the world doesn’t wait.

FoCuSeD™ Facilitator Training

FoCuSeD™ Facilitation Training

FoCuSeD Logo The Impact

“When people more effectively learn ‘how to’ use group facilitation skills to engage, empower, and collaborate, the more able society will be at solving any problem of the 21st Century, making the world a better place.” 

What distinguishes our FoCuSeD™ Classes is the consistent message that they provide. They provide consistency in terminology, models, and concepts that are built upon the fundamental principles of facilitation. They share ideas using a consistent basis of understanding – this ensures that everyone holds the same fundamental principles. They are effective, comprehensive, and provide a complete set of skills, knowledge, and practice – this ensures that what is learned, is immediately applicable. They provide specific tools to effectively work with groups in any capacity and be successful – this builds capacity within the organization. You learn “how to” effectively combine Relationship Behavior and Task Behavior to drive out task success along with team performance – this ability is crucial to bringing people together to accomplish a task.

“Our FoCuSeD™ Facilitation Classes enhance whatever you do wherever you go in business and in life.”

“Yesterday, I was a participant in an offsite meeting most of the day and there were 2 people with constant side-bar conversations and it was distracting. We know each other pretty well so I chastised them at the end of the day. But then, (with a smile) announced to the group that I was going to apply my “Gary Rush Facilitation” training and stood by their table, just silently hovering. It got their attention and we all had a good laugh. I expect better behavior from them today! Thought I’d drop you a note and let you know that the tips and techniques learned in your classes (albeit 10+ years ago) are alive and well and executed on a regular basis.”

Tammie (alumnus 2001 – FAST Session Leader Workshop class by Gary Rush, IAF CPF)


FoCuSeD Logo FoCuSeD™ provides detailed training on the concepts of Holistic Facilitation.”

Our FoCuSeD™ Facilitator classes support the International Association of Facilitators (IAF) Core Facilitator Competencies and what students need to learn to achieve them, enabling those people who wish to pursue their IAF Certified™ Professional Facilitator (CPF) designation. CPFs receive professional recognition that provides a competitive edge. Certification: You can receive a professional Facilitator certification from the IAF.

“The FoCuSeD™ Facilitator classes and the FoCuSeD™ Leader class devote 50% of the class time to People Skills and 50% to Process Skills providing balanced, holistic learning.”


FoCuSeD™ Business Analyst

3 days

This class is ideal for all Business Analysts or those pursuing a Business Analyst career.

FoCuSeD™ On…

3 days

This class is ideal for anyone working in project management, Six Sigma, TQM, and other quality initiatives.

The FoCuSeD™ Facilitator Academy

5 days

This class is ideal for all people including Business Analysts, Data Modelers, Project Managers, Consultants, Facilitators, Leaders, and others.

FoCuSeD™ Foundational Group Facilitation Skills – Problem-Solving Process

1 day

This class is ideal for all people.

The FoCuSeD™ Leader –
Lessons for Collaborative Leaders

4 days

This class is ideal for all who want to inspire collective action through Collaborative Leadership.

“In my Facilitator classes, students build facilitation skills and confidence and then apply these in their own unique style showing understanding of the “why” – along with the “how to” and “what” so they perform effectively.”

FoCuSeD™ Introductory Facilitation Skills On-line – Available now!

FoCuSeD™ Facilitating People and Conflict On-line – Available now!

FoCuSeD™ Holistic Facilitation Process Design On-line – Available now!

“These video-based self-paced on-line classes are ideal for anyone who wants to develop group facilitation skills to enhance their job skills.”

FoCuSeD™ Agile Strategic Planning

2 days

This class is ideal for all people..

FoCuSeD™ Business Data Modeling Made Easy

2 days

This class is ideal for all who want to successfully understand, build, and explain Data Models from a business perspective.

Benefits of Facilitation and Facilitator Training

Our Facilitator Training

FoCuSeD™ Holistic Facilitation Process Design online class

“Gary Rush Facilitation – on-line classes will give you the skills to work with a group of people to produce better results.”

The future requires a Collaborative skill-set. I’ve been reading about automation, technology, robotics, AI, big data, etc., and I found these emerging trends interesting and useful, but what does this mean for future jobs? Read more…

We recommend that you take FoCuSeD™ Introductory Facilitation Skills and FoCuSeD™ Facilitating People and Conflict prior to taking this class because the classes build on each other.

Class Abstract

This self paced on-line class continues the Process Skills portion of your journey by teaching you “how to” define the seamless integration of process and group dynamics. I also provide you with a number of Problem-Solving agendas to get you started along with a number of process tools, such as prioritizing, responsibility matrices, decision-making amongst others. It covers:

  • “How to” Reach consensus – The Emotional Group Cycle
  • What is a “holistic” process? Components of a FoCuSeD™ Holistic Workshop Process
  • “How to” design a holistic Agenda – The Raw Process Steps
  • “How to” incorporate appropriate people and process tools into the Agenda design.
  • “How to” effectively prepare for the workshop/meeting.
  • “How to” build an Annotated Agenda. What it does.
  • “How to” use various Process Tools.


This on-line class is designed so that students will be able to:

  • Know “how to” design a workshop/meeting Agenda following the parallel process design concept of FoCuSeD™.
  • Know “how to” move a group to consensus.
  • Know the components of a FoCuSeD™ Holistic Workshop Process.
  • Know “how to” effectively facilitate the workshop/meeting.
  • Know when and why to incorporate the appropriate people or process tools into the Agenda design.
  • Know “how to” build an Annotated Agenda.
  • Know “how to” and when to use various Process Tools.
  • Know the steps to Problem Solving.


Students receive:

  • PDF version of FoCuSeD™ Holistic Process Design – Problem-Solving by Gary Rush, IAF CPF
  • A digital class Certificate of Completion and a badge that you can share.


holistic facilitation process online

FoCuSeD™ People & Conflict online Class

“Gary Rush Facilitation – on-line classes will give you the skills to work with a group of people to produce better results.”

The future requires a Collaborative skill-set. I’ve been reading about automation, technology, robotics, AI, big data, etc., and I found these emerging trends interesting and useful, but what does this mean for future jobs? Read more…

We recommend that you take FoCuSeD™ Introductory Facilitation Skills prior to taking this class because the classes build on each other. 

Class Abstract

This self paced on-line class teaches group Facilitator skills necessary to get a group of people to form as a team, manage conflict, and improve communication, support, and commitment; and continues the People Skills portion of your journey by teaching you “how to” deal with difficult people and help them become productive contributors. It covers:

  • “How to” build a team. The Five Key Characteristics
  • “How to” build trust.
  • “How to” move a group through the stages of group evolution.
  • “How to” recognize Diversity and get to know your participants.
  • “How to” manage conflict.
  • “How to” turn difficult people into productive contributors.


This on-line class is designed so that the students will be able to:

  • Know what makes a team.
  • Know how groups evolve.
  • Know how Diversity relates to facilitating people.
  • Know how the way people think, their paradigms, and differences come into play when facilitating.
  • Know why people become difficult.
  • Know “how to” manage difficult people.
  • Know “how to” manage conflict.
  • Know “how to” confront constructively.
  • Know when and why to use Facilitator Tools to improve group performance.
  • Know “how to” select the “right” people tool when facilitating a group.


Students receive:

  • PDF version of FoCuSeD™ Facilitating People and Conflict by Gary Rush, IAF CPF
  • A digital class Certificate of Completion and badge that you can share.


mgrconsulting people & conflict online

“The Facilitation Masters Conversation Series” – by Millie Rush – Conversation 4

I am pleased to share the fourth conversation of our video series showcasing thought Leaders in facilitation, business analysis, project management, and other areas where “Facilitation” makes an impact. We will continue adding videos  – stay tuned.

“The Facilitation Masters Conversation Series™” Produced by: Millie Rush, MGRconsulting

Facilitation Masters

Ingrid Bens, IAF CPF     Gary Rush, IAF CPF    Michael Wilkinson, IAF CPF

Music – Chopin Etude Op 10 – performed by: Sean Rush, Pianist

“What do you see for the future of Facilitators? Of facilitation?”

This is the third of 4 conversations around Group Facilitation with Ingrid Bens, CPF, Gary Rush, CPF, and Michael Wilkinson, CPF.  The 4 conversations are:

  1. “Why is facilitation important and for whom?  Why do Leaders need it most of all?” – previously posted
  2. “What are the 3 changes you have seen in facilitation since you began?” – previously posted
  3. “What separates great Facilitators from good ones?” – previously posted
  4. “What do you see for the future of Facilitators? Of facilitation?”

What is the goal of this video?

We want to get people to understand what “Group Facilitators” do and why it is a special skill that you learn through proper training. Like any job skill, Facilitation skills can be taught and learned. A Group Facilitator is far more than “one who makes easier.”

“What is Group Facilitation and why is it important?”

We believe that facilitation is a critical skill for the 21st Century. Group Facilitators should be in high demand – effectively facilitated workshops and meetings save organizations time, money, increases quality, and enhances communication creating a collaborative culture. Therefore we believe that every job should include a requirement for facilitation skills.

What we’d like you to take-away from this video is an understanding that facilitation skills is the one skill-set that cannot be outsourced and that effective Facilitators are highly effective Leaders who understand “how to” delegate, develop effective processes, bring people together as a team, and “how to” guide by letting go of their ego. We also want you to understand that Facilitator training needs to be taken seriously – it cannot be, “I learned on the job.”

We welcome your feedback and please share these with everyone in your network.

Why Racism is a Hard Mindset to Change

I watched the Bill Maher show the other evening and it made me think. Mr. Maher was apologizing for using the “N” word in a previous show. He admitted that it was wrong and explained that it was a comic comment and not meant to hurt. He was sincere, but I watched as one of his guests, Ice Cube, didn’t quite buy in to it and it made me think about racism…

Prejudice towards any person because of their race is wrong, no matter how you explain it. For most people, including myself, it is an intellectual belief. However, I didn’t “get it” until it happened to me – I was 51 years old. There is no way that I can compare what happened to me, a one-time occurrence, with what happens to people who have been and still are being discriminated against because of their race.

I was living in Puerto Rico, where English-speaking North Americans are not the privileged class. I had closed my restaurant and hired an auctioneer to sell my equipment. After the auction, the auctioneer took the proceeds and disappeared. So we went to the District Attorney (DA) to file charges. My wife, Millie, and lawyer accompanied me – both are Puerto Rican born and fluent in Spanish. We entered the DA’s office and introduced ourselves. The DA was conversing in Spanish and my wife asked if she spoke English, she did. Then my wife asked if we could conduct the discussion in English because I was not fluent and needed to be involved in the discussion. She declined saying, in Spanish, “We’re in Puerto Rico and here we speak Spanish.” My wife got upset and told her what she thought of her comment and the DA threatened to have her arrested. The rest of the meeting was conducted in Spanish. Millie was translating, but I was not able to participate; I was left out of the discussion. I never before have been marginalized because of some characteristic that made me different from others. I felt powerless (you don’t argue with a DA), angry, and marginalized for the first time in my life – it hurt.

When I got home, I called my friend Paul and told him what happened and how I felt. Paul has felt that way his whole life because of the color of his skin. He once spoke with a client on the phone and then, when they met in person, the client said, “You didn’t sound black on the phone.” What happened to Paul was racist, and I can sympathize with Paul because the comments and words people use bring back the feelings of being marginalized. Labeling people because of one or more characteristics is wrong. It creates a divide between people.

So, back to Bill Maher’s comment. It was racist, perhaps unintentional as he stated, but when people have to deal with intentionally racist comments, it hurts the same. It’s about how it feels. I felt one instance of racism and it was hurtful. I can’t imagine how someone feels having to deal with it his or her entire life. That’s why racism is a hard mindset to change. When you are part of a “majority”, you don’t get to feel how racism feels. When you are part of a “minority”, you get to feel how racism feels 24/7. Understanding it intellectually is a good thing, but not sufficient to “get it”.

I hope that we stop using discriminatory labels because “in total darkness, we are all the same” – Janet Jackson.