Leadership Lesson: Scatter-Gather planning for business

Published in the Phoenix Business Journal on November 10, 2017

Options. We want strategic and actionable options in our planning. Developing those options has been left largely to the Ancient Gods of Brainstorming. There is another more contemporary way to build business planning options. It is your braintrust and 3M Post-it sticky notes. Huh?

Who is your braintrust? Your trusted team, direct and indirect reports, groups of experts in given areas internal people, external people, vendors, boards, and others. And some 3M Post-It “Sticky Notes.” Add a meeting room with a big whiteboard, and a neutral facilitator. And someone to build a summary spreadsheet of the meeting.

Like farming, we are about to scatter seeds of business creativity, and then gather up the harvest. Are you kidding? No.

Scatter

Have a half-day meeting. Invite no more than 10 key people with functional strengths from the organization. E.g., engineering, marketing, finance, others. Shut off all cell phones and allow one computer for the note-keeper. Choose a good meeting facilitator. Follow these steps to scatter the emerging ideas onto the whiteboard:

1. Someone outlines a single strategic or actionable issue. Remember that strategy is about “what to do” to do and actions (tactics) are about “how to do it.” Example: should we launch this proposed new product and, if so, how best to do it?

2. One or more people familiar with the issue provide a set of facts about the strategic issue – not guesses, innuendo, nor biased opinions. But allow the audience to ask clarifying questions about the issue. No rendering of opinions. Yet.

3. Give everyone a different colored pad of “Sticky Notes.” Now, call for 30-minutes of silence while everyone writes out their ideas, one idea per sticky paper. Keep writing – ideas, not opinions.

4. To scatter, the facilitator asks each attendee to go to the whiteboard and paste their sticky notes on it. And, to briefly explain their thinking behind each of their notes. Again, no opinions from either the presenter or the audience. 

5. When everyone is finished pasting their notes on the whiteboard and explaining them (briefly), give each member of the audience a few moments to ask the others for any necessary clarifications.

Now, all the many ideas are scattered on the whiteboard, explained and clarified. The attendees are itching to offer their opinions? Get ready.

Gather

 Here are the steps to Gather, organize, and prioritize strategic and actionable ideas:

6. The facilitator begins to rearrange the sticky notes on the board by various categories, inviting the audience to participate in the process. Oh, yes, and now they can make comment, offer opinions, and help the process.

7.  Categories can be in a number of ways: by functions, such as marketing, engineering, finance, production, other; by future dates; by available resources.

8. When the facilitator (with help from the audience) clusters the notes by categories, it is critical to establish priorities. 

When the process is completed, the result is sent to everyone present and appropriate others in a spreadsheet. Next step – implementation! Otherwise, why bother!

The bottom lines

Scatter ideas. Gather direction. For both strategies and actions. Conduct productive meetings by scattering attendees’ ideas onto a whiteboard via “sticky notes.” Have attendees discuss, gather related stickies into groups, and prioritize them. Record the results and share them. Don’t forget to act on the best ideas. It matters.

Click here to read this article on the Phoenix Business Journal site.