"Replacing" the Face-to-Face Planning Session

A lot of what I do is planning, problem-solving, and getting information out of people’s heads to craft it into a masterpiece of a plan, proposal, or solution.

I’m now facing the need to do current-state, future-state, and gap workshops virtually!

I will never be able to replace the in-person session – the energy, body language, and idea flow that happens when I lock people in a conference room – hence “replacing” in quotation marks. However, I still need to complete my projects.

My planning sessions typically include storyboards, easels, and note cards or giant and regular sticky notes. Very tactile and visual. And very in-person.

So what am I going to do?

I know I’m going to use a video conferencing app to be able to video chat and share my screen. This way, I do get to see people’s faces, and they get to see what I’m creating as I’m creating it – as they would as stickies or cards go up.

Where I fall short is how to create the online visual of the sticky notes/cards. I’ve done a bit of research on tools that are out there. There are a lot of options, but I’ve boiled it down, and I think I’ve made a decision, but first – here’s what I found. (None of these are paid reviews by the way, just what I found in my afternoon search!)

Good to note here that all of the options have a sharing feature so I can share the workspace with a team.

 Visio

“Microsoft Visio is a diagramming and vector graphics application and is part of the Microsoft Office family” (thanks Wikipedia!). 

My Experience: I’ve tried using Visio for online sessions before, it’s clunky and slow. It does save time in the documentation phase, but watching someone create a Visio is worse than watching paint dry. It’s hard to keep the team engaged and ideas flowing when you are dealing with the intricacies of Visio itself.

LucidChart

“Lucidchart is a web-based proprietary platform used to allow users to collaborate on drawing, revising, and sharing charts and diagrams. “

 My Experience: Do you Visio? That’s what this looks and feels like to me. There’s lots of ability to chart and diagram. That said, Lucidchart does have better visualization templates to choose from that may look better in the end, then again, so does Visio. What am I missing here that I can’t get in Visio? I guess it is a cheaper option!

Cardsmith

“Sticky notes on a virtual whiteboard. Brainstorming online, collaborate in real-time, project management – all in one. Perfect for agile & lean teams.”

My Experience: This is a basic sticky note online app. It was quirky in chrome today, not sure if that’s normal. It did work in Edge, but I’m not a fan of the browser. That said, they do have Business Analysts and Project Planners and Managers in mind and have some pretty nifty templates.

The interface is simple. The cards (stickies) are easy to use and move around. You can create a default card so that each card you create has the same look/information. There are also built-in card managers to let you have the cards in freeform or in a tile view (all the cards are lined up perfectly for all of you OCD-er’s), and there’s also a grid function that you can use to sort the cards. I like this last one if I’m going to attempt Compression Planning remotely here soon.

With cardsmith, the cards can have images, links, to-do lists, and links as well as text.

 Pinup & Note.ly

I group these two as they are the ultra-simplified versions of sticky notes.

My Experience: You create sticky notes and can move them around, change color, etc. They look like they could be the same developers! Too basic for what I need, but could be a straightforward option for a bulletin-board replacement.

 Stormboard

“Digital sticky notes, whiteboards, and workspace for business processes”

My Experience: You know how when you go car shopping, and you find the car that has almost all the features you need, you just wish it was in a different color? That’s kind of how I feel with this Stormboard. It is very close to having all that I would want.

Integrations with other apps/software make this one the high-end model. You can add documents, images, and videos. Stickies can be combined to create Index cards. And, there’s a whiteboard function if you need to draw something out.

I didn’t try it, but they do say that it works on phones, tablets, computers, and Surface Hubs.

The kicker for me? You can assign tasks from the stickies, and you can send reports instantly. These features are definitely on my “want” list!

I tested this one with a team member, and if you share the stormboard, others can add to the board live while others are also working on it. This is a great feature for Pair & Shares or Group Breakouts.

Decision?

I’m looking at cardsmith and Stormboard, leaning more towards Stormboard, but I’m going to take some time in the next few days to keep using the free trials before I make a decision on which to use live.

I’ll let you know how it turns out!

If you’ve done a virtual planning session I’d love to hear what you used an how it turned out.

Wishing you all the best as we navigate new waters,

Just Lucky?

Yes, the F is for Fitzsimmons, and the Luck o’ the Irish is in my family’s blood.

What I often contemplate in the proposal writing world is the proportion of a win that is skill and the portion that is luck.

Skill

As a professional planner and writer, it is often hard to contemplate how others will interprete our words: will they be able to see the vision? Will they feel our passion? Will our voice be heard? There is most certainly a skill in portraying, in the written word, what it is that you most passionate about in a way that makes the reader want to stand up and be your cheerleader and take up your cause. But is that the only thing in play?

The reader is the other side of the equation. What kind of day are they having? What are their demographics? Do they have any good or bad experiences related to what you would like to pursue? Do they already have their mind made up on our issue? Is their opinion for or against our position?

Taking into consideration all of these questions, I am lead to believe that a successful proposal is a blend of both innate skill and just a hint of luck.

Why?

The ability to follow directions lies in our hands.

We are all quite capable of following the rules, matching response to the request, and being clear and concise without a lot of jargon.

The RFP provides a guide and outline for what the response should contain…follow that outline! Use headers to demonstrate you are following the outline and are answering each question. Leave a trail for the reviewer to follow to check off all of the requirements. Use the same order in your response as they provided in the RFP. Then spend a moment in their shoes, would you be able to quickly run through the RFP requirements and identify each section and question? If you think the answer is yes, have someone else read through the requirements and your response. Another set of eyes can help to be sure that what you intended is coming through.

Here is the big secret: Don’t make the reviewer think too much!

There are ways to determine what you will face on the review side. Attend pre-conference workshops, calls, webinars. Determine what the hot buttons are for the proposal. There is a lot of context that can be gained from the RFP background and purpose section. Glean what you can. Channel your intuitive side (if you don’t have one, borrow someone who does!). What is said between the lines that you can use to write to the unsaid? Having this insight can make the difference between staying out of trouble and stepping into a big pile of…political or other agenda.

Do your homework to know if there is an incumbent and the status of that relationship. If it is a new project, determine what the catalyst was for the project. Being able to speak to the original need can be a tremendous asset.

Another track is to review previously successful proposals for trends in what works and common themes. With the Freedom of Information Act, you can request government-related proposal responses. Private RFPs become a bit more complicated. Knowing what worked before can set you on the right path.

Write with clarity and without jargon. If you think a million dollar word will impress, think again. Make it easy to read and the reviewer will focus more on the concept and approach rather than being distracted by the words. Don’t get so wrapped up in trying to impress that you alienate the reader. Do you really need to use “contusion” when ” bruise” will do?

With a well-organized and well-written proposal for a well-thought out program, well, you’ve done your part.

Now luck kicks in.

Luck

No matter how good the proposal, the final decision is out of our control. It’s the hardest part of proposal writing. After several weeks of ultimate control in the process and writing, we are suddenly at the mercy of others. Not a comfortable place for many of us.

You want a compassionate reviewer that is sensitive to your cause or method. One that is in a good mood with an open mind. Someone that will understand what you are trying to achieve. Someone who can set aside their personal agenda and review with an unbiased lens.

Did I mention that most reviewers are typically volunteers completing their assessments of our work in their spare time? How many hours of spare time would you be willing to give to review a dozen or more proposals like yours?

Make it worth their time and investment in your proposal that is taking away from their work, family, or kids!

…and with any luck you will get that call for a BAFO, interview, or award notification.

Wishing you a lot of luck in your proposal endeavors and reviewer assignment.

With Grantitute,

stacy sig jpg
Stacy Fitzsimmons is the owner of SNF Writing Solutions. She is also both born and married into Irish blood. Happy St. Patrick’s day!

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