I’m a big believer in intuition, especially when you’re a seasoned professional. But I’m also a HUGE believer in data-driven decision making. How do I marry these two seemingly disparate concepts? I back up my intuitive leaps with a look at the data. I explain a portion of my methodology in a whitepaper written for the healthcare industry, but relevant to many others, in partnership with Blackbaud.
For any parents out there or for anyone who’s ever spent time with a three-year-old, you are familiar with the question “why”? It seems like the stream of why’s can be endless. This inquisitive nature is lost for many in adulthood. This lost art of asking why can be very beneficial when you’re looking at issues within your organization. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable, just like those toddler questions! But, I offer you this: it can be a great way to discover the root cause of problems, needs, or performance gaps you and your organization face. While the repeated asking can be somewhat monotonous, there are great insights and answers to be found in the process. I invite you to learn more about the 5-why’s and get to the root of your problem or questions…just stop short of shouting “because I said so!”
What’s the Problem?
Whether you are for-profit, non-profit, or government you are in business to solve a problem. Being able to state the problem effectively is a giant step toward offering your customers a solution to the problem you aim to solve.
“We need money for a counselor. That’s why we’re looking for grants”
“We need to cut costs to be profitable”
You are trying to solve a problem: your organization needs funding. But is that the real problem you are trying to solve?
Defining the true problem will set you up for success.
A word of caution: the problem is not the solution. The problem isn’t the need for the solution; there’s a problem that’s driving you to look at potential solutions.
Here’s a couple of examples of solutions in the problem statement:
“The problem is that we need a new school in our community.”
Is the problem that you need a new school, or is it that the current schools are overcrowded or falling apart?
“The problem is that there isn’t any research that supports my theory.”
Is the problem that there isn’t any research that supports the theory, is it that the research has found the opposite, or that the research isn’t the problem at all – it’s a problem in the community that you are exploring?
To revisit the example above:
“We need a counselor to address the growing substance use problems in our school before students get into real trouble.”
Is the problem/need for a school counselor, or that there is a growing substance use problem and students are facing life-changing consequences because of the substance use?
“We have a financial shortfall and need to cut expenses to below our revenue”
Is the financial shortfall because your expenses are too high? Or did something else happen that shifted the balance of income/expense?
If you have a solution, intervention, or research question in your problem statement, you need to dig a little deeper.
How do you get to the real problem? The 5-Why’s exercise, while newly energized as a go-to business tool, has been around for decades as a method for digging in to find the source of an issue.
This simple yet effective method will take a concern and drive the group to analyze the reasons for problems and thinking patterns.
The exercise goes like this:
State the problem at hand
Ask “Why” (or “so that,” or “because…”, whatever phrasing will get the dialogue going)
Capture the thought(s) that come next
Ask “Why” again and capture the thoughts produced until you’ve asked at least 5 times.
The result is a root-cause of the problem.
When you do this in a group, it’s best to have everyone do the asking and answering on their own and then come back together to discuss what everyone’s chain of statements. You will likely come up with several root causes that (1) are all right answers, and (2) can be addressed in a comprehensive programmatic solution that will address the problem from multiple vantage points.
Here’s an example of the 5-Why’s digging deeper to get to the root cause of a problem.
We need money for a counselor.
There’s a growing substance use problem in our school, and students are getting into real trouble.
Students are showing up to events high or drunk, and we are obligated to report them.
Their parents think it’s ok for them to drink or use marijuana at home.
They don’t think it’s a big deal.
Alcohol and marijuana are legal in some places for adults, so they think it’s ok as long as they don’t drive.
Do you need a counselor at the school? Probably. Will that solve the problem? Probably not. The issue extends to the adults in the community, not just the students. You’ll likely want to have a community education/outreach initiative as well as the counselor.
Using the 5-Why’s approach can help you clarify what you are really trying to solve. This method is especially useful when you feel you are at an impasse, the solution doesn’t feel right, the problem seems too big, or what you are doing does not seem to resonate with your customers/participants.
Template for Reference
Here’s an example of a template to work through your 5-Why’s. After your first draft in the table, revise the statement to be a complete thought/sentence.
<<This is what is happening now>>
<<this is why that’s a problem>>
Why… or So that… or Because…
<<Rewrite in a statement>>
What’s the problem you need to run through the 5-Why’s? Drop a comment to let me know how you might use this approach.
The fiscal year (FY) 2021 Farm to School Grant Program RFA is now available through grants.gov. If you are thinking of applying, but don’t have the capacity right now, our Farm to School winning team is on standby to help you with your application. From full-write to just help along the way, we can tailor our services to meet your need and budget. Apps are due January 8th (with holiday breaks, that’s only 5 school weeks away!!) Email today.
I think the Grateful Dead described this journey best – “What a long strange trip it’s been!” I started the company as a result of a layoff amid an economic downturn and start of a recovery. It’s a strange sense of deja vu that my company turns 10 amid an economic downturn while we try to navigate the beginnings of a recovery. I submitted the paperwork to form SNF Writing Solutions, LLC on September 10th, 2010 and it was officially processed by the Secretary of State’s office on the 30th. This was after about 4 months of starting the company, but not realizing that’s what I was doing – I was just trying to keep a newborn in diapers while figuring out what was next.
As a look back on the last 10 years, its amazing and gratifying to know that the most bitter of lemons have turned out to be so delightfully refreshing. A stint of working a full-time job while building the business, some long-term contracts, some very short projects, and a lot of lessons learned. I’m definitely not the same woman I was then. I’m proud of that woman 10 years ago that took the leap of faith, I’m also curious as to what the 20th anniversary will look like.
I can’t thank enough the community of colleagues, mentors, and contractors that have navigated these years with me. I’ve built this business with the help and support of so many – family, friends, colleagues, and mentors. I owe a debt of gratitude to all of you.
In honor of our decade, SNF Writing Solutions has two big announcements.
The first: SNF Writing Solutions announces the new division: Dragonfly Business Consulting. This division is a spin-off of the strategic and evaluative services offered in the past as side projects, but now with a home and strategic vision to grow the service lines that offer planning, data analysis, and evaluation services, among others to help businesses and organizations of all sizes and configurations to Evolve & Sustain. Not forgetting our roots, SNF Writing Solutions will still offer all kinds of writing support including technical writing and grant proposals, but this will give a division of services and an opportunity to grow in many directions. The website is still under development, but look for that announcement to come shortly!
The second: As I’ve reflected on our work over the last 10 years, I’ve realized that we have done a lot of work across the country and have checked off a lot of states, but we have not done a lot of work in our own backyard. This year, I am going to fix that oversight. Over 10 months, we are gifting 10 projects to 10 organizations that serve Johnson County, Perry Township (Marion County), and Southport, Indiana. To select the projects we work on, we will be taking short applications from organizations (any kind…non-profit, for-profit, government, etc.) on a rolling basis with the first projects starting in December and continuing through September of 2021. To learn more, visit our 10 for 10 page.
I am so very excited about this milestone and happy that we can share in this milestone with our community – local and national.
Cheers to 10 years! Can’t wait to see how the next 10 take shape.
Are you a member of an organization or consortium whose goal is reducing morbidity and mortality resulting from substance use disorder (SUD) and opioid use disorder (OUD) in high risk rural communities? The Rural Communities Opioid Response Program (RCORP) might be the answer to your needs! RCORP is funding a total of $10,000,000 to 50 organizations that apply and qualify for this program. We have had tremendous success in applying for RCORP Grants since the beginning of the program and would love to help your organization receive funding.
RCORP-Planning’s purpose is to strengthen and expand the capacity of rural communities to engage high-risk populations and provide SUD/OUD prevention, treatment, and recovery services. They are looking for communities that want to engage in planning activities that meet these core goals. Some examples of planning activities that your organization could choose to focus on might be:
Distributing naloxone to individuals/organizations who may need it
Providing community-based naloxone trainings; Recruiting and training providers and support staff in medication assisted treatment
Creating a strategy to reach and engage individuals at high risk of SUD/OUD
Working with law enforcement to develop a diversion program
Training providers, administrative staff, and other relevant stakeholders to optimize reimbursement for treatment encounters through proper coding and billing.
Hurry! Applications are due July 13, 2020. Let’s get started!
Its Sunday, yet I’m thinking about work, and I’m writing about work, and I’m sitting in my office at my work computer. When you work at home, it’s hard to get a sense of balance and to learn how to effectively go from one to another.
This is the hardest part of running a virtual company from home – I could quite literally work every waking minute.
This is also the thing I struggle with the most – just ask my husband. Wait, don’t ask him! You’ll get an even uglier picture than what I’m going to paint and run screaming back to the office. Please don’t. Keep your social distance.
So from one that struggles with this concept, let’s talk about how to try to make it work.
If I struggle with work-life balance, I struggle with routine even more. That’s partly why I do what I do; it’s a new adventure every day. All of the experts will tell you that in order to be successful you have to have routine. I’ve read the books and can give you the titles if you want – heck I can send you my copy.
I. Can’t. Do. Routine.
Why? Because life is different every day. My work creates this environment. Working from home allows the flexibility to operate in this space.
Confession, I’m also ADHD (diagnosed before there was an H and before “girls could get ADD” – HA! proved ’em wrong even when I was 7). This is my blessing and curse-but that’s probably a whole other article, or series!
Even with living a different day daily, I do get “ready” in the morning – to what degree is determined by what’s on my calendar. (Before the virus) I get my kids ready and out the door for school, and I do eat something for breakfast (usually, sometimes I forget until it would be mostly considered brunch). I also do something to move my body at some point in the day – a walk, a Beachbody workout, or a round of Zumba or Just Dance on the Wii. Most days I also eat lunch (sometimes not until 3:30 when I realize that the kids are getting out of school soon!) That’s all I commit to for “routine.”
Even without routine…I. Get. Things. Done.
These days, it’s pretty much the same except that I’m not getting a kid off to school, she’s earning her wifi or doing e-learning days.
My advise, and it’s not scientifically based, is to do what works for you and your family. There are things that must get done every day. If it matters to you what order and when they occur, great! If it doesn’t matter to you, that’s great too.
Personal & Work Space
The best part of work from home? The Commute! The worst part of work-from-home? Access to the office!
The primary way I try to separate work and personal life is by separating the spaces. I have a dedicated home office. If I’m in there, I’m working or doing something related to work.
Generally, My kids aren’t allowed in the office. Sometimes they want to be with me when I need to work in the evening or on a weekend. In my old house we built a space in what would have been a closet (not a walk-in) where my daughter could read, draw on a whiteboard, and, many times, sleep while I work. We don’t have that luxury in this house, but I still manage to keep the kids close when they need to be…prime example is occuring while I write this (see the picture – worth more than 1000 words! And yes, I’m still in my pajama pants, its Sunday morning at 8:00!).
With schools closed, I’m attempting to instill the separation for my daughter too. She now has a work space in my office to do school work. Two exceptions: reading she can do on the couch (who doesn’t want to snuggle up with a book and a blanket on the couch?) and gym has to be done anywhere other than my office! I’m still waiting for the day my husband calls and says “I’m bringing my computer home – make room!” He’s still going into work every day (ooooh, do I have my own thoughts on that! But, those are at-home thoughts not to be aired online!).
Will this work for everyone? Probably not, but if you can at minimum set up space that is for work for a set period in a day then becomes family space – marked by a change in arrangement or some other visual/physical change – I believe that you can achieve the same type of physical shift from Office to Home.
Ideas for physical change:
If working from the dining room table: move all work off of the table and put it out of site (cover it with a blanket if you have to!
If working from a folding/temporary table: fold it away. If that’s too much, move it off to the side of the room or into a different space.
If working from your bedroom: put it all away. Put it in a drawer, under the bed, in a different room, or in the closet. Working from the bedroom you’re going to really have to be purposeful in how you separate work-life-sleep balance.
Ok, this is the real kicker for work-from-home. In an office setting, you have the commute to transition from work mode to home mode. When you work from home, you don’t have the commute. One of the perks, right? This is where it can be a downer. Be intentional in creating transition time from work to family.
Back in the real world, in a parallel universe, I had a kid coming home around 4:00. This was my cue that my day would be wrapping up soon and that I needed to start wrapping up work. If I have late-afternoon calls, I know that I have to wrap up the day after my call so I prepare ahead of the call. I don’t stop working at 4:00, she comes in gets her snack and starts homework while I wrap up my day.
The end-of-day wrap up is only one element though, there’s also the mental preparation needed to switch from one persona (work) to another (parent/spouse). I have an alarm that goes off on Fridays at 5:15 so that I purposefully get up, leave the office, and do a transition activity (music. walk, audible, call a friend) so that I am ready to be in family mode when the rest of my family gets home and they are ready for the weekend.
Since I don’t have a kid coming home after school and we don’t have evening activities now, I’m going to be setting that alarm to every day so that we (both me and my daughter – the rest of the family as they join us) can all have this transition time.
What happens if I don’t have the transition time? Well….this is where I’m glad my husband and kids don’t get a say in what I write! But, in all honesty, because that’s what we all need right now, I’m not in a great head space. I’m still thinking about the problems I’m trying to solve with clients, I’m not “present” with my kids, and I’m pretty grouchy. I need time to gather my patience and muster energy reserves to make it through the evening. Sometimes, its just not pretty. If you can make it pretty every evening after working from home all day – drop me a line, we need to go into business selling the secret sauce (if it’s even legal!)
Until then, here’s to supporting your local wineries, breweries, distilleries, and restaurants that deliver. They’re going to get us through this. And my favorite…my local winery hangout @mallowrun is doing a drive-thru today to get cases at wholesale cost. If you need me after noon today, I’ll be in their line (they’ve had 40 minute waits each day this weekend!).
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.
“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 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!
“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.
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.
“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.
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,
As the world faces the pandemic of an era, all of us are facing new ways of living. Whether it’s just that you can’t go to your favorite restaurant or bar on St. Patrick’s Day or that you are now a work-from-home professional or you might have the trifecta: working-from-home-while-home-schooling-and-you-don’t-even-get-to-go-to-the-bar!
I’m now in that last category! My saving grace? I’ve done this before (well, before I got to go to the bar!). I’ve had my school-ager home for breaks before while I worked, just not this unplanned and without anything outside the house to go do.
I thought I’d share a few tricks I’ve used while working and momming. I’m not saying that these will all work for you, but we can all use a little camaraderie. So know that you’re not alone, even if you think these tricks are useless.
Keep in mind that as I write this, daycare is still open. If my 4-year-old comes home, there may be a different post – and I can’t promise that my language will be as civil!
1.You need an office.
Even if you can’t work in your usual office, you still need an office to work in – that has a door.
We all saw the video of the kid coming into the room during the BBC interview so doors aren’t foolproof, but it does limit background noise. Set up a desk of some kind. It could be a folding table, TV trays (anyone have those anymore? We do!), or the dining room table if you have a separate dining room. If you can’t set up your desk in a place with a door, at least have a plan for where you will go for calls so that you can shut out the noise of a full house when you need to (my daughter recommends the closet!). A dog barking or kid noise will happen, but don’t be the one that we hear your entire life going on in the background while we are having a meeting!
2. You can’t work like you’re in an office.
For better or worse, you’re not in an office. You won’t have the interruptions from your co-workers wanting to stop by and chat when you really need to concentrate. However, you also won’t have the ability to stop by a co-workers desk and ask that really quick question you need to ask.
Solution: For us GenX-ers, go back to the college days and find a chat app. AOL isn’t en vogue anymore, but Microsoft has Teams and Google has Hangouts. There are others, but likely you use one of these broad platforms to get your work done. Get your team or typical go-to coworkers on the app. This will give you the ability to ask a quick question just like you always did, but without the awkward small talk.
You might not have coworkers interrupting you, but if you’re in the quagmire bucket with me and have school-agers under 13, you will have your co-livers interrupting you. There’s food, drink, and dire device needs that need your immediate attention!
Solution: This one is multi-part.
Fill a water bottle or other lidded liquid conveyance container with a drink of choice that should last them an hour.
Set out provisions like grapes, crackers, banana (if they can peel them alone), or other non-perishable-in-an-hour kind of food.
Get 2 pieces of paper. On one, make a red X and on the other a green check mark (or other yes/no symbols of your choosing – we are doing emoji’s this time). Put them on the office door, back of your chair, or even wear it. These are to let your family know if you cannot be interrupted or if you can handle a quick question. You’ll have to explain this – probably many times!
Set a timer for an hour or 90 minutes (depends on how independent your kids are). When the timer goes off, check on the kids. This is meant to be a a quick check-in. We’ll get to the bigger break – lunch!
3. Your schedule won’t be exactly like at the office, especially with kids.
When you work from home, the nice part is that you don’t have to commute and, depending on your meeting schedule, you may not even have to get dressed-except to maybe change into sweats. This is a huge timesaver! The downside in the coronavirus situation is that you also have the kids home with you. This is a huge detour in the schedule. So how do we deal with this?
Solution: First and foremost is that you have to set expectations for yourself and with your employer that this is not business-as-usual, so it cannot be business-as-usual (even for those of us that work from home everyday!). Be clear in your expectations about when you must be available (meetings, client calls or emails, etc.) and when you can be flexible (working on your assignments) as long as deadlines are met. Let me reiterate that you are still on the hook for deadlines (managers and execs, I’ve got your back too!).
Second, establish as a family when you will be working and when you will be available for family. This may mean splitting your day into chunks.
You might do an early morning first pass before the kids are up: set your priorities for the day, check your calendar, and respond to any urgent emails that won’t sit until after you get the family moving.
Once everyone is as settled as they are going to be for the day, you can get back at it (taking your check-in breaks) until lunch. I’m making mine earn her play WiFi this time, so that’s keeping her busy!
When you get everyone fed at lunchtime, this is a good time to answer e-learning questions and make sure everyone is on track for getting school work done. I think this is also a good time for a brain break for everyone. Go for a walk (if you’re allowed by local rules), play a quick card game, or get out the Wii/Switch and “Just Dance.” It will likely be longer than an hour for your “lunch break” doing it this way – but you don’t have your evening commute, so you can make it up.
Lastly, if you haven’t finished what needs to be finished for the day, once the kids are playing after dinner or when they are tucked in for the night, you can finish up.
4. Breathe and take breaks
When you’re in an office, I think it’s easier to get up, move around, and take breaks. You have to get up to go to the printer or the conference room and the bathroom is (generally) more than 20 steps away. When you work from home you have to be intentional about getting up, moving, and taking those deep breaths that help to keep us calm. I’m not good at this one – it’s a struggle every day. Remember that timer to check on the kids? It’s also a good timer to remember to breathe (probably both before and after checking on the kids by week 2!) and to stretch.
We’ll get through this
Put on your sweats, get the laptop booted up, and we’ll get through this!
It’s not ideal, but we’re all making it work as best we can. While they are calling it “social isolation,” let’s not socially isolate while we have to physically isolate. Keep in touch with your friends and check in on family. There are lots of services offering free use while we are facing the coronavirus. If you or loved ones don’t normally have virtual connectivity, get hooked up so that we can maintain our social connections. Afterall, life is about more than just work.
USDA Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grant Open!
Approximately $72 million dollars available!
We all thought it was crazy-talk that we could be isolated for weeks or months on end and that our only communication with the outside world would be through technology. Well, here we go! Can you still reach your rural patient base or rural students?
DLT now accepting applications to provide healthcare and education via tele-connectivity in rural communities!
Are you ready to apply? The SNF Writing Solutions team has a history of awarded funds for this grant and would love to help you apply. Act fast, applications are due April 10th.
The Drug Free Communities (DFC) funding opportunity announcement dropped! SNF Writing Solutions is looking to extend our 4-year win streak working with coalitions on their applications. Leave a comment or email us if interested in learning how the SNF Writing Solutions team can help your coalition apply. Please share if you know a group doing good work in their community to reduce youth substance use.