In a previous work life I created Rutley Ventures Ltd. with my son. I was passionate about working with not-for-profits and he was passionate about social innovation. It was a time that I had no idea what social innovation was. As it turned out, it was a perfect mix of business and social innovation. While the company is quiet these days, we did develop a number of organizational decision and planning tools that I am dusting off and sharing because they work.
In retrospect this tool needs a new name. In need of an acronym, I called it IPAT – for Idea, Problem, Activity or Task. But I have come to realize that it works best when the decision that is being made (or not being made) has significant opportunity or consequences for the organization. So … it will remain nameless until one emerges (I am open to suggestions). In the meantime, consider using it whenever you are wondering whether ‘to do or not to do’ something in your organization or business.
When to use
The decision/planning tool was developed to help determine IF becoming involved with a new something or continuing with an existing something (idea-project-activity-task-service) is in the best interest of the group or organization.
It is also useful when a significant decision needs to be made about getting involved with something (say an event). Often organizations are asked to get involved with events, campaigns or activities just because it is expected of them. This can lead to getting involved beyond ones capacity. It can lead you into an area of activity that is not your primary focus (mission creep). And yet – sometimes you simply cannot say no because of the negative impact it will have on your organization. What to do, especially when time and resources are limited.
Discuss until you have an answer for each of 10 questions. We have developed a worksheet and process to help with that. The process is straightforward and makes it possible for someone within the group or organization to lead the discussion. The key criterion is that they have some facilitation skill. Lead the group through the questions in a fair and unbiased manner through dialogue. Have everyone keep the vision, mission, goals, resources and priorities of the group/organization in mind throughout.
Keys to Success
Use it when a significant (rather than simple) decision needs to be made.
Don’t underestimate the question – yet don’t over think them.
Ensure it is led by unbiased facilitation.
The Questions (categories)
1. Idea Project Activity Task
Name it. It may be an idea, opportunity, project, collaboration, activity, event, campaign, or even to take on more responsibility. This may not be that simple to do at first so write something down that describes what you are thinking about and feel free to come back to the name at a later time. Consider Purple Shirting it (http://peaceregioninnovation.com/2014/02/03/purple-shirt/ ). It may be best to do this last.
Identify the group(s) or community sector that will benefit from the IPAT you are working on. Be as specific as you can. Also – it is important to categorize whether the identified group will benefit from the IPAT either DIRECTLY or INDIRECTLY. Is it REQUIRED or OPTIONAL? Be sure and don’t underestimate the importance of having this ‘right’.
3. What is the Benefit? the Risk? of doing it. Fit?
This can be a make or break question – if you cannot describe or derive a clear sense of a benefit – then why do it? What is the risk to the organization if you get involved OR if you do not get involved? What level of involvement minimizes risk? Does it even fit with your organizational vision and mandate? Do you have the resources to commit to this?
4. Role of Organization / Department or Group
What is the role of your organization in the IPAT? Determine whether or not your role is the a) DOER, b. HELPER (Supporter or Partner) – and is that with Money; Coaching; Lending or Resources (building; piece of equipment, staff) or c. CHEER LEADER – a supporter in principle or is it an advocator role. Take the time to be sure about your role at the beginning and then things will become less complicated throughout. Also – take the time to put some detail around your actions as DOER, HELPER and CHEERLEADER – again this will lead to clarity of purpose. What is the organizational ENERGY (a topic for another day) for this IPAT.
5. Description of (Tangible) Outcome(s)
Describe the outcome – my prompt is that it is a tangible outcome. Don’t accept fuzziness.
6. Criteria for Success
Simply list them and be clear about what is meant by each.
7. Measurement and Evaluation
You need to be able to measure and evaluate your criteria for success. Having said that, make sure they are right for the job.
8. Lead(er) – Champion
This is the name of the person who will lead this IPAT. Please note that because a person has their name here that does not mean that they are the one to do all the work (while that may be true for some things). The leader-champion is the one who will ensure that the IPAT happens as the organization has described it (in the sections above). This is your ‘go to guy’ on whatever it is you are considering. Without a Champion – how will you be successful? The greater the significance of the decision being considered, the more essential the Champion role is.
9. Helpers (and their Roles)
Name the people that will help the Lead(er)-Champion. Describe their roles – thumbnail job descriptions essentially. Again be clear now so that there is success, less confusion and minimal hurt feelings.
10. Timelines & Work plan
Simply state the dates and outcomes associated with each identifiable step along the way.
In closing, I think the value of a process is not so much about how well-crafted the worksheets are – but how well it leads the group into consideration of the key questions. That is, actually helps them to take the time to think through the implications of their actions before acting on impulse. I remain convinced that this process I describe (which needs a new name) works as well as it does because it can be done in a relatively short period of time (within the one hour meeting). That doesn’t exempt the group for taking longer when needed, but when time is short, resources are scarce and the group has a habit of acting first thinking later, then the process will help.