Refer to the Materials List - Plan Session for a complete list of materials needed, as well as a sample email to send to clients. Or if you're doing our step-by-step guide, hold tight, we'll get there shortly.
Roles and Responsibilities:
Lead: The main facilitator of the session. At most consulting firms they are a Practice Lead. At agencies, they can be your VP of Strategy, Account Supervisor, etc. They are there to guide the discussion and get the client talking. It is OK if you start to hear the same thing over and over again. And you will. The objective here is to get everyone in the room on the same page. The categories and their questions are designed to get the client thinking about their business from all different angles.
Support: They support the Lead during the session(s) by taking notes, listening for tactical opportunities, asking questions, etc. They need to keep the conversation going if the facilitator is in the middle of typing. This can be a member from your Account Service team (likely an Account Executive or an Account Manager).
- Day of the session, arrive a little early to “assign seats.” It is a good idea to break up the client and agency partners. Mix it up. Get crazy.
- The Lead will start introductions, name and roles at the respective organizations and then get started. If your main client contact has not shared the objectives/process/desired outcomes of this entire process with their team, take ten minutes to get everyone up to speed on why, what the next two days will look like and a brief glimpse into the end product.
- After introductions, it is time to begin. If you have not discussed a horizon date yet with the client, now is the time to do this. You want to guide the client into a horizon date that is feasible for them, not too quick and yet not too far out. Two years is a great starting point. It gives everyone time to gain traction in the Plan and yet is not too far out that things will drastically change. Once the horizon date has been chosen, it is time to get into the categories.
Note: This process is repetitive by design; therefore, you will follow the same process for all categories. Always start with Focus, followed by Dollars and Sense. These are the two categories that yield the most discussion because they are the beginning of the day. You'll find many are eager just to put all their thoughts down on paper at once. These categories can take up to two hours each. Don’t be alarmed by this, as you will gain some ground in other categories.
- Instruct everyone to turn to their first worksheet (templates available to download as a PDF here or in InDesign here) titled “Focus”. The facilitator reads the thought starters out loud (these are already on the worksheet, top of the page) and gives everyone 5-10 minutes to get their notes written down. The Lead and Support should fill out the worksheets as well.
- Once the time is up, the Lead asks for volunteers to go first. As the client begins talking, you start entering their thoughts into the document (on screen). Almost always, there will be statements that belong in other categories. The Lead can start to add them in the document as they go along.
- The Lead will go around the room and give everyone a chance to speak their thoughts, while typing up the statements.
- Once the Lead feels comfortable with the overall statement for that category, they invite everyone to look at the screen and then proceed to read it aloud for everyone. You can bring a few old plans along with in case you get stuck writing.
- You will get some feedback to tweak words, etc. and you can do that in the room. The objective is to get a general consensus they are comfortable with the statement. You will later go back and further tweak things as necessary.
- Remember: These statements must be measurable and objective. Avoid fluffy descriptor words or subjective statements, such as “we are the best at...”
- After you have received verbal confirmation the room is satisfied with the statement/paragraph as is, it is time to move on to the next category.
Read the room. If you sense they need a break, get up and move around. Give everyone a break. Also, you can move around categories if it makes sense to.
You will likely get through more categories the second day than the first. The first day, the client is still trying to get a handle on everything and likely trying to write all their notes down. The second day everyone has the hang of it. At the end of the two-day session, collect the worksheets. You can scan them in and email them to the client if they want their notes returned. You will notice everyone taking notes and it is great info to have in case not everyone says everything they are thinking.
After the Plan session, the Lead has a few days to refine the document. It is a best practice to go through the document again and make sure every statement is measurable. This will set you up for success for the next step: writing measurements.
Tip: You may want to consider writing a summary statement, as well. Where you take the most important things from each category and write an "executive summary" for the plan.
Once you feel the document is in a good spot, send to the client for approval. This should be a relatively quick process as the client has already signed off on the statements during the sessions.
Next, find out what materials you'll need for a Plan session.
Or read more about facilitating a Plan session for a project.