7 Steps To Stronger Designs

The 7 Steps I Followed To Design The 2-Day Retreat For Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing

Retired Navy Captain Ed Nicholson’s stay at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in 2005 presented him with a close look at the returning wounded from the conflict in Iraq (and later Afghanistan).

His desire to offer fly fishing to recovering wounded service members wanting to join him on outings soon (with the help of a great many others) blossomed into Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing Inc. (PHWFF).

CNN profiled him as a “Community Hero.” Click here to watch a short video of a remarkable leader you won’t forget.

Today PHWFF has 147 programs in 46 states.

Last year they enabled more than 4,000 recovering warriors and disabled veterans to participate in fly fishing program activities.

In 2012 more than 122,000 hours were donated to this project in 140 programs at Military and Veterans hospitals nationwide.

Two weekends ago Michael and Jennifer Volpe from Chicago, Kati Lightholder and I had the extreme privilege of conducting a retreat for the board of trustees of PHWFF.

Out of more than 500 retreats I’ve led in my life, it will always be in the critical few I’ll cherish the most.

This assignment was at HomeWaters Retreats in Spruce Creek, Pennsylvania where we’ll do three of our Institutes this year.

The HomeWaters team pulled off an “extreme makeover” to build a quaint and practical training-meeting space in a large barn. I look forward to many years of training people to do Compression Planning in that barn.

This blog details what I do to design a Retreat. It shows the steps I went through when developing the PHWFF design for Ed Nicholson.

Step #1: Set up Consultation/Design Call

My teammate Launa Post set up a recorded conference call where I interviewed founder Ed Nicholson, Board Chair Douglas Dear, and former CEO Warren Phillips.

We use www.freeconference.com for conference calls because:

  • The cost is free unless you want the ability to record your calls, which we do. It is $9 per month for unlimited recording.
  • Freeconference.com is dependable. In all my years of using them as a project planning software, they’ve been flawless.
  • They are easy to use for people calling in as well as those setting up calls.
  • You can go back and reference any call you’ve ever scheduled.
  • The audio quality is excellent. Our transcriptionists haven’t had any issues hearing us.

Launa let Ed Nicholson and the other participants know in advance that the design call would be recorded.

I’ve never had a client refuse or even question the need to be recorded. I tell them it helps back up my notes for accuracy, which it sure does.

Even when I do the interview face to face, I still record to back up my written notes.

Step #2: Prepare My Client For a Compression® Planning Design Call

Ed Nicholson received a copy of the Compression Planning® Design Questions with the caveat we wouldn’t cover all of them, but it’s a guide for our interview.

Note:  You can download your own copy of the same questions I use by clicking here.

Step #3: Make The Call

My “procedure” to get ready for a design call:

  • Clear my desk except for one page of Design Questions.
  • Highlight key questions in yellow.
  • Set my client files by my phone.
  • Close open windows and tabs on my computer.
  • Mute the volume on my computer.
  • A blank Word document is the only thing on my monitor.
  • Put my cell phone on silent.
  • Stretch and move around for 10 minutes
  • Take a bio-break.
  • Get a glass of lemonade or hot chocolate.
  • Dial the phone number provided by freeconference.com. I call in 4  minutes before the scheduled time to ensure I am the first one on the phone.
  • During the call I scratch off questions after asking them.

The calls are normally set for 90 minutes; however, they seldom take that much time.

Step #4: Get My Call Transcribed

I record all of my design calls.

After the call, I download the MP3 file and immediately rename it with a client code and the date of the call.

Then I send the file to our  transcriptionist.

After Step#7 I detail how I found the person doing my transcription. She gets a 90-minute transcript back to me in one day, two at the most.

The design call for PHWFF was 65 minutes with Ed, Douglas, Warren and me.

Our transcriptionist charges $1 per audio minute so it cost $65.

It took one day to get the transcription completed.

Step #5: Clean Up Transcript Document

Next I made a copy of the original transcript file then pruned it. I cut everything except Topic Cards, Overall Purpose(s), Purposes of the Retreat, Non-Purposes of the Retreat, Background, and Headers.

Step #6: Create The Compression Planning® Design

First I got laser focused on Purposes – Overall Purposes, Purposes of the Retreat and Non-Purposes of the Retreat. Getting realistic, understandable, verifiable and measurable purposes is critical for project plans.

My challenge is to get crystal clear purpose statements. “What do they want to increase?“ “What are they trying to decrease?” By how much?  By when?

Getting specific and understandable language that doesn’t sound like verbal wallpaper created by a committee of bureaucrats is frequently a contest.

After I had a strong draft design Pat McNellis studied it and gave me a “second opinion” as if another doc’s giving input on a surgical procedure.

He challenges my wording and offers suggestions on how to simplify parts of my designs. His job is to challenge me on how my design is crafted.

I always want him to scrutinize how things are worded and suggest improvements for better understanding.

Often he will ask “What are you truly trying to get at with this Header?” which leads to simpler designs. We’re always after making it easier for participants to jump into the content.

I like to let a design “rest” for a day or two when possible.  In Ed’s case with PHWFF we had two weeks to let our design “ferment”.

It’s not unusual for me to make 5-8 versions of a design. Not totally different versions, but edits to a master document. Normally I try to take things out to streamline the design.

In PHWFF’s design we eliminated one whole section from the original. It worked.

Some times I go back and listen to parts of the MP3. The transcript helps me find the parts I want to hear.

I didn’t do this with PHWFF however I’m glad I had the recording and transcript if I needed them.

Step #7: Lay Out My Design Visually

When I was comfortable with my design, Pat McNellis laid it out in storyboard format in PowerPoint.

It helped me show all the Purposes and headers to Ed Nicholson as we walked through the total flow of his design in Compression Planning® format. Ed sent the final design to his trustees as the outline/agenda for the retreat.

It also showed Ed all stages of the Master Planning Model™ so he could see the flow of his entire retreat.

Below you will find a screenshot of how the slides look. This example is not meant to be studied for the details rather it gives you an idea of “look and feel” and how to storyboard.


How I Found My Current Transcriptionist

Recently we needed a new person to do our transcription. Here’s how we found Teresa in 50 hours.

I wrote the following ad. It took me 20 minutes to write and place it on www.elance.com.

We need a one hour recorded discussion of 2 men and one woman to be transcribed.

Later this week or early next week we will have a two hour conversation of the same three people to be transcribed.

Later in February there will be another hour or two with the same three people to be transcribed.

I anticipate the same amount of transcription will be required in March 2013.

In the future there will be more transcription work, however I cannot determine how much and when at this time. We want a long-term relationship with a single person or firm.

The ad was placed on Saturday, February 9th, 2013 at 10:50 AM EST. By 7:00 a.m. on Monday, February 11th, 37 people had applied.

By noon on Monday the 11th I selected three people.   Then I tested the first person, Teresa, and have used her 8 times since.

Her work is 5 star on a 5 star system.

Hope you find this helpful. If so please let me know by putting your comments at the bottom of this blog.

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