Narrowing Down To A Manageable Few

What do you do when you have too many pre-identified items competing against each other?

My friend Don Moyer (ThoughtForm Design, Pittsburgh) invented a way to do Compression Planning® which saves him immense time.

Don’s method is for times when you have a finite number of ideas, solutions, options already defined that need to be narrowed down.

Your challenge isn’t to create ANYTHING new. You want to make decisions everyone can agree on.

The first time I used Don’s method was with 16 college presidents who had 95 items to sort through.

Their challenge: to agree on 6 items for their legislative agenda for the next biennium of the Pennsylvania legislature.

Here are the steps.

Step #1: Take a select number of ideas/options. Say it’s 40.

Step #2: Put each option on a card.

The cards should be mutually exclusive of each other. If one card is a subset of another then combine them.

Step #3: Make duplicate decks of every idea/option on 4×6 inch cards.

One idea/option per card. Each team should have their own complete set of cards.

CCBlogMcStep #4: Divide your group into teams.

I divided the college presidents into four teams of four.

Step #5: Give instructions to your teams.

Tell them to go to separate locations where they can’t listen to each other. 50 feet apart normally works.

Have two members review each card and make a decision to place it in one of THREE piles.

    1. Absolutely Critical To Have
    2. Nice To Have
    3. Who Cares

Two people discuss and sort. The others sit behind them and LISTEN. The only time they speak is if they DISAGREE with the decision the two are making on a specific card.

Note 1: If the group sorts once and there are too many in their “Absolutely Critical” pile, then do it again with just those cards. Sort them into Absolutely Critical and Nice to have.

Within 1 or 2 rounds they should get down to your desired number…six or so.

Note 2: Stress the Non-Purposes of your Session:

    • To generate more ideas or options
    • To discuss implementation

Note 3:  Wander between your groups and keep them making DECISIONS.

They are not to discuss implementation or anything else other than the purpose of your SORT (which is normally to cut down to a manageable few).

Note 4:  Some items are so obvious in their lack of substance they require little time discussing.

Step #5: Have each group come together and present their “Absolutely Critical” cards.  

There should be overlaps. Normally your group will agree on 2/3rds of the items. Or more.

If there are a couple of items presented which only one group mentions, talk about them. See if you can make a decision or add to the number of cards.

Conclusion: It’s that simple. It works.

In the case of the 16 college presidents they came to consensus and developed an action plan of who would be in charge of each legislative initiative. It took 3 1/2 hours to make final decisions on about 95 items.

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