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Virtual Meetings, Whiteboards, and AI Can Revolutionize Planning

This blog is the first of two on how virtual meetings, whiteboards, and AI, when fully integrated into a virtual engagement layer, can revolutionize planning for and orchestration of institutional transformation. This first blog addresses the basics of how to do this and the outcomes we observed in several recent implementations of the approach. The second blog describes the dynamics of strategic planning and orchestration at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences to provide a view of how the approach works in an actual planning process.

We should note that we resorted to virtual planning and implementation out of Covid-driven necessity. We were forced to curtail travel and facilitate planning online. To our surprise, the approach worked much better than we anticipated for the reasons we discuss below.

Change the Dynamics of Planning and Implementation

We have found that the use of virtual tools in a virtual engagement layer can fundamentally change the dynamics of the planning and orchestration process if managed with that intent. This layer is portrayed in the graphic below. It includes an easy-to-use online meeting software package—we use Zoom; an online whiteboard collaboration tool—we use Miro; and various analytic and generative AI tools—including ChatGPT-4. Other products are available as well.

  • Zoom – Serves as a handy, user-friendly meeting utility that enables online facilitated meetings, recording and transcription of the meetings, and other services.

  • Miro – An online whiteboard application that is used to post and utilize planning tools, methodologies, and background resources. It is particularly effective in facilitating and engaging teams in the planning process as they use it to create strategies and expeditionary action plans and implement them over time. Miro can also be used to keep an accessible and permanent record of these efforts.

  • Analytics and Artificial Intelligence – These tools can be used to analyze and manipulate the materials lodged on the whiteboard rapidly and creatively.

Incorporating Reinvented Planning Tools

In addition to significantly increasing the capacity of transformation teams to work together, the Virtual Engagement Layer is also fully integrated with a kit of tools for transformation, purposely refined and repurposed for turbulent times. The reinvented tools and their relationship to the Virtual Engagement Layer are portrayed in the figure on the next page. The tools and their capabilities include:

  • A digital instrument for assessing institutional capacity for transformation along nine dimensions - thinking strategically, planning, analyzing, engaging, communicating, executing, innovating, resourcing, and leading. The results are used to complete a gap analysis between current capacity and performance levels needed to transform and shape remedies and priorities.

  • Planning from the future backward is a four-step process transformation teams use to free themselves from short-term thinking. This enables leaders to think more creatively and freely about the long-term challenges and opportunities facing their institution and launch expeditionary strategies to address them.

  • A design thinking-based process can be used to generate expeditionary strategies and to set continuously adapting courses for each strategy. Design sprints are used to design and execute new experiences, programs, and revenue streams.

  • Expedition maps are employed to detail how these strategies will be executed, refined, and assessed. These maps identify external forces that accelerate and decelerate progress, describe actions to be taken, needed capacities and resources, behavioral and cultural changes, and desired outcomes.

  • These expedition maps are adapted and managed to enable leadership to orchestrate transformative change.

  • A variety of tools are used to reinvent revenue streams and business models, a key element of transformative change.

The Outcomes of Deploying Virtual Planning and Orchestration Exceeded Expectations

When we have used these integrated layers and tools to virtualize planning and orchestration for transformation at institutions, they achieved the following, greatly exceeding our original expectations:

  • Strategic planning processes were completed in half the time and at half the cost—and with better, more inclusive experiences with better outcomes.

  • Miro provided an accessible record for all phases of the strategic planning and orchestration processes. It also furnished the capacity to continuously update strategies and expedition maps as change occurred. This latter capacity is critical for the successful orchestration of transformation execution.

  • Properly utilized, the Virtual Engagement Layer can transform and elevate the social and psychological aspects of planning.

    • It enables the active engagement of large communities of participants, democratizing strategy and change.

    • This active engagement leads to the utilization of a much larger swath of talent from all levels of the institution, building greater buy-in and empowering younger staff.

    • Most meetings were two-hour, facilitated work sessions are done remotely, and infringed much less on participants’ time.

    • The meeting approach allowed for deeper engagement of external partners and stakeholders.

  • Al was used to speed up the planning, writing, and editing processes, deliver visualization to improve understanding and plans and improve the quality of reports, plans, and other resources.

Our next blog will explore the dynamics, impacts, and outcomes of virtualization in greater detail at a particular institution. The blog will also provide information on a new Webinar Series by the Society from College and University Planning on “Getting Started on Transformation.’


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