Ready-Fire: Review of Plan Plus Online
(NB: the Ready-Fire series of posts is designed to get first impressions and quick thoughts into your hands and out of my head. They are not intended to be full explanations of a product or service.)
#1 – Weekly & Daily Planning w/ PlanPlus Online – Monday, March 9, 2009
I took most of these notes during the webinar, but I also signed up for the free trial, clicked around for literally 15 minutes or so, and I got an immediate sense of where the system fits in, at least in terms of there being nothing particularly new and different.
In general, PPO is a service, not standalone or server-based software. It doesn’t seem to me like anything terribly new or exciting is involved. They have basically taken the Outlook add-in or standalone version of PlanPlus and ported it to the web. This technique might be new to PlanPlus, but it’s years behind incarnations of basecamp and backpack, gmail, and any number of similar options (yes, I know PPO is different, and I’ll discuss where it fits later).
The presenter spent quite a bit of time on the values/goals discovery and integration that has long been the hallmark of PlanPlus (indeed, really of FranklinCovey, indeed really of Stephen Covey). They have a quiz-like interface for extracting values, getting quick answers to questions so that they’re more instinctive answers. This format is different from what I’ve seen from the PlanPlus add-ins for Outlook that I’ve used for a number of years. This segment of the webinar is the first real signal that the service is likely intended for people who are new to the PlanPlus world and perhaps are not familiar with years of productivity literature and practice that has come before this product.
The presenter went through the weekly planning and daily planning exercises according to the PlanPlus model (nothing here is new, which is part of why I was underwhelmed).
There is a nice implementation of the planning model in the software: goals each allow for different steps, and much like the standard tasks,you can drag that step (or task) right onto the calendar as either an appointment or as a daily task (one that’s tagged to a specific day and sits in a mini-tasklist under each day’s column in a weekly calendar view). This function looks much like the desktop version; a nice demonstration of what web software can look like these days.
There is also a way to get task summary & detailed views of the progress (and actual tasks) by people on the team/company list. That makes the business version a decent prospect for managing teams when organizations are all working off this system. Keeping teams coordinated with less overhead administrative reporting effort is a huge challenge in every company. The dilemma here, of course, is that the cultural shift needs to occur that has people updating tasks with their progress. But that can be built in from the start, which is where I imagine most successful PlanPlus Online customers coming from: using the service as the first system in a [new] organization or group where there are no processes to revamp.
The service comes in different versions that add functionality for things like CRM and explicit business contact handling. The sales & business versions include a more robust (and complicated) contact list by breaking it down into “organizations” and “contacts.”
The sales tools look like a standard web CRM tool or like SugarCRM (which is free and open source but a standalone application). It allows you to categorize people as opportunities, or leads and track their progress through a sales funnel.
The business version I trialed also had some integrated email marketing tools, that allows you to create an email (or series of emails) and send them out from the tool itself as either an email blast or a “drip” marketing campaign, on some predetermined schedule (such as day 1, day 3, day 6, day 11).
Those are clearly suitable for certain uses, and the integration probably better suits some people and firms than using a pure CRM add-on such as SugarCRM.
Who’s it for?
Much like choosing to use any online system that involves multiple people using the same tools, this service might make sense as an implementation from scratch of such tools, but with the Outlook overhead that exists, and no real offline access, I don’t see this particular product as a game-changer. It might take on that role for people who are still using paper FranklinCovey planners, but those people probably aren’t using anything electronic now and have little basis for comparison. And, in any case, they’ll have to re-enter most of their information — that’s a Friday review from hell!
As for the methodology, there’s nothing new here vs. what they’ve always talked about in terms of how to work the system. That’s not a criticism; it’s an explanation. The PlanPlus system has a lot of benefits in terms of the vast support for it and the years of experience in the market, for both the company and the users.