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.)

Intro

I recently participated in this introductory webinar about PlanPlus Online, a new FranklinCovey offering.

#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).

It’s online only (no offline access — which is why we chose Groove a while ago). They apparently have a mobile portal for accessing your data and will sync with Outlook and some other systems.

Planning

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.

Versions

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.

24 Comments

  1. Pierre Khawand on April 19, 2009 at 1:47 pm

    That is a very insightful review Rick. The observations about the challenges of adoption, and the pros and cons, is invaluable. Thanks for your thorough review!

  2. David on June 9, 2009 at 5:21 pm

    I am in process of trial period with Plan Plus On Line. The support for this product is very poor. Up front at set up there good support and some dance and dazzle though as you get into the program if you encounter difficulty or have questions your are on your own. Response from tech support is days not hours. I am a Covey disciple and long awaited a CRM that would be compatible. I was very disappointed …

  3. Kim on June 29, 2009 at 1:18 pm

    I too am a Franklin deciple but have been through the trial period and now have cancelled – absolutely no help once you’re a paying customer. I have long had the PlanPlus for Outlook but the last two verison have many gliches which I have been frustrated with. What are others out there using? I’m looking for something that has my planner, appointment schedule, contacts online and offline. I’d love to be able to attach documents directly from Word, Outlook, OneNote etc. Any suggestions? Thanks

    • admin on June 29, 2009 at 1:33 pm

      Thanks for your comment. I’ve been simply using Outlook for all the PIM functions and using paper tools for the short-term view of what I really, really want to do TODAY (or tomorrow, since my reach always exceeds my grasp!).

      The web-based versions of these tools really work for people who are either primarily working in a connected/static workplace or who have more consistent workstreams. In other words, if you don’t end up disconnected often, so that syncing and offline access are important, or if you can chunk your work into bigger pieces, so that you don’t have a need to regularly check for the “next best task,” then one of these systems will work great.

      Your question about attaching documents recognizes that this category of tools blends with workflow and project management tools. I’ve been slowly trying Basecamp for some nonprofit projects, but I haven’t had a chance to see how well it performs with a variety of filetypes under actual conditions.

      My thinking, and I haven’t finished the post on this yet, is that Google wave might be a platform that allows us to access this wider variety of related tools (calendars, address books, project/task/subtask lists, etc.) in context and simultaneously capture/share the flow of work in a controlled location, e.g., on a server I control. With plugins, the Wave becomes a webpage with deeper functions; of course, written in HTML 5, that sort of makes sense, doesn’t it?

  4. mike on August 4, 2009 at 4:17 pm

    PlanPlus Online has not only help our business but , allow me more time with my family. It manages my leads from the web all the way through the sales process and beyond. Having the FranklinCovey methodology is a huge plus. It take a bit to learn all of the features but, I would highly recommend it to anyone who owns a growing business.

    Mike

    • admin on August 4, 2009 at 4:20 pm

      Thanks for your thoughts, Mike. There’s always a gap between long-term exposure and use and the visceral first impression. I’m glad to hear it works for you, which is always the most important thing.

      One question: did you start with PlanPlus Online, or did you transition from another system?

      Rick

  5. Bud Thomas on September 2, 2009 at 6:30 pm

    I’ve been using planplus software for about 4 years now and can tell you that I greatly appreciate the integration with outlook. Outlook is fine, but would be better if had the A1-C3 task option, which I’m bit on.

    I’ve tried the online crm at least 5 times over the past couple years, hoping for positive and worthwhile change. However, I keep cancelling (usually within 15 minutes).

    Google will probably own the market with this in the next couple years, since their platform is getting robust (and simple to use) and syncs seemlessly with the G1 cell.

    Overall ratings:
    PlanPlus Outlook: 7 (needs to workout bugs) – lost a lot of info in past and still hangs with me.

    PlanPlusXP: 8 great and easy program, but can only sync to pda, great drag/drop capabilities. Simple.

    PlanPlusOnline: 5. They still have a long way to go. If they don’t make things happen NOW and continue slowly advancing their product, they have NO chance to stave off Googles 4 course meal, which begins with a huge helping of PPO.

    Bud

    • admin on September 3, 2009 at 12:13 am

      Bud, thanks for your comment. I agree that the online version just doesn’t compare, IF you’ve used the outlook/standalone versions. But I do think that someone starting a small business that wants to implement the Covey-derived methods could benefit from the built-in tools, vs. using something like basecamp (will add affiliate link later) that isn’t, and can’t be, modified to use the Covey tweaks.

  6. Tom on May 9, 2010 at 2:25 pm

    Hmmmm….I like many have been in many FC seminars….I am a home builder and the need for a good CRM program is a constant search….one that allows me to oversee my sales staff of one and myself, with easy to follow system in place….I currently have the desk top version of Plan Plus…and like many of the features (like automatically forwarding task) that were always a pain on paper…I am going to try the onliune version and get my construciton coordinator and my sales person to use it also…hope to report good news…nice to read about others who are light years ahead from where I am…something to look forward to…wish me luck! Feel free to send any advice…Thanks!

    Tom@avalon-home.com

    • admin on May 9, 2010 at 2:53 pm

      Tom, as I said, I think this system will work quite well in your scenario — small group of people, not necessarily a lot of data or tasks to migrate, and the ability to put everyone on the system together.

      The problem with small company CRM is that the most affordable alternatives such as open source software, are incredibly cumbersome for non-tech users to configure without additional consulting support. High-quality packages are often too powerful and have the same problem (Salesforce.com). The middle-strength solutions vary widely, so if the Franklin Covey system works for you, then this might very be the tool you’re looking for.

      Please let me know how it turns out.

  7. Teresa Nevels on December 6, 2010 at 10:33 am

    I have been a long time user of the Franklin Covey system and was very excited at the thought of having something online. All the bells and whistles are not very user friendly. I have switched to the basic version since I didn’t end of using all the functions and now I can’t even send email. So have to get that fixed, probably will have to upgrade to the middle version.

    The online support is not very knowledgeable. I’m pretty disappointed, but I have all my contact information in there and do not have time to go through another transition.

    Hope this helps.
    Teresa

    • rickcolosimo on December 6, 2010 at 11:18 am

      Teresa,

      Thanks for your comment.

      I agree that transitions can be harder than necessary, with too many vendors supporting “one-way” import without export and seemingly ignoring large swaths of the market. I think that your impression of the last online system matched mine — it seemed like something that was built to mimic the paper or standalone versions and somehow seemed a little off, “like wearing someone else’s sweater.” I hope you find a solution that works for you. With so many web apps and point solutions, I’m hopeful that we’re going to end up in a world where it’s more common for each of us to use a mixture of tools that suit our unique needs, personalities, style, and systems but where each of those tools knows how to work with others. In other words, all email clients should be more readily partnered with all sorts of calendar tools which should be more readily integrated with all levels of task planning and to-do list management. I can go on with that workflow modeling idea, but that’s probably a topic for another post.

      Thanks for reading!

      Rick Colosimo

  8. Renee Eddy on July 12, 2012 at 12:14 pm

    Buyer beware! I signed up for the $14.95 base package online and was billed for $59.95. Three phone calls, completing one complaint ticket has resulted in no action in 7 days, EXCEPT a second debit to my credit card of $59.95.

    Sad to say, Franklin Covey’s WALK does not line up with its TALK.

    Have spent 2 hours already trying to at least CANCEL. But, website gives me an error message.

    • admin on July 12, 2012 at 12:30 pm

      Renee, that’s too bad. SaaS startups typically only have electronic, and very automated, customer service. I would have expected Franklin Covey to have something more responsive. Good luck to you.

  9. Renee Eddy on July 12, 2012 at 12:27 pm

    Buyer beware! I signed up for the $14.95 base package online and was billed for $59.95. Three phone calls, completing one complaint ticket has resulted in no action in 7 days, EXCEPT a second debit to my credit card of $59.95.

    I think customer support is rather weak

  10. Renee Eddy on July 12, 2012 at 12:28 pm

    Customer support for their online product is weak. No contact phone numbers are available. I had to spend a lot of time reconciling a billing dispute. Very disappointing.

  11. MaryLinda on August 26, 2013 at 3:55 pm

    Where are we now? I love the franklin planner method. The plan plus professional looks good, but will it play out to be what it looks like it could be? I need something that can come with me in iphone, ipod and on my mac and a pc, with great ease of use. I want to drag and drop tasks and appointments, organize by date or project, or type of task, get reminders, deal with contacts, clients…For me with a small start up business, the cost per month is tough. Is there anything out there now that meets this criteria??
    Thank you,
    MaryLinda

    • admin on August 26, 2013 at 4:27 pm

      Hi MaryLinda,

      Thanks for your comment.

      You’re looking for the holy grail, especially when you talk about working on a Mac + PC. The only things that get you close to that working well are hosted MS Exchange, meaning you pay for a company to run MS Exchange Server for you and you use outlook or something else to connect to it (even on the Mac), or a web service like Google apps. But the web services really don’t support the type of drag & drop operations you’re familiar with in Outlook or other application-based software.

      I haven’t investigated the cost of the new Office365 plans; perhaps that would cover your needs on several fronts and allow you to use an application version of Outlook that suits you better.

      On the Mac side, one difference I’ve noted is that the various applications tend to live more separately than was common in Outlook, and certainly are far less connected than MS’s vision for Office applications. That said, it’s possible to connect many of these through services and scripting if you have either common needs, the necessary skills, or a budget to get someone to help. It has turned out to be less of a problem than I feared at the beginning.

      I moved to a Mac laptop a few years ago, and “losing” Outlook was a big change. But I’m happier with using the built-in mail program, Omnifocus for laptop, desktop, iPhone, and iPad task management (can’t say enough good things!), and iCal to run the calendar with Calvetica to simplify things on my iPhone/iPad. There are benefits to keeping things separate, in that each program can often do its one job better than Outlook.

      It’s funny that you mention contacts. It seems to me that contacts and related programs are still massively underwhelming. Even Cobook, which I use now, is pretty opaque when it comes to connecting different accounts and keeping things in order. I continue to mourn planetall.com, which Amazon bought and closed down (and certainly no one is mourning Plaxo spam).

      Looking ahead, the cost of development is coming down, which creates opportunities for developers to create different and better software to suit the needs of a wider range of users and use cases. Maybe one will listen to you!

      Rick

  12. Marcus W. on September 5, 2013 at 3:13 pm

    On the Mac, iPad, or iPhone, consider giving the ‘Opus Domini’ application a try. It is essentially a digital, stand-alone Franklin Planner without Outlook. It is getting good reviews and the software team that developed it continue to make improvements. For only $7.99, it is well worth the investment! 🙂

    • admin on September 5, 2013 at 3:27 pm

      It does look exactly like a Franklin planner. As of right now, the Mac version (preview page) is only $6.99, there’s a free iOS version (preview page), and a pro iOS version for $6.99 (preview page).

      Thanks for pointing those out.

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