Published on 29 June 2011
Long ago, I used to work in a corporate environment with endless meetings - some with and some without purpose. The worst were the multi-day offsites where brainstorming was supposed to occur and ideas were casually written on flip charts, with little consensus on next steps.
But nowadays, you no longer have to be a slave to the flipchart. One of the newer and most feature-rich solutions to emerge on the market is Powernoodle - an affordable, online collaboration solution to help a group reach a consesus, capture great ideas and organize data. The interesting part about Powernoodle is that it is more than just a tool to facilitate a meeting or conference (however the product does that very well) - but as Kim Alexander, VP of sales and marketing at Powernoodle says, "Powernoodle is collaboration 2.0."
What does it look like?
Powernoodle has developed a process based on years of facililtator experience that includes the following steps: Brainstorm, Categorize, Combine, Vote, Rate, Prioritize and create an Action Plan. The Vote and Rate sections especially have been very popular with companies and organizations as it helps people to capture and prioritize ideas quickly. Alexander says that one company used Powernoodle to rate a series of presentations ala American Idol fashion. Another group used the solution to collaborate on economic and development issues where consensus is key. Companies have used the solution for SWOT analysis, to vote on sensitive topics and more.
Alexander stresses that because you can participate and vote anonymously (or not - you have a choice), people are not afraid to vote or rate ideas as they see fit rather than be pressured by the group politics. It has allowed a level of safety where companies can "…rebuild integrity and transparency in how businesses should be run."
And the best part, you get to choose an Avatar when you use Powernoodle.
Choosing a Cool Avatar:
I'll admit I was pleasantly surprised to see that on my deep-blue Powernoodle dashboard I had the opportunity to choose an Avatar. And not just any avatar - but famous people in history like Shakespeare and Queen Elizabeth 1. The illustrations are great and these superheros from history are seen graphically throughout the Powernoodle interface. I won't spend a long time on this - as Powernoodle is ripe with excellent features - but what I liked about this is that Powernoodle has a sense of humor. Which is what you might expect from a company that has the word "noodle" in its name.
After you choose your Avatar, you can then can begin the process of creating your meetings, inviting colleagues, create agendas, posing thought-provoking questions to encourage brainstorming and more.
The Meeting Room is where you, the administrator, can start and view your meetings, invite your colleagues and take your participants through the entire meeting process. The meeting room is fairly simple to navigate. From the dashboard you will click on Meetings and once you set up your meeting, you will see four tabs entitled Questions, Resources, Agenda and Invite Participants.
While the last three tabs are easy to understand (agenda is where you type in your agenda; resources is where you can attach relevant documents; invite participants is where you know, invite people) the Questions part might be a tad confusing. Let me explain. The idea is to pose questions that can form the basis of your meeting or agenda and entice your participants to get in the right frame of mind to"noodle" over the meeting issues.
For example, a question might be, "How can we top ourselves in Q4?" Once you pose a question you can then take your participants through the Powernoodle meeting process which includes, as mentioned above, brainstorming, categorizing, combining, vote, rating and action plan. For each question (and you can enter in as many question as you like), you can go through this entire process.
You and your meeting participants can use the brainstorm process by clicking on Add Idea. All ideas will be graphically displayed on "yellow sticky" tabs, and participants who may be shy, can rest easy as all ideas are by default are anonymous. However, as the meeting organizer you can switch off that default if you want to know who is submitting the ideas. The brainstorm process is designed to spark an open discussion and all ideas, anonymous or not, can later be used in the categorize,voting and rating processes.
Powernoodle stresses that the Categorize section is a nice to have, but not always a need to have. For example, if your meeting or issue is focused on one theme, you may not have a purpose for this. However, if you are having a two-day conference and several ideas come up on many different themes the Categorize step will help you organize all the information. You will simply click on Add Category, name your category and populate it with the related brainstorming ideas.
The Combine step helps you to take similar ideas and create one BIG super idea. Upon entering the Combine tab, the Add Idea button turns into a large Combine button. According to Powernoodle this is because "…the new idea is bigger than the sum of its parts."
You will merge the similar "sticky notes" together and slide each one into a box besides the Combine button. If you make a mistake you can always drag a sticky note out of the box. As you click and drag ideas, the yellow sticky notes will become transparent and the idea numbers will begin to accumulate in the box. When you are finished, click the Combine button and the combined ideas will be rephrased and displayed in a new idea box with a new number.
Like Categorizing, voting is an option you can choose to use or not. For example if you only have two ideas - voting on them might be a waste of time. That said, if you have several ideas and lots of disparate opinions on what and how to implement them, you may decide that voting is one way to reach a consesus. Participants can vote for an idea by moving the mouse over the yellow sticky note. You can then click on View Results to see the tally.
Like voting, rating may not be necessary if you only have a few ideas and there is consensus on next steps. But rating will help your figure out which ideas and actions are the most important to your colleagues. To rate, there is a little rate scale that participants can maneuver. As stated above, this is a section that many companies and organizations use to find consensus on ideas.
Prioritize helps the meeting team to reach consensus on the next steps as you can stipulate which of the ideas should be implemented first or second, third, etc. Powernoodle offers a "virtual" limited budget that meeting participants can then assign to each of the ideas. This will help people to realistically decide which ideas are more feasible than others to implement.
Action Plan is the final step and where the rubber meets the road, so to speak. The Action Plan step presents the ideas your team generated you will have the opportunity to assign tasks to each of the ideas. Any participant or organizer can do this by clicking the Add Task button. Whoever adds in the task is responsible for filling out the details: task description, person who is assigned to the task, its priority, its status, due date and its completion percentage. That said, most of these fields are free form so you can develop your own criteria for filling out the tasks.
Is it for you?
Powernoodle is a smart program that is really very flexible in the sense that you can use it for many different purposes from SWOT analysis to meeting facilitation. I did like how you can skip over steps based on the size and scope of the meeting. Is it for everyone? Probably not every business type - but any company or organization large or small that tends needs to learn to communicate better with partners, colleagues, bosses and vendors will get a lot of Powernoodle. I can see that Powernoodle would be very applicable to businesses where there are a lot of satellite offices or bureaus -as it might help colleagues who don't converse with each other on a day to day basis to brainstorm and align goals and strategies.
That said, Powernoodle is not a solution you can sign up and use immediately. To truly understand it and really take advantage of the tools - it's best to study it. I encourage anyone looking at Powernoodle for the first time to read the Help section where Powernoodle offers some great tips and thought leadership behind each of the meeting processes and steps.
Ultimately I liked Powernoodle very much and do believe it will help meeting attendees to stay on track, collaborate, organize and prioritize their work.