Compression Planning® Process

If a Compression Planning® session is a process, the Design is the instruction manual. The Design frames and outlines the session, defining why the session is needed, its purposes, and its non-purposes. It sets the foundation and tone for the session and explains the rules that will allow for a highly engaging and functioning session.



Process and Design

The Compression Planning® Design and Process includes specific activities, driven by pre-determined questions, aimed at capturing the essence of the ideas that will produce the desired solutions.

Process PartsProcess Parts

The Compression Planning® Process includes the following steps:  Topic, Background, Overall Purpose, Purposes of the Session, Non-Purposes of the Session, Rules, Headers, Action, and Communication.

The Topic summarizes the issue the group will address. It is a single sentence, often beginning with an “action” verb and identifies the subject of the session. The Topic is like the title of a book: Descriptive, but lacking detail.

The Background provides the “why” of the session, capturing the situation and need in a compelling narrative. The background consists of facts that rapidly inform participants of the issue, explain history, clarify details, and identify critical components that will influence and guide participants’ ideas.

The Overall Purpose expresses the fundamental reason for addressing the issue or project at hand and includes the desired outcome or resolution. The Overall Purpose remains consistent throughout the Compression Planning® process, even when multiple sessions are required to complete planning.

Purposes of the Session express and define the intentions and deliverables of a specific session. They create the focus that guides participants and prevents off-topic and non-purpose exploration. Purposes of the Session change for each session but always support the Overall Purpose.

Non-Purposes of the Session set boundaries for mindset and topic. They identify what is not included in the current session but may be included in future sessions. Behaviors and mindsets that would inhibit the conversation, as well as topics that do not relate to the Purposes of the Session, can be used as Non-Purposes of the Session to keep participants focus on the purpose at hand.

Rules are used to ensure a rapid, equitable, quality, and professional conversation with participants. Rules are used during the Exploration and Focus phases of Compression Planning® and help explain the focus of each activity. Exploration Rules include: Stay fully present, No Speeches, Suspend Judgement, and Turn kernels into rich ideas. Focus Rules include: Merge ideas to create strength, Focus on the unique factors, Narrow down to a manageable few, and Challenge ideas not people.

Headers are the questions that need to be explored to satisfy the Purposes of the Session. Each question must get to the root need of the purpose and cannot simply elicit symptoms of the issue. Headers generally ask “What” and “How”, but do not ask “Why”. “What” Headers can be used to create lists and inventories. They are useful for identifying redundancies and missing pieces. “How” Headers can be used to generate creative and actionable ideas. Begin responses to “How” Headers with an action word such as create or develop. “Ways” can be used for a less formal version of a “How” Header. “Why” Headers produce subjective responses that generally inhibit idea generation and actionable solutions, and lead to debate. The “Why” is shared in the Background.

And finally, Action and Communication - Once ideas have been explored and focused, they can be put to action and the outcomes shared. Compression Planning® includes processes for creating an Action Plan and a Communication Plan.

The Action Plan is based on the ideas generated during Exploration and Focus and lists the individual actions and outcomes required to complete the whole of the project. Each action item has a defined outcome and due date and is assigned to a responsible individual or group.

The Communication Plan is based on the outcomes of the Action Plan and lists the necessary information to be shared, to various degrees, with all stakeholders. A Communication Plan identifies topics, mediums, audiences, due dates, and a lead individual or group. The Communication Plan is the final step in the Compression Planning®.

Role DescriptionsRole Descriptions

A Compression Planning® session includes several individuals playing a variety of roles. The client generally represents the party with an issue to address. Participants are stakeholders tasked with exploring solutions to the issue. Observers are stakeholders but are not as directly involved as participants.

The Compression Planning® team includes four individuals performing three distinct roles. The team ensures the quality of the process and engagement with participants. The Facilitator guides the participants through the process. Printers capture the essence of participants' ideas. The Pinner manipulates the moving parts. Each role creates a process that allows high-level exploration, problem-solving, and cooperation.


The client represents the party requesting the planning session. The Client states the issue and has final decisions about the Design, session logistics, Participants, and Observers. The client works closely with the Compression Planning® team to create and edit the Design and coordinate the session details.


Participants are generally stakeholders with direct experience, impact, or influence on the issue being addressed in the planning session. Participants can be from within the organization or can include individuals related to the organization such as customers or vendors. Participants should have enough knowledge and experience to offer ideas on the session topic. Participants can change as Purposes of the Session change.


Observers are stakeholders with interest in the Topic. While they do not participate in the conversation, Observers often impact or are impacted by the outcomes of the session. Observers can also add credibility, answering questions and clarifying details for Participants. Observers can be from within the organization or can include individuals relevant to the outcome such as support staff or industry partners.


The Facilitator guides the Compression Planning® process. Not a consultant or content expert, they direct the Printers and Pinners, engage and encourage candor and fresh thinking, manage the groups’ energy, and coach convergence and closure.

Selecting the Facilitator is critical. Facilitators with an agenda or pre-determined outcomes will influence and inhibit idea exploration. They also risk losing the group’s trust, which is essential for high-level, open exploration. The Facilitator must be neutral and can read verbal and non-verbal cues, know when energy is lagging, affect mood through humor, and clarify ideas. The Facilitator must also maintain an open stance, draw out panelists’ thoughts, subtly control dominant members, and mitigate the fear of change.


The Printers capture the essence of a single complete thought and record it on an index card. Ideally, two printers work in concert, alternately listening to Participants share ideas, and framing each one into a clear, actionable statement. Conveying the complete idea is critical. Printers should always feel free to ask for clarification, spelling or explanation to capture the idea accurately.


The Pinner’s primary duty is to pin the Printers’ cards to the storyboards under the correct Headers. The cards must be posted neatly for reference and access. Avoiding poking the team with pins is also a good rule. The Pinner also moves boards by following session flow, distributes dots and other session materials, and makes edits to posted cards.


The Reporter creates a detailed Compression Planning® Session Report that outlines the session Design and includes all the ideas and actions generated in the session. Every item on every board is recorded. The Compression Planning® Session Report also includes a list of Participants and Observers, session materials, and photos. The Compression Planning® Session Report is a transcript of the session and intended to be a working document for project management and future sessions.

The EnvironmentThe Environment

The U

The standard table arrangement for Compression Planning® is the U. The Facilitator presents from the opening so all participants can face the Facilitator. The Printers and Pinner sit at the end of either side of the U. Observers sit behind the U so they can see but not engage. The Client generally sits at one of the corners of the U to optimize visibility for questions and observations. Comfortable seating and accommodations should be provided for all Participants, Observers, Facilitators, Printers, Pinners, and any additional attendees.

Other formats

Tables can be arranged in several other configurations. A fan design or series of small tables work well for large groups. Small groups might only need one or two tables or a single side of a conference table. The goal is for the participants to be able to focus on the boards and the Facilitator, while positioning the Printers and Pinner near the boards without obstructing the Participants. Observers always go behind the Participants. Comfortable seating and accommodations should be provided for all Participants, Observers, Facilitators, Printers, Pinners, and any additional attendees.

The room

Compression Planning® is a highly-interactive problem-solving process with a complex but agile structure. The room hosting the session can enhance or inhibit the effectiveness of the process. Below is a list of conditions and considerations that may impact the quality of a Compression Planning® session.

  • Lighting - The room should be well lit. Natural light is best but beware of glare and reflection for attendees and boards.
  • HVAC – Set the thermostat to a cool but comfortable temperature. People will cause the room temperature to rise, and rooms generally heat faster than they cool. Start cool and warm up if needed.
  • Tables and chairs should be neatly arranged in a facilitator focused format.
  • Tables for registration, materials, and snacks and beverages should be set up in the rear of the room. Where possible, it is best to use a space outside the session room for catering larger than snacks and beverages, even if just for serving.
  • Meals can be used to provide an extended break.
  • Remove broken equipment that could cause a distraction during the session.

Compression Planning® is a low-tech process. No audio or video technologies are required beyond storyboards, easels, index cards, markers, pushpins, and some small round stickers. However, there are a few important amenities that can significantly impact the quality of a session.

Coffee, water, and snacks are essential. Restrooms and trashcans are also critical. It is best to have plenty of refreshments and restrooms close by, if possible. Name tents are also essential. Name tents allow the Facilitator to easily address the Participants and give the Participants a sense of identity within the group. Ensure that names, titles, organizations, logos, and any other information included on the name tents are accurate. A coat rack and umbrella bags are appreciated during cold or inclement weather. Power outlets and WiFi are often inquired on and are generally not a problem if everyone follows the rules.


Hosting a Compression Planning® session in a room designated and designed for convening is always ideal. However, circumstances may require the session to be hosted off-site, at the client’s location or an independent site. Portable storyboards and easels allow for off-site sessions. Off-site sessions operate the same as on-site sessions, but the preparation and setup require some extra planning and coordination. Here are a few things that will make your off-site session a success.

  • Get the name and phone number of a primary contact person at the location.
  • Share the CP team’s contact information with the contact person at the location.
  • Send room setup requirements to the location contact.
  • Visit the site beforehand to review the meeting space, when possible.
  • Confirm the exact location, address, and meeting room name or number.
  • Confirm parking options and processes such as valet and validation.
  • Confirm the reception and security clearance process.
  • Plan to arrive at least one hour before the session to allow time for setup.