Making a Detailed Plan

Are you a Plotter or a Pantser?

Even if you are not a Game of Thrones fan, you could not escape the media blitz and fan commentary from the final season which wrapped up in 2019.   One of the loudest opinions that was over the sense of general dissastisfaction in the final season that just couldn’t quite be placed.  Like that thought that is stuck on the edge of your brain but you just can’t put your finger on it.

I was one of those fans.  Going through the motions of getting excited for each week’s new episode, wondering what plot twist or character development may occur.  But that was just it, this final season was all about wrapping up the loose ends so the characters themselves seemed to be going through the motions, and even that felt, well, rushed and incomplete.

When Daniel Silvermint analyzed the season on Twitter and then in the Wired article “Why the Writing in Game of Thrones‘ Season 8 Feels Off“, he wrote:

The problem is that the writing has changed, and it’s changed in a way that breaks important rules the show had previously set for itself. 

He continues to outline that there are two different types of show writers:

 Plotters create a detailed outline before they commit a word to the page. Pantsers prefer to discover the story as they write it—flying by the seat of their pants, so to speak.

(emphasis mine)

Photo by Roberto Nickson on Unsplash

Plotter vs Pantser

This got me thinking about my own recent work. I’ve been facing a challenge when it comes to re-defining customer success and part of the difficulty has been fundamentally different approaches to tackling the project itself.

Did you see that twist coming?

The same characteristics can be seen in writing a multi-year TV show as really any large content project. 

Without a doubt, I am a plotter.  I like to start out thinking about the big picture, then map out the different elements that will go into it so I can have a detailed outline before I start drafting any of the content. For example, when creating an onboarding framework, I’d want to identify key areas of product adoption, customer milestones, and outline which analytics to track as a predictor of customer health. Then drill into the methods of service and support fit into building a successful customer.

And I want to look at the fastest way to value for the customer, allowing them to start feeling the value while they are still in the honeymoon period.

This includes looking at ways to improve automation of the customer onboarding and implementation experience for volume customers (using email drip campaigns and webinars for training) and then expanding that for named accounts with a higher-touch approach.

Photo by David Edkins on Unsplash

My preference would be to map out a streamlined onboarding process and have the tools in place to guide customers through their implementation, training, and configuration of the platform. Having at least a robust outline of the end game would help drive our own build and implementation process to keep each actual project step of developing the content and processes consistent with that comprehensive end-goal. Rather than the cluttered look of an old city built over time with many additions, we’d have a modern city with a grid pattern with greenspaces designed in.

This approach can really be at odds with team members that may fall into more of the Pantser category. In that scenario, the end product won’t be known until, well, the end. This reduces the up-front time to map out and plan out the more complete picture, and instead focuses on the “next” thing, and “next” thing until there are no more next things. For example, putting together a draft of an implementation plan, then outlining a script for a series of webinars, then drafting the support document for a specific feature.

While each of these tasks will be done, either way, the difference is having a common end in mind to enforce the consistent message and design within the materials to give it a cohesive feel. There are strengths and weaknesses in each approach. When you are a young company and just need to “get something out there” then pantser approach will allow you to fill in gaps more quickly, and go back and rework as time allows. For a more established company that already has bandaid after bandaid applied to their current approach, taking the time to deconstruct and then rebuild from a detailed outline will provide a clear path to completion but will take more time and resources in the short term.

What about you? Do you see these characteristics in your own team when tackling a big content project? Are you a pantser, or a plotter?