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By Marielle McGregor

Editor’s Note: This story was originally posted on myPortal on Feb. 11. 2016. It has been edited to reflect updated training dates.

You may have noticed things are speeding up at the colleges of DCCCD. There are many factors involved in our shift toward greater agility, but one factor stands out no matter what location you land at: Compression Planning.

So what is it really?

In short, Compression Planning is a proven approach for quickly developing viable solutions and action plans. Compression Planning is helping employees districtwide become effective problem solvers.

The Compression Planning Pundit

If you have met our Chief Strategy Officer you have also met our Compression Planning leader. Dr. Mary Brumbach is a champion of the Compression Planning method and relies on it to get stuff done.

"Compression Planning allows groups to come up with solutions that are realistic and fuel action," explains Brumbach. "It is much more focused than traditional brainstorming."

So what kind of actionable solutions has Brumbach seen come out of Compression Planning? Well, in DCCCD, hundreds.

Compression Planning has been used successfully to set budget priorities, create grant proposals, forge industry partnerships and even outline the legislative agenda for the community colleges in Texas.

"It is truly a remarkable model," says Brumbach. "Compression Planning lets us fast-forward our planning process. It saves time and probably a lot of headaches."

The Process and the People

The Compression Planning approach landed at DCCCD's doors in summer of 2014. Chancellor May invited the Compression Planning Institute to lead our Board of Trustees in a meeting to set strategic priorities. We've used the process ever since.

Today we have 118 employees who are trained in Compression Planning, with 75 at the district level.

That number is set to grow Sept. 21-23 when the LeCroy Center hosts a special training session with the Compression Planning Institute.

"Anyone who needs to find solutions, at any level, would benefit from Compression Planning," says Brumbach. "The training is wonderful. You learn how to facilitate the group planning process."

Employees who train in Compression Planning learn how to design and lead (facilitate) a Compression Planning session. After all, it takes more than a passion for problem-solving to lead a successful planning session! It also takes strong listening skills, a fair amount of background research and an open mind. Facilitators must remain neutral during Compression Planning sessions. They are there to gather ideas, not give them.

"Those who train in Compression Planning learn to lead highly focused, highly productive planning sessions," adds Brumbach. "It is excellent professional development."

Tracing Innovation Back to Its Source

If we trace the genesis of any innovation back to its source, we'll often find innovation begins with asking the right question. Compression Planning capitalizes on this truth, using questions to smoothly bring people to conclusions. The quality of these questions makes the difference in a Compression Planning session's success.

"It is not that I'm so smart. But I stay with the questions much longer." Albert Einstein

So how does a facilitator find the right questions for their session "design"? Well, it begins with research …long before the actual Compression Planning session commences.

"I probably spent 200 hours preparing for the Compression Planning session with the Board of Trustees," says Brumbach, who is known for her thorough background research and beautiful infographics. "I went through 15 drafts of the session design with our consultants to really winnow out, ‘What do we need to know?’ and, ‘How can we best get those answers from the panel?’"

Leaders Turn to Compression Planning

What kind of organization do we want to become?

This is the type of question our college presidents are tackling in Compression Planning. Big questions. Questions whose answers are framing our district's future.

During the DCCCD 50th anniversary, Chancellor May outlined a vision of what our leadership wants the Dallas County Community College District to look like in the next 50 years — a vision that grew from Compression Planning.

"We stated that we wanted community members, employers, employees and students to describe us as agile and responsive," said May. "...We will be known as the go-to place for our community to have problems solved."

The Community's Go-To Problem Solver

One way our colleges are solving the problems of individuals, employers and our communities is through Compression Planning. In fact, DCCCD provides pro-bono Compression Planning services to community organizations such as the Greater Dallas Hispanic Chamber and Greater Dallas Asian American Chamber, industry, even cities, like the city of Garland. So what kind of problems are individuals, employers and businesses coming together to solve?

One example is the lack of STEM graduates nationwide.

The state of Texas alone needs 100,000 new STEM graduates in the next three to four years. That's soon, especially when considering the facts. Currently 52 percent of STEM majors switch to a non-STEM major by sophomore year.

Eighteen stakeholders recently gathered together at DCCCD to find a solution to this big problem, with representatives from four area universities, two workforce boards, the National Math and Science Initiative, DISD, Commit!, NAF and all seven DCCCD colleges. The Compression Planning model was used, a grant proposal was developed and the North Texas Regional STEM Degree Accelerator Project was born.

DCCCD isn't the only game changer turning to Compression Planning for results, however. Business leaders across the nation use the Compression Planning model. It has helped develop solutions for General Motors, Hilton Hotels and the Mayo Clinic, to name a few.

"Compression Planning creates solutions that are realistic and can be accomplished," explains Brumbach. "It forges ideas that create action. Focused ideas that can adapt, scale and get results."

Go Further

There are several options for employees to engage with Compression Planning. Can you find one that's right for you?

  1. Train
    Are you passionate about problem-solving? Ready to make waves and make a difference in the DCCCD higher education network? Register now for next month's Compression Planning training. Training is available to all employees through their college. Interested parties should speak with their supervisor to decide upon funding. Registration questions may be directed to Patti Jennings at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

  2. Plan
    Are you interested in having a Compression Planning facilitator lead a planning session with your work group, department or committee? Contact DCCCD Planning and Convening Services. They will help you forge ideas that creation action. Focused ideas that can adapt, scale and get results.

  3. Explore
    Want to learn more about the DCCCD network and how Compression Planning fits into the big picture? Watch this #JOEtalk to learn more about our new operational model, including how Compression Planning can help us meet the ever-changing needs of the communities we serve.
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Angela Auzenne