Ending the Intensive Planning Session

Kroger Team's 1972 Intensive Planning Session
[Note this is a fairly lengthy section and only excerpts are included here]
....An IBM Branch Manager in the western US had developed a specialized market strategy development tool called an Intensive Planning Session. We were to become the fifth Intensive Planning Session handled by a new regional group out of Chicago. DPD had adopted it to fix big account challenges. Pendl called us in and told us we were all going to the Campbell House in Lexington KY for several weeks to think through how Kroger could benefit from IBM Data Processing. The whole team was to go, Pendl was to go, and Joe Bischoff one of the communications specialists assigned to Kroger before the Unbundling was to be included, Gary Doyle, Ed Salonus and I, all were to go. We asked about Gordon, but he was not to be included. So Sunday evening Joe Bischoff, Gary Doyle, Ed Salonus and I each drove down and checked into our own rooms with instructions to meet in a specified suite at 7:29 am the following morning.
At 7:29 am the next morning, the regional organizer, Fred Trembley, together with Bill Pendl, laid out the process for the Intensive Planning Session:

  • We would do all the work in that room and we were not to leave the room unless the organizer gave permission, but room service had been told we had an open tab for anything we wanted (except alcohol).
  • We could not call out from the room for information, but must depend on what we knew in our heads for all the exercises. This was to be our 100% focus. No checking up in the account or in the branch office. The front desk was instructed to get the organizer if there was a family emergency
  • We would be given specific tasks to do by the organizer but he would only tell us one task at a time. We would not be told what was coming next or see any roadmap.
  • We had to deal with existing IBM products and services. Nothing could be invented. Everything had to be in the current product sales manual. This was later relaxed as becomes apparent.
  • We were there to develop a plan, but there would be only one plan. Contingency planning was not allowed.

Every so often Fred and Bill Pendl would be observing us from the adjacent room. Bill Pendl was living in the other part of the suite. If we had any questions we were to ask the organizer. He promised to keep the front desk aware of his location at all times.
Fred told us our first task was to put ourselves into the CEO of Kroger’s shoes, become the CEO in our minds and ask “What are my main problems running this business?”

But now 8 days have gone by and we’ve all been working in the same room for 12 hours a day. It’s the morning of the 9thth day. We have created proposals, we have identified how these proposals should be presented, anticipated the reactions and planned for how to resolve any objections. We must be done. We are really ready to go home. Then Fred showed up with the roll of butcher paper and lots of small blank System 3 cards. He hangs the butcher paper at eye level on three of the walls around the room and marks off about 18 months out on the paper. He has us write down any personal plans we had made for the next 18 months: vacations, Christmas holidays, IBM Schools, etc. on the cards and tape them on the butcher paper at the time for when they are scheduled. Then we go through all the planned events to sell these plans in the three large Kroger divisions, write them on the System 3 cards and tape them up where they have to occur to make the plan work. It was a 3 wall project planning Critical Path Method Chart.

Late in the morning of day 10 after we had everything committed to cards on the butcher paper, Fred and Bill Pendl were walking around the room observing the results of our effort. Bischoff made a comment, “Well it’s done. Now it’s time to go home.” Fred replied, “It’ll be done and you’ll go home when ‘I’ say it’s done and not until. But he didn’t have the hulk to back that up. Joe just whirled around, grabbed Fred by his upper arms and pinned him to the wall. I looked down and saw a good two and a half to three inches of air under the soles of Fred’s shoes. While holding Fred in this position Joe continued, “Look we have solutions, we have a plan, and we know when and where we are going to execute the plan. There is nothing more to do here, but to go home and start executing the plan.” I never knew that Jesuits could do that! Fred’s eyes just bulged while Joe just let him slide gently down the wall to the floor. I don’t remember Fred saying anything, but Pendl said he thought it was time to go and we packed up all our charts and butcher paper and went home. (When I happened to bump into Fred about five years later in Chicago, he still vividly remembered the Kroger Intensive Planning Session and his being lifted into the air.)