A Playbook for Developing an Engagement Playbook


Illustration Credit: Howard Gershen

Authors: Liz Roberts and Tara Wolfson

When we think about a playbook, we often think about football. A football playbook contains a set of plays with specific actions and visuals to help the team navigate the changing game dynamics to hopefully achieve their goal – to win the game! Win enough of the right games—with the playbook as their guide—and the team can win the Super Bowl!

Developed over a nine-month season (aka, period of performance), the sponsor tasked us to deliver an Engagement Playbook to assist them in promoting adoption of a revised legal agreement between them and key stakeholders. The MITRE team was uneasy at the start because we had seen many kinds of playbooks, some very theoretical, which created a little stress and nervous energy entering an unclear process. Each of us had seen many games unfold before, but they always looked different. We knew that we needed a strong set of plays to get us to the big game.

Here is how we tackled the Engagement Playbook using four key offensive plays:

1. Strategy Play

The team and users define the goal and how to get there.

Our most important first play was to define the sponsor’s ultimate goal. For our project, it was the partners’ adoption of a new data use agreement. As we were the coaches for our sponsor during a nine-month season, the Engagement Playbook needed to contain the plays and strategies to help our sponsor achieve their goal beyond the season.

Another key part of the Strategy Play was building a framework. We wanted to identify a suitable framework to give the sponsor a structured approach grounded in best practices to engage partners. The Commitment Curve enters the locker room! Might it become the most impactful conditioning program? Time will tell.

The Commitment Curve is a model to explain how an individual’s commitment to change increases over time and a structured approach to support increasing the commitment. The model uses phases to describe an individual’s degree of support for the change. The figure below depicts our adapted model with partner quotes summarizing their experience in each phase. The Commitment Curve worked perfectly for our problem scenario and this playbook because it supported the sponsor’s goal of getting buy-in to their new data agreement. In the Engagement Playbook, we provided the users – the sponsor team – with a variety of game-winning plays for each phase along the curve.

Uncertainty to Readiness:<br />
1. VALIDATION. Confirm partner challenges.<br />
2. REFINEMENT. Refine the change.<br />
3. INITIATION. Set basic expectations.<br />
4. AWARENESS. Reinforce messaging.<br />
5. UNDERSTANDING. Build readiness.<br />
6. ACCEPTANCE AND BUY-IN. Take action.<br />
7. COMMITMENT. Sustain action.

Figure 1: Adapted Commitment Curve

2. Design Criteria Play

The team learns how the users want to use the playbook.

Our next play was to hold team meetings to define the design criteria with the users, including identifying elements important to them. Design criteria are critical to identify early in the drafting process to increase the likelihood of a well-received playbook that truly supports the users’ needs, meets them where they are in terms of realistic usability, and subsequently becomes a trusted and well-leveraged product.

The team brainstormed an initial set of design criteria based on our experiences and preconceptions (e.g., easy to navigate, includes reference materials, flexible in application). During a collaborative working session with future users of the playbook, we presented these initial criteria to gather reactions, input, and feedback. We leveraged Mural, an online collaboration tool, to make the session interactive and engaging – a common goal for our weekly sponsor huddles. Users shared several additional design criteria during the working session, including some we would not have otherwise considered, such as, making the playbook fully interactive and visual since they don’t plan on printing the playbook. We used the final set of criteria, shown below, to guide the design and development of the playbook. Getting on the same page at the start set us up for success as we were confident about sponsor expectations.

Gathered before Playbook development in a collaborative session with the intended Playbook users.<br />
PURPOSE-DRIVEN: Include the "why" it is important throughout.<br />
VISUAL: Graphics ready for communication and enjoyable to read.<br />
NAVIGATION FRIENDLY: Easy to navigate with embedded links.<br />
ADAPTABLE: Includes a variety of actions, flixible to adjustments.<br />
ACTION FOCUSED: Actions to engage and remove blockers for adoption.<br />
USER CENTRIC: Designed for use by the sponsor team.<br />
GROUNDED: Based around top concerns and grounded in their prespectives.<br />
RESOURCE RICH: Embedded presentations and resources.

Figure 2: Engagement Playbook Design Criteria

3. Rethink Play

The team rethinks their approach with the validated strategy and design criteria.

It is no surprise that we started this project with lots of ideas on what the playbook could look like and contain. We had all seen other playbooks built for sponsors who had their own goals and design criteria. Once we had our unique combination of goals and design criteria, we had to rethink our original approach. For example, we initially thought that the playbook would be a Word document. Once we heard how visual and navigation friendly the users wanted it (per their design criteria), we determined that a PowerPoint format would work better. We were able to make this a one-stop-shop by embedding hyperlinks, attaching reference files, and making it much more visually appealing and enjoyable to use. We also designed a navigation banner (example below) to make the playbook “navigation-friendly,” considering the many slides.

Slides 1-3 designed for re-use with other partners, such as leaders and the community:<br />
Slide 1: Where the phase is in the Commitment Curve.<br />
Slide 2: Summary of that phase's purpose, major steps, and definition on done.<br />
Slide 3: Overview of phase considerations, including participant experience, key success factors, and definition of done.<br />
Slide 4 Designed for use by the users as a checklist for that phase:<br />
Slide 4: Detailed steps to take during that phase with a ist of supporting resources.<br />
NOTE: Each slide has a navigation pane at the top of the phase highlighted and a link to each "Phase" and the "Table of Contents".

Figure 3: Phase Guide Overview with Navigation at the Top

4. Refine Play

The team and users iterate and refine the playbook until it meets the goal.

As soon as we had content ready, we used our sponsor weekly huddles to iteratively hear feedback from the users. While we did not discuss the playbook every week, it was often included on the agenda. At one point, we asked ourselves if we were discussing it too much!

Q: How many times are we going to run this Refine Play, coach?

A: As long as we continue to get feedback that allows us to refine and tune the playbook to be a better product for the users.

The sponsor assured us that the repetition was helping to orient the playbook users to the content and how to use it successfully.

For example, we had several weekly huddles dedicated to talking through each of the step slides (refinement steps shown below) to make sure that the steps and ideas resonated with the users.

Purpose: Incorporate or address key takeaways from Validation Phase and refine the change description, including "What the change is, why it is necessary now, and how and when it will be implemented."<br />
Step 1: Refine the MOU<br />
Step 2: Update the FAQ<br />
Step 3: Begin drafting the ConOps<br />
Step 4: Communicate to Prepare for initiation<br />
Step 5: Prepare materials for Public Release

Figure 4: Refinement Steps

Though we have since stepped away from coaching this sponsor, we feel we armed the sponsor team with a Super Bowl-worthy playbook.

If challenged with a playbook deliverable again, these four plays – Strategy, Design Criteria, Rethink and Refine – would be in my playbook. We hope you consider adding these four plays the next time you see a need that a playbook could help address.

About the Authors:

Liz Roberts is a Multi-Discipline Systems Engineer at MITRE. She loves exploring new ways of working, especially where they increase team performance and the ability for leaders to make timely and informed decisions. Liz has a calm dog, Tucker.

Until recently, Tara Wolfson was a Public Health Engineer at MITRE. She loves projects focused on data, health equity, and partner engagement. Tara has a curious cat, Boots.

© 2024 The MITRE Corporation. All rights reserved. Approved for public release.  Distribution unlimited. Case number 24-1063.


This (software/technical data) was produced for the U. S. Government under Contract Number 75FCMC18D0047/75FCMC23D0004, and is subject to Federal Acquisition Regulation Clause 52.227-14, Rights in Data-General.

No other use other than that granted to the U. S. Government, or to those acting on behalf of the U. S. Government under that Clause is authorized without the express written permission of The MITRE Corporation.

For further information, please contact The MITRE Corporation, Contracts Management Office, 7515 Colshire Drive, McLean, VA  22102-7539, (703) 983-6000.


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