Help those with Collaboration Dysfunction

Recently, Powernoodle was featured in Business Without Borders, a global, online business publication. We were identified as a tool to combat virtual and face-to-face collaboration challenges. We like to think that recognition on a worldwide scale says a lot about the effectiveness of our product and its growing sphere of influence.

When H1N1 influenza forced Deb Krizmanich to take to her bed in December 2009, she brought her computer with her and spent much of her first sick day looking for software to help her solve a frustrating problem at work.

She was leading a major project for a Fortune 100 company that involved bringing together 20 people from divisions around the world. But it was like herding cats. Maybe there was software out there that could help, a program that would be accessible from any country, work across time zones and allow for an open discussion of contentious issues.

It might have been her fever talking. But when Krizmanich didn't find what she was looking for, she decided to design her own software platform, a tool that would make decision-making faster, easier and more creative for any team.

She started working on the software the next day and then put together her business plan. "Powernoodle was incorporated in January 2010, after my temperature returned to normal," says Krizmanich, a former executive at International Business Machines Corp. She is now chief executive officer of Powernoodle Inc. The Stratford, Ont., company offers a collaborative, cloud-based software platform, which means it is available to anyone with an Internet connection anywhere in the world.

"Thirty per cent of the company's clients are outside Canada, and Krizmanich expects this to grow to 90% as the company scales up its operations. Customers include businesses as well as not-for-profits, consultants, facilitators, colleges and universities, governments and community and social service agencies. In California, for example, a consulting company is using Powernoodle to engage organizations involved in early childhood education on the question of how to transform the state's education system.

The Powernoodle application guides teams through decisions, walking individuals through a series of steps that include brainstorming, gathering feedback, evaluating ideas, allocating resources and determining next steps. For example, a company might ask a group of managers and staff to envisage a future in which the firm was 20% more productive. The next question might be, "How do we get there from where we are now?"

People can make their contributions at whatever time of the day they wish - there is no set meeting time. They also participate anonymously, which Krizmanich says brings out the best in people regardless of their roles, experience or locations, and allows senior managers to better understand the challenges faced by staff.

"Powernoodle offers a really safe way for dissenting voices to come through. So you get the real stuff. But you have to want the real stuff," she says. Powernoodle faces challenges, however, in meeting the needs of a diverse client base in different parts of the world.

The company has partnerships with experts and consultants in different regions, Krizmanich says. This helps it provide a culturally sensitive context for customers. For instance, California-based Leadership Strategies

International has chosen Powernoodle for "virtual facilitation" worldwide. The company is also marketing itself to large international associations that are trying to become "unstuck" in the way they work, Krizmanich says.

The application is in English, but the company plans to translate it into many languages. It already records people's input in any language and produces an automatic report or audit trail of the group's decision making in their native language as well.

The company has 10 employees but hopes to hire five more by January. "Half the people at our company are Gen Ys and the other half are [baby] boomers. Using Powernoodle internally helps us bridge a wide range of working styles," Krizmanich says. "We use it internally to gather customer requirements, to plan our development sprints, to evaluate progress and risk, to collaborate on job descriptions, to assess ourselves from a 360-degree perspective and for prioritizing our focus. We even use it to decide what's on the menu for the Christmas party."

Krizmanich says she got goose bumps from the feedback provided by one Powernoodle user, a young woman who is a 28-year-old Harvard graduate.

"She told me, 'You have no idea. I went to school at Harvard. I am a Canadian-Asian woman, and I still, because of my cultural background, find it incredibly difficult to talk in a meeting.'" Powernoodle made it easier for her to express her ideas, the young woman told Krizmanich, and two of her proposals were ranked in the top five by her colleagues.