The Awesome Ideas Board

In this article, we’ll grant you sneak-speak into the engine room of the Cecily Group where Awesome Ideas are born. You’ll be able to learn about our brainstorming, project management, and creative processes.

The Cecily Group is not an average company. When I joined in 2019 there had been a long process of finding out if I would be a good fit. As part of this process, I’ve taken the Kolbe test to find out about my working style. I’ve also read The Team Success Handbook by Shannon Waller and based on that, I had to define my Unique Abilities. This was because our founder, Nick Schwarz wanted to create a highly entrepreneurial Team, the so-called Awesome Team. One key activity of any entrepreneurial team is to create original ideas we call Awesome Ideas.

Nick and our office and human resources manager, Sherry Nestyak already had quite a few Awesome Ideas to work on when I started here. One of them was a dinner party idea for families. It was meant to be an opportunity for them to find common ground and form an investment strategy together. Ultimately, it was meant to help us offer better financial consulting.

The Four Abundances lay the heart of the company’s holistic approach to financial consulting. The Abundance of Money, Time, Relationships, and Purpose should be the basis of any family’s financial strategy, as they are all essential parts of the greater financial picture.

As we started to discuss this initial idea, we realized that we’ll need frameworks for this type of consulting, one of them being The Four Abundances, to make sure we cover all areas during our consulting. We’ll also need tools that will enable us to collect, analyze and share the collected data effectively.

Nick was already familiar with Alexander Osterwalder’s Business Model Canvas and he saw that as an inspiration for the Family Council Canvas our Families could build during the consulting process. We needed something like this to summarize answers the different family members would give to create a common strategy.

During this time, I stumbled upon Sefirot’s Fabula deck, a clever aid for creative writing. It’s a set of questions in the form of cards that guides you through the whole creation of your story. It also helps you to analyze and improve your reports, by covering possible blind spots in your thinking process. It gave me the idea to create a similar set for financial advising, and Nick agreed that it could be an excellent complementary tool for the initial dinner party idea.

At this point, we were ready to bring all these ideas together to form a system that was more than just a collection of them. We’ve realized that they could complement and strengthen each other and create something great. As a next step, we set up a brainstorming session to assess this system as a separate business idea. We needed to inspect it closely and prove if it was a viable idea.

The evolution of the concept

First, we had to define our target group. Nick strongly believed that although the tool can help families too, it’s the most useful for advisors, so they are the ones to charge. Ultimately, the quality and success of financial consultations depend on how well the Family’s needs are understood and attended to. From that perspective, a tool like ours could save time and effort on the advisor’s part and make his work more effective. Advisors also seemed like a better contact point to families than vice-versa, simply because advisors tend to advise larger numbers of families than the number of advisors families would employ. Now we needed to talk about pricing, user acquisition, marketing, and the costs of development. To have a clear picture of all of those, we had to define the processes users would go through step-by-step.

During the initial brainstorming sessions, we considered both offline and online solutions for the different steps users would have to take. We realized that even if card sets need to be sent physically, advisors might prefer a digital output, and filling out our forms digitally is more convenient for a family member and opens new ways for collaboration. This led to a hybrid system, where the card sets were physical assets, but all interactions and data processes had to be done digitally. As we kept expanding the digital features, it became apparent that we’ll need more than a website with forms – we need an application.

The idea of collaboration between family members and advisors to form financial strategies was the very essence of the original idea. It also became a basis for creating an application. More and more of the original content, like questions, sections, guides, and summary pages have become digital assets. At this point, the physical card set became an add-on and the initial idea of the dinner party and in-person brainstorming with the family became optional. The new system seemed more flexible, more scalable and made more sense for advisors who sometimes work with many families.

The initial steps

Now that we’ve clarified the main objectives, we needed to create our Objectives and Key Results. We’ve been using Strategic Coach’s impact Filters to define our project’s success criteria and critical objectives. We made sure that all areas are covered, responsibilities and deadlines are set, and moved to the first step of implementation.

We started by defining the key elements of the financial strategy through Canvas layout. We also started writing questions and setting up card categories, going back and forth between questions, sections, and the overall layout. We’ve started working on printed and digital guides for families and advisors, which also helped us crystallize our ideas more. When the system looked good on paper, we started to set up the app development process.

The project setup

As our software developer, Anika has joined the project, things have accelerated and at times, taken surprising turns. We’ve realized a few times that despite the careful project setup, we still had some things to discuss and think through. She started by defining different user roles and user groups within the application, leading us into long conversations over user rights, types of invitations and registrations, and many similar details we still had to get right. Anika’s article is coming soon on this subject, so I won’t spoil it all here for you.

As the designer, it was also my job to think about the user journey through all these different processes as well as to define and arrange key functionalities in the interface. This has become a continuous teamwork between leadership, design, and development. This required wireframing and different screen layouts. I also had to make sure to integrate the overall look and fill into the existing Cecily Group branding and website. As the UI/UX design is still in progress, I’m going to give you an update on this later.

Expanding on it

We’ve realized that this system could lead far into a feature where the Family Council Canvas and the Entrepreneurial Tool could operate under the same framework. This way, with a bit of twist-and-tweak, we could offer a similar tool also for entrepreneurs for an optimal business setup and operation. We’ve been successfully using these tools since the company was created and we felt ready to share them. If you are impressed by our unique, entrepreneurial ways of working and wish to operate your company, similarly, check out our project manager, Maria’s article on our Entrepreneurial Tool.

The Cecily Group is dedicated to finding and developing cutting-edge financial advisory tools, like the Family Council Canvas. If you would be interested in trying and testing this tool yourself, please join our waiting list below.