By envisioning the type of organisation you can become, you articulate a design target; a tangible vision that you can use to inform and engage your organisation and energise teams towards achieving a common goal.
The value of articulating this vision can’t be overstated. Every time we conduct a futurestate design exercise, it leads to a much more compelling vision of the future than anyone anticipated. It puts a stop to incrementalism and aligns everyone behind the kind of step-change business innovation that is essential in the digital economy.
A futurestate vision is only valuable if you can actually get there.
Of course, there’s generally a long way to go to achieve a version of that futurestate vision, and that’s where strategy comes in. In our last article in this series, we touched on current-state analysis and why it’s important: essentially, it defines the ‘from’ in a ‘from-to’, where the ‘to’ is the futurestate vision.
The role of strategy here is to bridge that gap between the two states and to realise that step-change in the organisation. We call that a ‘transformation strategy’.
A well-developed transformation strategy articulates how you move from the organisation of today to the organisation of tomorrow, without making the futurestate vision a rigid point at the end of a plan (you should have improved upon elements of that future vision by the time you reach it!). It articulates a mixture of principles, guidance and initiatives that give the organisation an actionable masterplan to execute against.
In practice, as we’ve written about before, modern strategy is more a language than a plan, uniting everyone behind common purpose and vision with principles and organisational behaviours. But to make rapid progress towards your futurestate — to undertake a transformation — you need a range of tools to ensure that everyone pulls in the right direction.
An effective transformation strategy aligns organisation-wide activities.
While they vary from client to client, here are some of the core components that we develop in pretty much every transformation strategy we work on.
Where required, restating the organisation’s purpose in a new way can be of enormous benefit, especially when the organisation either couldn’t articulate it clearly in the first place, or hadn’t ever done it. Your purpose is why you exist as an organisation: the infinite arc that anchors everything you stand for and do.
In theory, you never ‘achieve’ your purpose. For example, at Wilson Fletcher we write ours as ‘we exist to help established organisations realise their full potential in the digital economy’ and while we’ve tweaked the wording a few times over the years, it’s essentially what was above the door on day one, and will be for as long as we’re around.
While we can’t dwell on purpose here, it is worth saying that purpose does not have to be ‘worthy’ (few organisations can exist solely for direct social or planetary good) but it has to be ‘worthwhile’ if you want to use it to guide and unite your team.
If purpose is why you exist, vision is what you’re aiming for. It’s an achievable goal. Vision statements are frequently articulated at an organisational level of course, but in transformation strategy we find that they are particularly powerful when articulated for key groups or markets.
For example, imagine you’re transforming a football club. You might develop a vision statement for fans (‘our fans everywhere will always feel part of our club, closely connected to us with digital services that enrich every part of their matchday — and their everyday — experience of WFFC’). You might also develop one for commercial partners, players and training staff (‘our training teams will be empowered to deliver world-class player coaching and development with state of the art performance intelligence, analysis tools and connected facilities’).
These statements help to focus on many levels, from where you should invest to how you prioritise. They also play a crucial role in energising those groups by articulating the organisation’s ambition for their experience, especially when (as they should be) some of those people have been involved in the futurestate design process itself.
Target customer models.
While always nuanced, target customers are best described in a transformation strategy in their futurestate form (see our earlier article on designing for the customers of tomorrow).
We generally avoid too much specific detail on customers in a transformation strategy, because customers should be ‘brought in’ to play a continuous part in the organisation’s development, quickly making specific personas or detailed archetypes out of date. Customers are, literally, living design subjects and should be part of the design team.
However, it is worth capturing the characteristics or the organisation’s future customers in a high-level model that sets out how they might differ from today’s customer; what characteristics might open up future opportunities; and what emerging behaviours and influences have informed the futurestate vision.
Futurestate experience visualisations.
Although never the same twice, we always visualise the futurestate experience in some form. Nothing beats being able to ‘see’ what the strategy can mean for the organisation in the real world.
These can be anything from a set of concept visuals at one end, through storyboards to elaborate futurestate journey maps to rich animatics and vision videos. They are storytelling devices, not prototypes, whose role is to convey an example, or a series of examples, of what life will be like when the organisation achieves its futurestate vision. Posters and videos are our favourite media for them, but they can take many more interactive forms, too.
They must never be a ‘business diagram’ or a chart: they must be in a form that every member of the organisation can both understand and really engage with, giving them a peek into the future that they will all be working towards. Their role is to bring the vision to life, so they must be compelling and self-explanatory.
These are a series of critical organisational transformations that will be key to achieving the futurestate vision. There can be a good number of themes defined, spanning broad organisational attitudes and specific operational initiatives.
We’ve developed a structure for them that we’ve found always works well:
From > To: What needs to change.
Imperative: Why it needs to change.
Implications: Likely impacts on the organisation or key considerations involved in making it happen.
Key benefits: What benefits will be realised by doing this?
Key initiatives: What ‘projects’ have to be conducted to make it happen.
The set of key transformations you end up with define a suite of ‘projects’ or initiatives that need to be conducted. These will be key to forming a roadmap. They can be built out to assign responsibilities, budgets and more, and are one of the most important components of a transformation strategy.
These are the functional areas that the organisation will need to develop, or become skilled at, in order to achieve the futurestate vision.
They vary widely based on the nature of the organisation and type of transformation required, but will often include new core business models, key areas of technical capability and the services needed to realise the vision.
Usually, we expect to develop experience principles and service principles as part of a transformation strategy. Together, these are the yin and yang of an effective modern organisation built on digital services, uniting customer and commercial decision-making in a coherent framework.
Experience principles are entirely focused on ‘customers’ in whatever shape they come for that organisation. They’re 100% outside-in. They are defined and described to ensure that all future customer-facing experiences are conceived and delivered to consistent standards and that key decisions are always made from a customer perspective.
Service principles are their complementary twin from the organisation’s perspective. These are 100% inside-out. They describe how the organisation should make decisions about service design and delivery to meet futurestate goals and ensure commercial success. They underpin every decision made about how the organisation architects ‘systems’ (technology and human) that can adapt to emerging customer opportunities.
Most organisations undertaking a transformation need to become ‘more digital’ in their mindset, behaviour and operations. That implies that future performance measures will become more holistic and customer-centred than they have likely been in the past.
Requiring different, but complementary, lenses to be applied on the business’s performance increases the chances of making the right decisions along the way to realise them.
For example, we recently worked with a CEO who set out a bold target for how ‘digital’ their business should be within five years. Achieving that target demanded both process efficiency and millions of customers preferring to interact that way. One or the other wouldn’t cut it. The solution was to model digital maturity targets for both ‘user’ types and processes, ensuring the right balance between operational efficiency and a world-class customer experience is front-of-mind at all times.
A roadmap is an essential outcome of a transformation strategy: it is the overall plan for how the futurestate vision will be realised, synthesising vision, capability development and initiatives into a single, coherent plan that the organisation can plan, budget and execute against.
Broadly a good roadmap should set out phases of activity. Where good product roadmaps often use a simple ‘now/next/later’ approach, at an organisational level it’s more appropriate to set out phases with key objectives against them. These phases will frequently overlap, and that’s fine.
We also favour developing more specific, actionable plans that lay out the range of initiatives required on a prioritised timeline. While we would never advocate executing against a Gantt-like plan, presenting a roadmap view like this alongside the phased approach does help in two key areas: it enables everyone to see how intense the transformation programme will be; and it makes it easier for priority streams of work to kick off immediately.
You will not achieve your futurestate without the right strategy.
If you made it this far you’ll realise that we’ve covered a very rich topic at a very high-level. We’ve shared what we consider to be some of the critical ingredients in forming a transformation strategy, of which futurestate design is really just a part.
What it does illustrate, we hope, is just why futurestate design is such a critical activity and why it anchors so much of our transformation strategy work here at WF. If you don’t proactively step out of today to envision what your future can look like, any strategy you develop will inevitably have far less potential to deliver the outcomes you hope for.
Without a vision of your futurestate, you might step forward, but you’ll never leap ahead. Design a compelling futurestate and develop a robust transformation strategy to achieve it: you’ll unlock and realise far more of your potential and you’ll emerge with a new generation of organisation able to capitalise on opportunities for years to come.
Still to come in our Futurestate Design series, we’ll be outlining how you can launch your futurestate design strategy to kick-start your business of tomorrow. If you want to catch up on the series to-date, visit The Human Layer. Subscribe to make sure you don’t miss any of our insights, all poised to give businesses the best chance of succeeding in a changing world.