Foresight, Future Scenarios, Strategy Workshop
A business unit within an engineering company had been exploring new business opportunities using recognition technology. The initial brief for us was to help them build a proof of concept to validate this opportunity. However, it was not yet clear for the company what specific use cases to focus on. This innovation direction implied radical changes to their business model and organization, and was not yet clear for the different stakeholders what implications it would have on their business. In order to create a shared understanding in the group, listen to the different perspectives and identify relevant use cases in the validation phase, our team conducted an inception week, a series of foresight-based strategy workshops.
I was part of a team of 2 design strategists including myself, and 2 cloud engineering consultants. My role as a design strategist was to assist in the coordination with the client and potential customers, conduct initial talks with stakeholders to understand the context, conduct an initial trend research to formulate scenarios, design and facilitate the process for the inception week, and trace a work plan based on the insights and decisions made during the workshops.
Based on our initial conversations with stakeholders and potential customers, we introduced the concept of an inception week to identify the most relevant use cases focused on two factors: explore different future scenarios and create alignment among the team.
In these conversations, it became clear that there was not a consensus on which direction to take. The nature of the technology and long-term timeframe of the innovation was so radical for their core business that its implications were difficult to grasp for the organization. To address this we used future scenarios as a framework to make such fuzzy future conceptions tangible and be able to make decisions for the present.
Next to that, another important consideration was to get the right people involved that could drive action. Therefore we involved decision makers and influential actors within the company from engineering, business and sales areas to get different perspectives and create momentum within the organization.
The inception week had a divergent and a convergent phase. Prior to the inception week, we collaborated with the futurology studio Monnik to develop a set of scenarios to use during inception. We presented 2 opposing future narratives: one where recognition enables things with new capabilities, and one where recognition restricts things by limiting what they can do. Next to these two narratives, we framed 4 contexts where we found applications for this technology in our research. These 2 narratives and 4 contexts where used during the the divergent phase to explore different future scenarios through an iterative ideation process focused on answering three questions:
What characteristics does the context have in which the technology will perform exceptionally well?
What events and activities take place in this context?
What problems and opportunities do we see within these events and activities?
This allowed stakeholders not only to avoid tunnel vision and get out of the box ideas, but also to gain insight into the implications of their decisions, such as how would this technology impact final users, how will it affect their organization, would their customers find this valuable. During the convergent phase we focused on analyzing the desirability (impact on customers and end users), feasibility (maturity of the technology) and viability (the maturity of the organization) of the different use cases. The outcome of this process was an initial more concrete use case to further develop and use to validate its business potential, and a detailed project plan for all the parties involved.
In the following months, a full PoC was successfully developed and presented to potential customers and partners. The team gained new insights on how to improve the new value proposition and was able to move the project further in the organization.
The results of the initial inception phase were a 5-day strategy workshop that created alignment and sparked action among the team, a collection of use cases to fuel the development of a new platform, and an action plan that enabled the team to build a proof of concept with practical applications to demonstrate the potential of the technology.
The diverging phase resulting in a collection of use cases in strategically relevant contexts for the client.
Key use cases were selected by stakeholders and turned into three flows to prototype and use to validate the opportunity.
Decision making for radical innovations is challenging due to the intangibility of such a new proposition. Its implications to users, the organizations and business are factors that one cannot very easily evaluate at this stage. Furthermore, a shared understanding of the future possibilities among stakeholders, is necessary to take such an initiative with high potential risks into action.
The creative foresight approach applied, enabled our client to make such a new proposition tangible and be able to make more objective decisions. The risk of failure was significantly reduced by aligning the different actors involved through a shared understanding of different scenarios. The approach also sparked action and gave the team confidence to move forward.