Foresight Deliverables as a Key Success Factor
Key Success Factors of a Foresight Program
December 11, 2018, Bruno Jacobsen, Irmeli Hirvensalo
Foresight deliverables are often simple signals of change that an organization gathers from its environment. If the organization is receiving these signals, it often means it already has a radar out for them. But there's more to it. The organization also needs to be able to process these signals. This could involve angular reviews, deep dive analyses, or workshops. All of this requires a defined purpose, owner, and format.
This article is based on our ebook Key Success Factors of a Foresight Program. Get it for free: Key Success Factors of a Foresight Program (ebook).
Foresight Deliverables as a Key Success Factor
One of the main jobs of the organization, when it comes to deliverables, is to ensure they are useful.
We mentioned that signals are, in and of themselves, deliverables. But unless they can be turned into "packages" or can be returned to on an ongoing basis, they won't be of big help to the organization.
Hence, a few things are needed:
- Building an understanding of the foresight needs that the deliverables will fulfil;
- Appointing a "product manager" to be responsible for their production and management. Since many of the deliverables are usually "produced" in workshops and meetings, the product manager must facilitate this process;
- Define the format of the deliverable.
The more sophisticated the foresight deliverables are, the more they should aim at providing analytical conclusions. This is because plain information is rarely impactful enough to drive strategic decisions.
Deeply analytical deliverables combine the research results with anticipated implications - and will then help decision-makers make fact-based decisions.
We have in a past written an article where we describe 9 foresight methodologies that successful companies use to stay ahead. All these methodologies can result in great deliverables, so be sure to re-read it. It's also important to mention that, whatever approach is taken, it will influence the deliverables.
But these methodologies are not the end-result.In many cases, some of these approaches, such as War Game simulations, scenario planning, or trend analyses may even be the final name of deliverable. However, we must still distinguish the method from the actual resulting "product."
Irrespectively of what we call them, foresight deliverables generally fall under 3 categories.
1. Alerts on emerging signals and other foresight content,
2. A customized view of the future,
3. Occasional deep dive analysis for different purposes.
Brief Reminder on Deliverables Taxonomy
Before continuing, a brief work on information taxonomy is warrented. Taxonomy is, put simply, a system of classification. Foresight deliverables (and indeed foresight work in general), also have their own information taxonomy. Without it, it can be difficult to make sense how developments and phenomena intertwine.
To conduct foresight in a structured way, and provide valuable deliverables, it makes sense to structure this approach around the discipline's information taxonomy. It should be started with a joint effort involving decision-makers to go over the important the broad topics that will influence the organziation's future. These broader topics are then split into more granular subtopics and then possibly subdivided further still.
As the environment is constantly changing, it is important to go back every now and then and update this taxonomy with the latest views on what's relevant for the organization.
As the end result, the important topics and themes shaping the organization’s future are listed out in a neatly structured way. Once this structuring exercise is done, the resulting taxonomy serves as an important input to formulating the foresight deliverables.
Now that we have gone over the importance of information taxonomy in foresight work, let's see what foresight deliverables actually look like.
Three types of deliverables
We mentioned above the three types of deliverable categories.
Here we provide a more structured way to think about these.
1. Alerts on emerging signals and other foresight content
Alerts on emerging signals (and other foresight content) are typically the backbone of a foresight program. Indeed, they are so common that when we refer to them (usually as "trends") everyone assumes everyone knows what they are.
Scouting for them is also most often the first step of foresight work. Indeed, without knowing how things are developing in an organization's environment in the first place, it's difficult to do much else.
The actual process can be done in many different ways. Some people have teams out constantly searching for new trends or phenomena. Others subscribe to software, read trend reports, or attend seminars and events.
Our own software, Futures Platform, has over 500 trends and phenomena across several industries. Companies and teams all over often use software like this to ensure they don't miss on any future trends and stay on top of the game.
However one prefers to do it, the deliverable is simple: an ongoing and developing radar of signals, trends, and phenomena that do - or can in the future - shape an organization's environment.
2. A customized view of the future
This second format is almost a "second stage" one, complementing the one above. (However, it can also be done independently, as long as one is aware of current trends or outsources that process).
It is also one of the most important deliverables a foresight process can produce.
While future trends and phenomena are the same for everyone, they impact different organizations differently. For example, take a software company like Amazon and a government agency like the Department of Defense. Both organizations are affected by different trends in many cases (retail trends in Amazon case or North-East Asian geopolitical trends). However, some trends affect both (trends in AI and automation, or larger geopolitical changes).
A customized view of the future means that trends and phenomena are not taken in isolation. Instead, each organization paints a picture of one or more futures that in which the organization is likely to live in the future.
To do this, the foresight program needs to be able to map out these trends and make them easy to visualize. Often, this can be done in presentations (where a contextual future is presented), reports, or software programs.
Here too, Futures Platform's software allows companies to easily visualize trends and phenomena on a 360 radar. Teams and organizations often use software like this in order to present this deliverable to their stakeholders or key decision-makers.
3. Deep dive analyses for different purposes
But not all future-oriented organizations focus only on collecting signals and trends or building foresight radars. Many will occasionally need to produce deep-dive analyses about specific topics. Here are some examples:
a. Analyses to support strategy. This is perhaps the most obvious use case. All organizations make plans and gamebooks for their future. These should be backed by educated views of future developments. For instance, will these trends affect the organization and, if so, how?
Foresight deliverables that serve as input to strategy might be produced and updated once a year, or less or more frequently than that. It depends on the requirements of the organization and its strategy process.
An example of foresight input to strategy could be a report that maps the company's core capabilities against future scenarios. Another is a trend analysis that pinpoints the forces that can support or inhibit chosen strategies over the next 3 years.
b. Scanning for new ideas. These days, many organizations look to design thinking to get inspiration for new ideas and innovate. Deep dives into specific future-related topics can help with this. They provide material for ideation and co-creation, which can result in new products, services, and concepts.
c. Investment decision support. Making significant investments involves future-oriented thinking by definition. Confirming investment decisions with one-off foresight deep dives therefore makes perfect sense. Especially when the success of the investment can dictate the fate of the organization, it doesn't hurt to be extra careful and do a couple of deep dives.
d. Risk analysis. The future is risky by definition. However, both people and organizations tend to prefer certainty over uncertainty. One of the purposes of scanning for future developments is to identify and mitigate risk before one is caught by surprise.
As explained, this may be done once a year, or over shorter periods of time. Finding the right balance can be tricky. If you do it too often, it can be difficult to make decisions as the information on hand keeps changing. If you do it too sparingly, you'll probably keep making the wrong decisions. The golden mean depends on the developments you wish to track and the industry your company fits in.
e. Scenario planning. Despite all uncertainty the future brings, one thing is certain: it will arrive. The only question is what it will look like and how it will impact your organization. Sometimes, it is just plain impossible to be sure about how a series of trends and signals will develop. In those cases, the best option is to project a variety of possible future scenarios. This is called scenario analysis - projections of alternative future developments.
The key thing about scenario planning is that organizations deliberately prepare themselves for different futures. As time passes, an organization has to constantly monitor the environment. This allows it to adjust the probabilities it assigns to the different scenarios. It can then begin focusing more effort on preparing for those most likely to occur, until it is eventually fully prepared for the actual future.
Foresight deliverables can serve as input for different decision-making situations or organization processes. As the main outcome of a foresight process, they can guide the organization day to day, and, if used well, be essential in their success.
It is important to conclude with a reminder. Foresight deliverables work best when they serve a purpose. They also work better when several methods are used, such as the ones listed above. Finally, the more people are involved in this process (up to a limit), the more well-rounded these deliverables will be.
Here at Futures Platform, we are committed to helping organizations set up a foresight process and achieve great deliverables. You can sign up for our free radars and check it out for yourself.