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Archive for October, 2007

Predicting the Future

THE HIGH BEAM PROCESS

1. Study Trends

2. Identify trends that will impact you

3. Build a strategy to leverage, or mitigate risk of these trends

4. Build a picture of the future state

5. Make investments in that future state

PURPOSE – The High Beam process is designed to help organizations better strategize elements of the future that will have a big impact on results, and prepare a plan to leverage, or defend, these areas.

DELIVERABLES – The deliverable of the process will be an organized portfolio of investments in the future that will assure a more dependable ability to reach goals. A secondary result will be that the team that follows this process will be of the same mind as to where the organization is headed and why.

OVERVIEW – The High Beam Strategy Process is best completed by an executive team with input from the management layer of the organization. The process is a three part framework that teams can use to plan for the future in a concise and disciplined way. This is an increasingly important step because the velocity of the world is increasing and the time to adjust a plan is shrinking. Without a clear picture of the future, leaders risk being unprepared when current trends, and changes, alter the landscape. Each step of this process builds towards an investment portfolio in the future. Once the process has been completed, it is highly recommended that the information be shared with the whole organization so that everyone has a clear picture of where the team is headed.

PART ONE:
Important trends come in three different categories – Macro trends, industry trends and organization trends. The first step is to create a list of the most important trends that will have impact on the organization over the next 5 years in each category. This is usually accomplished by providing a form document that explains each category and gives examples. This document can be completed in advance of the first meeting and can be handed out as widely as seems appropriate. The goal is to get a good list of possible trends to choose from.

Once the list has been created, the executive team attends a meeting with the express purpose of simply narrowing the list to the top three trends in each category that will have the most impact on the success or failure of the entity. This is normally accomplished by looking over the list of possible trends (starting in the macro category) and combining like trends onto groups until you have a number of final possibilities. If there are more than five options, it is a good idea to simply use the Post It note method of having each person in the room vote on their top three choices and then put them on the table and see if three emerge. If not, further debate and discussion should be used to try and narrow the field to three.

This process is repeated for each of the categories until there are 9 top trends identified.

*** A possible addition to the process of reducing to the final three possible trends that is fun and can be useful is to assign a prosecutor and defender for each trend. Give each person about two minutes to make their case for, or against. Then use the Post It note process to narrow the field.

At this point, the meeting is closed and people are provided with the list of nine important trends that will have an impact on the entity so they can give further thought to the concepts.

PART TWO:
In this step, the team will paint a fleshed out picture of what the market, or environment, will look like in 5 years. This is done by having each person in the room create a list of bullet points that describe new elements in the future that do not exist today. One by one each person describes these areas and defends why they feel they are important and plausible in the future. Each element of change is written on the white board as people present so that by the end, the list that remains has combined the like elements, and only the unique ideas are left. From this list, approx. ten future elements are chosen based on their likelihood and impact. The process of choosing the top ten is handled much like the trends were chosen in part one. With these ten new points of view, a clear picture of the future 5 years out can be painted.

This session is really meant to be a green light creative process that gets all the participants on the same page as to what the environment will be like over the coming years. It is important that all the participants get the chance to express their unique views on how the future might be different. This is also the most difficult part of the process because it requires a unique ability to hold a new picture in your head, and most people have a hard time getting the today picture out if their minds eye.

PART THREE:
At this point, the team is ready to create a plan to either leverage, or mitigate risks on the factors they see coming in the future. This is done by first reviewing the nine trends and making a determination as to whether the trend can be leveraged to make progress, or if it needs to be defended because it is potentially dangerous to progress. As the team works through making these determinations a list of possible action steps should be created in a parking area. Once completed, the team moves on to creating the investment portfolio for the future.

The goal for this portfolio is to create a group of investments that the organization can afford, and that will help to set the entity up for success in the coming 5 year timeframe. This is accomplished by agreeing to specific areas to invest money, time and energy into that will help leverage, or defend the trends and picture of the future we have developed. In order to keep the portfolio diversified, the investments should be made in three different areas:

People – for example, investments in training, reorganizing, or equipping

Processes – for example, identifying the new or current processes that will be critical to execution in the future, and mechanizing, or improving them

Products – for example, adding new products or services that will appeal to the market in the future state.

The final portfolio will be a set of action items that must be divided between the participants to own. Each item must be looked at as a single profit and loss center so that it is clear from year to year whether the investment is paying off, or not. Although some investments might be difficult to measure, it is very important to find some method for valuing the return.

CONCLUSION – An annual High Beam meeting must be convened each year to review the trends, future vision, and investment portfolio. At this meeting, new information and observations will cause each part to be upgraded. The investment portfolio must be reviewed to see what kind of return was achieved. Just as with a financial portfolio, changes must be made each year. Losers that provided no value should be dropped. Winners that have completed their value run should be replaced, and the process starts anew.

Do not miss the opportunity to use the output of the process to inspire the whole organization. Every member of the team is interested in where the entity is going. They will have more zeal for their role in the organization if they know where the whole team is headed.

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