Nikolas Knickrehm

7 min read

Futurespective - Defining a Shared Vision

IT Management

Recently I had the pleasure of hosting a workshop for around 30 people working at the same department at one of our clients. The goal of this format was to reflect on how they have been building their main product over the past year and align them on what and how they want to build it from now on.

Futurespective - Defining a Shared Vision

Since this workshop mostly got very positive feedback and we were quite positively surprised by the results, I want to share the concept with you. It should be very easy to transform and use this for other business contexts.

One of the reasons why we wanted to facilitate this workshop was our perception of people from the department being misaligned on what the main product is. To give you some background: The department is relatively new and was building one main product together with a handful of self-organized teams for more than one year now. During one-to-one conversations with different members of the department, we noticed that people made contradicting statements regarding some basic questions regarding the product's scope. In such cases, we were not completely sure if people were aware of them contradicting each other or if we were just missing some context to link those statements in a non-contradicting way.

Just telling them about our observations might not have been very effective though. Before coming up with the workshop, we discussed some of our thoughts with several people from the department and they could confirm our feelings that we might have stumbled across something. At this moment we tried to come up with a way of approaching the situation in a constructive manner and to allow all members from the department to draw their conclusions instead of some consultants telling them about some observations that we have made.

We, therefore, facilitated a 90 minutes Futurespective that was open for every person from the department where we tried to initiate discussions between people working in various teams and roles regarding the past and future development of their shared product. By splitting up the participants into smaller groups of 3 to 4 members we created safe environments where participants could voice critical observations, thoughts, and feelings more openly and where everybody would participate more actively instead of just leaning back listening to the usual suspects who would be active in a department-wide meeting. Through storytelling principles, we tried to make the workshop more entertaining and change how the participants would usually think about their main product. Shifting how somebody is thinking about something (usually a problem) is a secret weapon to push people into getting insights themselves which is far more effective than telling them what to think (or how to solve a problem).

By giving them strict time boxes to discuss some open questions in their small groups before presenting their results to the rest of the participants we tried to boost their creativity and increase the volume of output instead of allowing extensive discussions on single items that a group had collected. Each group was assigned a dedicated Teams Call for their discussions and a column on our workshop's Miro board to make notes on digital sticky notes. During the discussion times we (the two facilitators) moved between the virtual rooms to check on the groups and if necessary bring them back on track.

But now without further ado let's follow the different chapters of the Futurespective's story before later drawing some general conclusions on how to adapt and improve the format.

The Product's First Birthday Party

The baseline of our workshop was the idea that the product was a fictional person and that this person wanted to celebrate his (using male pronouns in this article for the sake of simplicity) first birthday together with his friends. In this metaphor, the workshop participants are the friends of the product trying to help out during a minor existential crisis.

Who Am I?

In this first part we wanted to achieve two different things:

First, we wanted the participants to get familiar with the structure of our workshop. Not everybody is that open to change perspective and do a self-reflection session as a fictional character which is the technical product that they have been working on. We also expected some to struggle with the fast pace of the workshop while jumping around different calls in Microsoft Teams and using Miro.

Secondly, we wanted to gather real insights on the product as it is right now and make people voice some problems that they have noticed in the past or maybe just during the workshop. The idea was that by using a fictional character and making the participants think from this character's perspective, they would not immediately fall back to their usual thoughts regarding the product which they explore a lot throughout the day. Using the metaphor worked surprisingly well with most participants as they had, according to them, new insights and identified issues that they were not aware of before.

The story for this part of the workshop went as follows:

The product celebrates his first birthday today 🎉

Before all of the guests have arrived he sits alone on the couch for a minute thinking about his first year and who he had become.

Within the small groups the participants were asked to discuss the following questions for 10 minutes:

  • Who is the product today?
  • How did the product change in the last year?

At the end of the discussion, every group came back into the main workshop room and had one minute to present their results before we continued with the next chapter of the story.

Who Do I Want to Be?

After spending the last chapter doing self-reflections for the product, now was the time to come up with some ideas for the future. Imagine yourself sitting on the couch at home right before New Year's Eve, picturing your future self having a sixpack instead of feeling guilty about all the stuff that you ate over the past days. The participants were tasked to define the ideal self from the product's perspective which they would like to reach in one year.

Chapter 2 was explained to them like this:

"Wow, time is running fast." The product said to himself thinking about all the developments he had made in just one year. "I wonder who I will become in the next year!"

Within their group, the participants discussed the following question for 10 more minutes before presenting their results to the rest of the department:

  • Who should the product become in one year?

What is the First Step?

Now as with many New Year's resolutions that are quite ambitious compared with the current situation, we wanted the participants to define the next logical and actionable steps for reaching their defined goals in one year.

The head full of ideas the product sees that there is a long way ahead towards his new self. Eager to reach his goals he asks himself what the next steps will be to move in the right direction.

Due to the strict time constraints we enforced during the workshop, the participants had 7 minutes to discuss the question:

  • What are the next actionable steps for the product to reach his goals for the upcoming year?

How Will You Help Me?

All the previous chapters were "to be thought" from the perspective of the product. Now we brought the participants back into their minds and made them identify and commit to things that they could do to support the product moving forward.

The doorbell is ringing and the friends of the product are coming in. "This will be my new self in one year!" The product explains to them excitedly. "Awesome!" Said its best friend. "How can we help?"

The simple question for the last 7 minutes of group discussion was:

  • How can we all support the product in the next year so we will reach the goals together?

Conclusion and Feedback

At the end of the workshop, we were surprised by the number of sticky notes that people had placed on the board. Among other things, our previous observations could be found in the output produced by multiple groups and people were eager to solve the issues that they had identified as soon as possible. The Futurespective kicked of a motion of changes within the department with multiple follow-up workshops now being planned. I don't want to say that our workshop takes all the credit for that. Still I think that it acted as a catalyst to raise awareness for things that only few had voiced before.

If you find yourself in a similar situation to us, I encourage you to take this format, adapt it to your needs and facilitate a workshop similar to ours. You might be surprised who will identify and address what kinds of issues and what people will commit themselves to in the future. While the storytelling approach felt risky at first, it was perceived very positively and in my opinion helped to give some participants a completely new perspective on the product.

As this was the first time we facilitated such a workshop let me also share some constructive feedback from the participants that might improve the format if you want to try it yourself:

  • Give the groups a bit more time to discuss. At least 10 minutes if not 15 minutes would be great since the virtual switch between the rooms loses at least 1-2 minutes.
  • Reduce the amount of questions/chapters and use the resulting time to discuss the remaining questions/chapters.
  • Put an even stronger focus on defining action items with people visibly committing to them and defining milestones (e.g. "What, Who & Due").
  • Make the workshop longer than 90 minutes. But, we also received a lot of positive feedback regarding the short duration and fast pace of our workshop. Maybe we will increase the time to 120 minutes for the next time but personally, I have mostly negative experience with virtual workshops exceeding two hours.

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