Abstract futuristic image in blue and orange

For many change leaders, innovation begins with ideation – the knee-jerk reaction to come up with ideas. However, we must resist this temptation to solve the problem until we clearly understand the context and mandates for innovation. Enter Future States.

We Need Stronger Solutions!

Project management offers a proven set of tools to get from idea to implementation. All too often, however, innovative visions that roar like lions get turned into weak solutions that bleat like lambs. Somewhere between the identification of the project vision and the eventual go-live, many projects face a gauntlet of governance, review gates, risk management, and competing priorities that force smaller, more defensive thinking. Many project managers do not see innovation as part of their job.

Consider this blog an invitation to become a true innovator in your organization.


Innovation starts with ideation.

Innovation should begin by understanding the business mandates for growth, market share, wallet share, etc. Mature innovation practices often begin with a discovery process that analyzes business mandates, capabilities, market forces – and therefore the types of innovation required by the business. Only then can we begin to look at ideas around innovation.

Innovation is risky business.

The size and scale of the innovations should be pegged to a risk framework. Risk management is inherent in organizations with mature innovation practices. Often, innovations can graduate from a lower risk profile to a higher risk profile over a series of planned implementations.

Innovation must be bold and market shaping.

Not true! The value of an innovation is always in the mind of the consumer. Smaller innovations that respond to market needs, such as adding new features to an application, can be just as (or more) powerful as larger innovations.

The objective of innovation is to be intentional with our approach, and like running a project, project managers should have a set of tools that can be used for specific purposes to drive innovation. Project managers are a natural fit for leading innovation initiatives. We are usually at the forefront of what is new. However, we can become run down in thinking about projects as deliverables, rather than seeing projects as a set of Future States.

What is A Future State?

In order to adapt to rapid changes in the marketplace, we need to go about solving problems in better ways. Perhaps this sounds like standard project management, but building a Future State goes beyond the boundaries of a traditional project role. Below are terms we commonly use to define the products of a project.

  • Deliverables are the most fundamental imperatives of a project – the direct result and purpose for a particular scope of work. For example, the implementation of new technology.

  • Target Environment. This term often reflects a comparative view of how the business will change – today we do X and tomorrow we will do Y.

  • Outcomes are the direct reflection of the deliverables, realized over a longer timeframe. For example, the new technology enables greater collaboration across business units.

  • Benefits reflect the long-term, often indirect, gains realized from the implementation of a project. For example, higher rates of product innovation as a result of new technology.

Deliverables, Target Environments, Outcomes and Benefits are all well-known concepts in project management. Yet this line of thinking is flawed because it fails to take into account the context within which the project will live. We tend to build toward discrete outcomes without enough consideration of how customers and suppliers will use it.

A Future State is a vision that includes these incremental elements of a project and connects them to business mandates, customer uses, global and market trends, etc.

Consider the automotive industry. You are the assigned project manager and need to oversee the yearly model update including new features, engine updates, new materials and colors. In today’s world, we might expend considerable effort coordinating data from marketing, supply chain, design, sales, and other areas that result in the top 3-5 features for a final design. Because these processes are complex, and the supply chain is limited and locked in. So we build to spec and the result may be unintentional unmanaged innovation.

With Future State thinking, we begin with a bold vision. For example, our customers will not own our cars, but use them as a service. Based on this future state (which is driven from a business mandate for growth from the executives), we can arrive at a whole set of possible outcomes. How about new interiors and software for users to quickly personalize the vehicle; or apps for managing vehicle inventories, or sensors for maintenance, or subscription services for users. And so on.

In this example, we are building a business model that embraces the Future State of urbanization and distributed asset management. We did not just dive into making new designs for keyless cars, but instead started with the mandates for corporate growth and a vision for how we engage customers.

Next, we enable a series of smaller, incremental changes that help test the big Future State. So we might build a series of smaller phases or independent projects, that move us closer to the Future State. The most frequent cause of poorly defined Future State is inadequate discovery. We simply do not know enough about our customer needs and wants, pains and gains, dreams and desires.  Sponsors often lack the right set of tools to engage in this line of thinking. The right steps here will drive better conversations that create the Future States that attract customers.

The future States encompass the concepts of deliverables, outcomes and benefits, and should be part of a business model.  Where project outcomes tend to be fixed, future states are adaptable, often arrived at through a series of business model pivots.

A Call To Action

  • Do you see project managers as innovators? Please comment below!

Here are some good questions to start with:

  1. What business metrics define acceptable and high performance? The performance standards define how we gauge success in the areas of market leadership, customer impact, scalability and other more.

  2. What business mandates must we adhere to? What does business leadership require of any new future state? 10-15% growth in the current customer base? 5% new market share?

  3. How much risk are we willing to take? Smaller risk tolerances demand incremental innovation, while larger risk tolerances drive us toward bolder market-leading innovations

Interested in learning more about future states and how Teaming Worldwide can help you tackle your business; most pressing issues? Let’s connect. Visit www.teamingworldwide.com/innovation to schedule a discovery call or email us at hello@teamingworldwide.com.

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