What Will You Do Next Year?

Many organizations are planning for 2020.

Some organizations call this “strategic planning,” however since the plan is only a year out, I’d argue that you might not call it “strategic,” although, in this world of extremely short-term planning, let’s say that planning one year out can be considered strategic. Most companies who are looking at completing these strategic planning exercises look at what they are doing today and extend that out a year. They plan by looking at the extensions of what is going on today.

In some cases, they do market research, in other cases they do signal analysis (which is looking for signs that there is a shift coming which needs to be addressed), but most of the time, they look at what they are doing today, to determine what they will be doing tomorrow. This is a mistake. This kind of planning cannot possibly provide you with an effective strategic plan for next year, as it ignores a simple fact of life which is “change is the only constant.”

We know that things will change, we don’t know when and by how much. So only looking at today and imagining the extension to tomorrow is not good enough.

You need to go much farther into the future to figure out what you should be doing in the past. We have an exercise which we run around this time of year called the “10-year scenario backcast“. This time of year is typically a hectic time for us, as many of our customer’s take advantage of our ten year backcast at this time of year. In short, we look out into three different time frames, in reverse chronological order, and then use that outlook to help our customers to generate strategic plans for next year.

First, we start by envisioning the world, ten years out. The workshop includes their industry, their market, their competitors, and finally personify these customers. We brainstorm this world ten years out, and flesh it out as much as possible, building a vision of this timeframe in our customer’s minds.

Once that is generally finalized, we backcast (as opposed to forecasting) to five years out. We assume that if the ten years out future we just envisioned is going to happen, then what products will we have to develop in 5 years to address this market in 10. We spend time envisioning the products.

Then finally, we look to next year and capabilities – what capabilities will we need to build next year to create those products five years out for those customers of 10 years out?

We then arrive at our priorities for next year – sometimes connected to what we are currently doing, and sometimes not.

This exercise disconnects them with their “today thinking” and forces them to think more broadly about the future that their customers will be living in. It helps to address those future customers, without the possible baggage of today.

The baggage of today, including things like technical debt, your corporate culture, your customer’s current expectations, drags down your ability to create a future in which your customers prefer to live. Only in completely detaching from that baggage will you be able to be free to innovate to your future customer’s delight.