Because these engagements involve meaty, complex issues, success depends on keeping the project team, executive project sponsors, and board members who may be involved in oversight, completely aligned on the end goals:
- What is to be accomplished?
- Who is it being accomplished for?
- Why it is critical to the business or organization?
There are lots of ways to do this, but we have found that one of the most effective is a “Back from the Future” narrative. What is that, you ask? A Back from the Future narrative is a short document that looks from a future time when a project is complete, and the resulting new product or service or market opportunity is fully realized in market. The narrative, from the perspective of an external customer, describes how the organization has been transformed because of the successful completion of the project. Areas covered in the narrative include:
- Customers/Members – How has the project affected customers’ relationships with the company? What user needs have been solved? How has the overall customer experience improved?
- Staff – How has the project changed the work lives of the company’s employees? Does it improve focus, energy, motivation and productivity, or add new capabilities and skills? How does the customer perceive how these changes result in better better service or interactions with company staff?
- Competition – Does the successful implementation of this project change the company’s competitive set? Does it introduce a new field of competitors or change some former competitors into potential partners? Does the customer view the positioning of the company in the market more favorably?
- Financials – How does the successful launch of this new capability impact short-term and long-term revenue and profitability? This is especially relevant to Wall Street or investors who are, after all, also key customer constituencies.
- Innovation Capabilities – Has the completion of this project allowed the company to execute on other opportunities differently? What capabilities or skills has this project unlocked that change the way the company innovates? Does the customer have new confidence that the company can innovate, compete in the market, and meet their future needs by responding quickly to shifts in the market?
We try to keep these narratives short and written from an external perspective (Amazon does something similar with their projects, kicking them off with an internal press release from the future launch date). A strong Back from the Future document can serve as a north star for a project team, making sure that you are building something that solves specific customer needs and accomplishes what is intended. Of course, shifts do happen, and an agile project will probably morph some over time, but a good Back from the Future narrative should be written at a high enough level that these changes will not be an impediment.
Back from the Future narratives can also be a very effective means of communicating with a company board, giving them a clear depiction of why the project matters without bogging them down in executional details.
So, next time you embark on a transformation of your company step back for a few minutes and create your own Back from the Future vision. I think you’ll like where it leads you!