I have used the prospective hindsight technique many times with strategic initiative teams. The word prospective means to imagine a scenario and the word hindsight means to look back from the scenario to the cause of that scenario. For example, imagine a flat tire on your automobile; a plausible cause is that you ran over a nail.
Prospective hindsight – aka “project pre-mortem” – is quick and straightforward. It helps with both vision development and with risk identification.
How to Do It
I ask the group to vividly imagine the initiative at some point in the distant future: “Stare into a crystal ball.”
Further, I instruct them to imagine the strategic initiative has been an abject failure. It is very helpful to put one’s self into the picture. Linger on this visual. Then, the team imagines answers to this question: what happened to cause this disaster scenario? I ask them to write the reasons for the disaster on sticky notes, and we now have a good input for our risk identification.
The team can further analyze the sticky notes. One practical aspect of this technique is that people generate specific risk events for the scenario (a nail in the road caused the flat tire). That makes it much easier to develop risk responses to mitigate, avoid, transfer, or accept them via contingency plans. Too, often people come up with generalities such as “no buy in.”
To reinforce the value of the discipline of risk management, I remind the team that
CEOs attribute 21% of the reasons for success of a strategic initiative to “anticipating obstacles.”
An Eye-Opening Variant: The Delight Scenario
The steps for this are the same. Instead of the disaster scenario, I ask them to imagine a picture of glorious success. This delight scenario often causes people to look for opportunities and to reinforce the value of collaboration.
This question is fun and energizing for the team! Typical answers include looking in the white space, becoming a true team (and not a committee with a slogan), and looking for the customer’s unspoken needs.
The Chief Story Teller Role
In earlier articles, I explained that one of the four leadership roles is that of Chief Story Teller. Often when people hear of the story telling role, they think in terms of war stories: Stories about the past. These retrospective stories are useful because they teach and entertain, but they lack motivational force.
Strategic initiatives are concerned about the future. As I have pointed out in earlier articles on strategic thinking, strategy is ambiguous (and so is the future). People tend to avoid ambiguity. One answer to this situation is to stress the importance of becoming fluent in telling prospective stories. Prospective stories help people make sense of their imagined personal role in this new scenario.
A good story about strategy provides space in the narrative for the listener to use their imagination.
Enhancing the Vision Statement
You should now have considerable more – and relevant – detail to work with in improving the strategic initiative’s vision statements.
Have you ever used this?
- How to Develop Completion Criteria and Success Metrics (leadingstrategicinitiatives.wordpress.com)
- Strategic Initiatives | Are You Ready to Implement? (leadingstrategicinitiatives.wordpress.com)
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