Strategy & vision - a playbook of methods for articulating objectives and sharing future visions

Future state vision

Updated on Monday, June 29, 2020

a method that helps teams envision the concrete, future product or service they want to build

Future State Vision is one of the easiest envisioning methods that almost anyone can run. It's also one of the most valuable and versatile. It helps individuals and teams describe a concrete, measurable vision of the future, so you agree on what you’re building and why. It works for products, services, projects, green field, redesigns, and retrofits.

DifficultyAnyone can do this
ParticipantsUp to 12 with or without experience
Time30 minutes (in-person), 45 minutes (remote)
MaterialsStandard stuff: a way to collect ideas and a way to collect them

Download Future state vision templates and facilitation guide

future-state-vision.pptx (88.27 kB). Last modified 06/27/20

How does it work?

Picture this. You and your team have just started a new project. You even know what you will build first, but how do you make sure what you build will lay the right foundation for where you want the product to go?

  1. First, brainstorm the problems you want to solve.
  2. Second, brainstorm the things you don’t want to change. What works now? What should stay the same?
  3. Finally, imagine the future. In this successful future, what specific things do people do?

The things people do in the successful future represent a concrete vision of the future. Each of these future behaviors can translate directly into user stories for your team to work on.

Is this for me?

A core method; great for envisioning any product or service

Because Future State Vision aligns your team around a crystallized product vision, it is highly versatile and ideal for project kickoffs for any kind of project.

Although most useful during problem and solution definition, use Future State Vision at any stage to bring misaligned teams back together.

Ideal for redesigns and relaunches

Because you start with brainstorms about what to change and what to keep, Future State Vision is especially useful where you have an existing system you want to change.

Alternatives to consider

While Future State Vision generates a list of specific things users do in the future, you may need to a future vision that's more specific or less specific.

Try more generalized methods to imagine a less specific future:

To envision a more specific future, map the future customer journey. You can convert the journey into a user story map, identify your minimum viable product, and populate your backlog.

What do you need?

Inputs

  • Start with a blank slate
  • Start with pre-collected problems, successes, and future behaviors

Outputs

  • List of problems to fix
  • List of successes to keep
  • List of user stories (and optional metrics)

Participants

  • Use on your own
  • Up to 12 participants
  • For more than 12, split into groups

Materials

  • Some way to collect ideas
  • Somewhere to collect them like a dry erase board or physical or digital wall

Learn more

Book cover for Collaborative Product Design by Austin Govella

Facilitation tips and instructions

Austin Govella provides detailed instructions and facilitation tips for Future State Vision in chapter seven of his book, Collaborative Product Design. You can view chapter seven online via O’Reilly’s Safari Books.

Austin adapted Future State Vision from a systems thinking approach to innovation called Idealized Design formalized by Russel Ackoff.

The origin of idealized design

Ackoff observed idealized design in action at Bell Labs in the 1950s. Read or listen to the story on the Wharton School of Business’s blog, Knowledge@Wharton: Idealized design: How Bell Labs Imagined — and Created — the Telephone System of the Future.

Book cover for Idealized Design by Russell Ackoff, Jason Magidson, and Herbert Addison

Learn about idealized design

Russel Ackoff, Jason Magidson, and Herbert Addison wrote an entire book on Idealized Design.