Strategic Envisioning

I was delighted to be invited to plan and facilitate a strategic envisioning workshop with the global management team at ThoughtWorks. It was back in June 2010 in Gurgaon, India. (I should mention i paired with shelley beeston on this).

The  process we developed focused on  :

  • envisioning the measure by which we can assess our success
  • extending the horizon of our shared vision of the future
  • and elevating the aspirations of our intent as an organization, and the desired impact we want to have on the world.

In the end, after a series of workshop sprints and lightning talks designed to encourage a broad range of divergent ideas and emergent thinking, the group eventually circle back to the bold ambition of being the “Blueprint for the Humane Corporation” and defined a stretched view of the ThoughtWorks 3 Pillar Framework (Sustainable business, Software Excellence, Social Impact). Obviously i can’t provide much detail on the exact outputs, but i can talk about how we approached it.

The process

When planning the workshop, everyone we talked to warned us about how impossible it would be to keep the workshop on track. A room full of the most brilliant, energetic and high performing people at ThoughtWorks presented a formidable challenge…. so we spent a lot of time planning and structuring the activities. We even created individual passports for participants with a path for navigating different tables (so that they all got to work with different people in different activities over the two days)

We wanted to ensure the process was highly visual, and focused on producing tangible assets. One way of ensuring this was to focus activities around visual templates (using the grove visual meetings methods as a base)

Some of templates we developed for the workshops are shown below…

It was an amazing experience, working with a set of the most intelligent and thoughtful people around. Since then, the leadership team has been using the 3 horizons model to sort the initiatives into a program of work. Its great to see the outputs of the workshop now having a real impact on the ambitions and plans of the organisation.

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Adaptive Leadership

Nugget of gold from Jim Highsmith and his white paper on Adaptive Leadership.

“Changing the Plan-Do management culture won’t be easy. An Envision-Explore culture understands that innovative answers to complex problems emerge over time. This idea of letting solutions emerge rather than having them pre-determined up front in the plan takes a leap of faith for many managers—they want to know the precise steps from here to there. They are uncomfortable with a process that says, “lets plan a little, get started, and we’ll see what happens.” They want answers where there are none. They are comfortable with a detailed plan, which they know won’t work out, but offers the illusion of a known end point.”

Adaptive Leadership white paper V1

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workshop capture templates for customer journeys, content workflows, business model canvas and more…

At ThoughtWorks we tend to go fairly loose and fast with documentation. Often the “capture” of workshop sessions is a few photographs and a tonne of share understanding between participants. This all works if you are transitioning straight into a build, and the entire team is present in the workshops, but if the organization is not ready to rock this “loose and fast” method can present some problems.

Shock horror – i actually had to document the outputs of some recent workshops. So to make this easy i created a set of output capture templates and thought i would share some of the generic versions. I hope they help or inspire you in some way.

customer journey

end-to-end content flows

what does bold look like?

business model canvas

objectives statements

customer promise

anchors and engines

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From Sketchboards to Blueprints – facilitating detailed conversations about the evolving design

OK…. Not everything can be done in Collaborative Workshops. There is a time and place for an Experience Designer to get down and dirty in the detail, roll up their sleeves and just design the thing.

I have talked a lot about facilitating design workshops at the beginning of a project, but not much about what happens after that. This is what i do…

I think the “design development” phase is about two things.

  1. Prototyping and Testing…. its the way you take the vague direction established in workshops and turn it into something that real people understand and want, and something that you could actually build. We are trying week long design “sprints” and doing 1 days user testing each week…. and i have to say it works a treat. Sure the pace is intense, but the more you do to reduce the feedback cycle time the quicker you can tune and improve the design.The project i just finished working on was in the “design development” phase – we spent 5 weeks improving on the inception sketch designs, and in the process tested with 20 users. The difference between the first and last prototypes was amazing – almost a completely different model for pitching the value of the service to consumers and extracting value for the business when users engaged with the service. Do, test, learn, respond….Do, test, learn, respond…
  2. Design Sketchboards… I take the prototype designs and turn them into a single, visual design asset that helps facilitate detailed conversations about the UI designs and page flows. You could argue thats what the prototype is for, but in my experience prototypes are often to complex and have to many alternative navigation paths to be very effective as an asset for sharing design vision. Design blueprints simplify the design into navigation flows and page templates, and help everyone understand the design solution proposed.

Now dont get all “thats BUFD” on me… the entire point is to facilitate detailed conversations about the evolving design. Its not fixed in time, it evolves and I usually paste version after version over the top of the original (its kinda fun flicking back through time and saying “thats where we started”)

I think its important to use this asset to drive understanding during the delivery, and the best way to do this is “take 1/2 the wall”. I think embodying a “balanced approach” to design and development on the wall is important. Walls and cards are good for managing projects, but they ain’t all that good at UX vision.

take a look at and for more on what i mean when i say a “balanced approach”. I will try and write more about this soon.

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I will be speaking at UX Australia !

Delighted that my submission for UX Australia has been accepted. Details of the talk below. Hopefully i will see you there….

Agile, Design Thinking and you…

Short Description

Agile is changing the way we create software. Design, and Design Thinking, is becoming pivotal to business success. The UX game is changing, and you need to step up!. This talk will challenge your thinking about your approach to design, and introduce you to new methods for increasing your influence in software and business strategy projects.

Long Description

Agile is changing the way we create software. Design, and Design Thinking, is becoming pivotal to business success. The UX game is changing, and you need to step up!

Daniel Oertli (CIO, REA Group) and Jason Furnell (Experience Design consultant, ThoughtWorks) will discuss the changing role of UX in fast moving, Agile development environments, presenting case studies demonstrating the impact that a design-led approach has had at Australia’s No.1 real estate site (

This talk will present concepts that will challenge your thinking and introduce you to new methods that will increase your impact as a designer working on software and business strategy projects.

The Agile development methodology dramatically changes the role of designers: the build is the design. Agile concepts like “working software over comprehensive documentation” and the disciplines of “just enough” and “just in time”, mean that traditional, heavy weight specification documentation is no longer effective – or even possible.

Practitioners need to find ways to “power up” their design impact. Jason and Daniel will discuss how to use collaborative design as a ‘force multiplier’, share the experience of designing in real-time, and show you how to let go, be fearless and take your team with you on a journey that builds trust, buy-in and design momentum.

They will challenge you to shift your focus; to make the transition to design thinking, and focus on design facilitation in order to increase the scale and complexity of the things you design.

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Experience Design in an Agile context – Discussion with Martin Fowler

Apologies (Martin) for the blatant attempt at secondary brand association in the title, but i cant resist talking about a lunchtime chat I had with Martine Folwer (co-author of the Manifesto for Agile Software Development), Diana Adorno and Luke Stubbles on Experience Design in an Agile Context. Sometimes ThoughtWorks is a cool place to work.

Notes from the discussion points below…

Continuos Research – Pursue qualitative guerilla usability & market testing, hand in hand with quantitative real world stats and behavior analysis

Collaborative Design – Pursue inclusive, multidisciplinary sketch based exploration. Include the consumer in the process

Rapid Prototyping – Spike the experience, Build it once, then build it again. From sketch to working software. Dispose of throw away’s early – Get “in the medium” as quickly as possible (working reusable code, XD paring with Dev’s on prototyping)
Shorten feedback loops – Focus on the Minimum Viable Product, and the experience progression across releases. Aim for an early release, learn from real world usage. Continuos Research. Designers need to “keep their head in the clouds, and their feet firmly planted on the ground”.  Never loose site of the Immediate Delivery – the things real consumers are going to use first.

Just enough, Just in time – XD in an agile environment. Getting away from the deliverables game. Influencing the build, creating empathy for the users, continuos testing and iteration (truly iterative, not incremental). Just enough precision for estimating early, then just in time design decisions for execution. Its not easy but you need to maintain a tactical shot horizon vision (whats being released next) and a strategic long horizons vision (all this effort is heading towards this…)

Design Thinking and Visual Communication – Within inception and beyond.Focus on the narritive and context – often missing in agile projects. Remember stories are a planning tool, not a design tool. Design Sketchboards, Customer Journeys, other visual meeting and communication methods – the INVEST story is cannot be the primary design asset.If you start a project (after inception) with a massive card wall, and have successfully cornered the business into prioritizing a set of feature stories BEFORE spiking the experience in a prototype – then your in fact relying on abstract documentation rather than working software to define a products vision.REAL individual interactions – facilitating consumer participation in the development process.  A subtile shift from including the “customer” to including the “consumer” in the build process.Come on…. are you really having REAL individual interactions with the people your building software for on a regular basis (im not talking about your product manager)…. are you relying on processes and tools (like a dodgy persona done in one hour during inception, or saying you have got feedback from your customers in a one hour showcase that is not really structured to illicit feedback, but rather report on progress)

Business Process Visualisation.  XD may have a real role to play in visualizing analytics and designing data visualisation graphics for complex “invisible” information. If you hear the words “Business intelegence” get involved and add value.

Experience Design is a quality issue.  XD need to get better at articulating the quality benefits (which we all agree are there)… better execution, identify the tangible effects on speed and quality of execution.

Agile XD Transition requires people on the ground.  its easy to make an argument for how bad Big Up Front Design is, but what hard is that once you recognize that isolated upfront “expert” design is bad, you then need to accept that you are going to need a XD focus THROUGHOUT the entire build process. To pursue Continuous Design, an embedded, continuos and integrated practice you NEED people on the ground.

Agile XD Mentoring within a consulting model. This is a problem that may be particular to ThoughtWorks, but we talked a lot about how you ensure growth, sustainability and mentorship in XD when client demand does not encourage XD pairing. Without pairing the apprentice professional development model fails.  Without some sort of “design studio” environment its difficult to develop skills depth (although we recognize the existing model is great at promoting skill breadth). A few idea thrown around were:

  • 1/2 day design studio gathering per week – pitching it to clients as “just the way we work here”. Sharing design issues and techniques – focused on real world client projects
  • XD buddy system – someone you can bounce things off (even if they are at a different client)
  • Pursing a proactive community – meetings and events outside of client hours
  • Paring (without demand for 2 XD’ers) – as more senior XD’er become poly skilled, then XD paring can be pursued with more junior XD resource being fulfilling the dedicated XD role, and the more senior person simply playing a more generic project role (perhaps BA or IM)… and yes i know its not about having specialist roles !
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Consulting Engagement Canvas

So what do you get when you combine the visual meeting methods and templates described within David Sibbet’s “Visual Meetings”, the simple and powerful communication model of the “Business Model Canvas”, and the considered approach to consulting engagement that i picked up in training from Performance Dynamics…… you get the Consulting Engagement Canvas.


Download the PDF here
consulting engagement canvas ALL V1

The pack includes an overview of the Canvas Design, and individual templates for each of the topics you should cover in a new engagement meeting.

I imagine you could either just use the templates on A4 and scrawl within them with a pen, or print them out on a larger scale and facilitate the discussion using post-it notes in a larger group.

The templates demand prioritization from the start… that’s the nice thing about visual templates. If they were all suck up on a wall the “wholeness” of the canvas would demand attention to all areas. It may also be useful as a pre-inception activity.
There is not much explanation in the pack. Hopefully it all speaks for itself.

Anyway… that’s the pitch. Give them a go and let me know if they work for you.
References to the key ingredient in this method cocktail are:

Creative Commons License
Consulting Engagement Canvas by Jason furnell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at

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Prototypes are the delivery mechanism for communicating our design principals

From finding the right things to do…. to doing the right things… we attempt to define the principals of an <insert category> experience. As designers we need to keep our head in the clouds and our feet on the ground and fight the urge to be “right” too early.

Prototypes are the delivery mechanism for our communicating our design principals.

A few nuggets of wisdom from the IDEO team that worked on the MyFord Touch project – taken from my notes at UXweek 2010.

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Blog Visualization

I am preparing for a series of upcoming talks and trying to get a grip on what i want to say, and what i have said in the past. Faced with a dense, messy and impenetrable data set (my own blog thoughts) i turned to the good old wordle … and you cant help but love them!


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Tell a story…

Ben Green, a good friend once told me that in many ways Experience Design is about story telling.

Its about describing convincing narratives about what “happy customers look like”. Crafting a future vision of people with plausible motivations, acting within a real world context, going on a journey with our services that ultimately leads to satisfaction.

If we are lucky (or skillful) the journey actually changes the relationship between our customers and provided services – initiating long term behaviour change that has positive outcomes for “us” and “them” in the future. Methods like developing personas, customer journeys and service design maps attempt to help us get a better grip on the characters, motivations, obstacles and paths to resolution in these stories.

So how do you tell a good story… well as always wikipedia has the answers . Here is my super abridged version… the bits i think are most relevant to Experience Design.

Story Telling – the Structure

  • Setup – setting is established, characters are introduced. Amongst a range of character types it usually includes the The Protagonist (The driver of the action of the story and therefore responsible for achieving the story’s Objective Story Goal), the Antagonist (The character that stands in opposition to the protagonist)
  • Conflict – a necessary element of fiction.  Person vs (Him or Himself, Person, Society, Nature, Supernatural, Machine / Technology)
  • Climax – It is the moment of greatest danger for the protagonist- presenting a seemingly inevitable prospect of failure. The most important element is that the protagonist experiences a change. The main character discovers something about himself or herself, and another unknown character. The last element is revealing the theme itself.
  • Resolution – occurs after the climax, where the conflict is resolved.

Designing Experience Stories

i dont think its to big a stretch to see our consumers as the protagonist, in a story of conflict between man and technology. The conflict arrises as a result of our services acting as the antagonist, presenting potential obstacles and barriers to entry in the path towards service resolution.

Climax (perhaps represented by the protagonist decision point, a moment of opportunity – the realisation that they in fact desire to engage with our services and achieve an outcome, leading to a final “to the death” acquisition battle). Overcoming the antagonist in this battle leads to the protagonist to experiencing change – discovering empowerment and the possibility of success hand in hand with the antagonist.

Resolution occures where the conflicts between consumer and service are … well, resolved. The service no longer presents barriers to entry, it now plays a supporting role for the protagonist in reaching a deeper level of self understanding, enlightenment and fulfillment. Resolution brings about a change, and that change has a lasting impact on consumer and service provider.

Ok, its maybe it is bit of a stretch….. but i think we all need a bit more drama and engagement in design, and this is perhaps one frame that will help us achieve that.

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