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Future-Proofing: Buzzword, recycled concept, or essential process?

August 29, 2022 • Tommy White (PointClear Solutions)

3 Min Read

Recently the PointClear team was asked about the importance of future-proofing by a product decision maker. On the surface, this seemed to be a simple question but upon reflection, this question had multiple aspects and nuances that are worth discussing further.  The context in which future-proofing has been used is important because the term itself has recently become popular and very overloaded.  Since it has become such an overloaded term, it has been compared to other common processes that are similar in both activity and outcomes.  Comparisons aside, it has earned status as a best practice process and if used correctly, can become an invaluable tool in any technology strategy.

Future-proofing is the process of anticipating the future and developing methods of minimizing the effects of shocks and stresses of future events.”1

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Future-proofing in practice and the media

According to Google Trends2, the term “future-proofing” has become more popular throughout 2022.  Many factors may have influenced that popularity but the usage has broadened too.  A few examples include:

Future-Proof _____

… yourself and your career

… your team and partnerships

… your product architecture for (Scalability, Blockchain, Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Analytics, etc.)

… your UX design

… your marketing and sales funnel

The list goes on, but the intent is the same, to ensure that we are looking ahead and planning for change.

Similar concepts

Some would argue that future-proofing is just a recycled term for traditional risk management or risk mitigation.  There are certainly similarities since project risk is defined as, “… the fact that certain events or conditions—whether expected or unforeseeable during the planning process—may occur with impacts on portfolio, program, and project objectives. These impacts can be positive or negative and may cause deviation from the intended objectives”.3 In theory, the definitions are very much similar, but in our experience, the difference is in the practical mindset about each of these processes. Risk management seems to corelate with defensive tactics like identifying threats, potential issues, constraints, rework, or unnecessary future investments. Future-proofing seems to elicit more offensive tactics like architecting for improvements, flexible design patterns, decoupling services, training objectives, and optimized communication channels.  This mindset doesn’t map directly to the definitions, but perception is reality.

An Essential Process

Beyond terminology comparisons, future-proofing can be very beneficial.  If everyone involved accepts that change is going to happen, especially with technology, then the effort can absolutely deliver the desired outcome.

Once change is accepted and embraced, the focus shifts to identifying the areas to future-proof first.  This gets interesting because it doesn’t matter if you build, buy, partner, or leverage a hybrid of all three, your solution will always benefit at some point-in-time to change.  Analytics tools will evolve, cloud platforms and services will improve, programming languages and frameworks will advance.  The priority decisions on where to begin are best driven by business decisions that include timing (when do we expect this change to happen) and measurable impact (how will our clients/teams/technology benefit).

When you have decided the areas to future-proof first, begin with the end in mind and try to put yourself in that “future” mindset.  It’s well known that humans tend to lose track of details as time goes by.  When the future event happens, how will you remember and communicate the details?  Find the right level of documentation, assets, artifacts, and notes that will allow the the team to quickly review and leverage the earlier investment in future-proofing.  This is one area where documentation will prove to be more than just a “means to an end” so consider this documentation to be a treasure map that will save a lot of digging when the time comes.

Now there are many other best practices that should be considered for the future-proofing process including standardization, educating team members, incorporating future testing points, client communication, establishing metrics for change (usage, performance, and scale).  One of the benefits of working with many leading companies is that PointClear team members understand where change is considered as an advantage.  If you are evaluating future-proofing as a strategic way to advance your product, services, teams, or technology, we would love to hear more.  We can also provide insight into activities, tools, and best practices that others are using to look ahead and proactively embrace those inevitable changes.  Please feel free to reach out and contact us. We’re here to help.
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    1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Future-proof
    2. https://trends.google.com/trends/explore?geo=US&q=%2Fm%2F05vkjm
    3. The Standard for Risk Management in Portfolios, Programs, and Projects (2019)
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