The idea of change occurring in three distinct phases is found in most change management literature, dating back to the cultural anthropologist Arnold van Gennep who studied rites of passage in cultures around the globe in the early 20th century. From Kurt Lewin to William Bridges, Richard Beckhard to Daryl Conner, Jeanenne LaMarsh to Prosci, the explanation of change as a movement (Transition) from how we had done things (Current) to a new way of doing things (Future) is prominent. Even many systems used to develop technical solutions are based on the delta between an "as is" (the Current State) and a "to be" (the Future State).


However, many project teams and business leaders think about the Future State from only an organizational perspective - documented and managed processes, a production process with fewer errors or variations, an integrated data system instead of disparate legacy systems, etc. While this is certainly a necessary perspective, all of these projects and initiatives ultimately impact individuals and how they do their jobs. The goal of this exercise is to extend that Current-Transition-Future model one more level by adding the perspective of Individual Future States. This is a great exercise to do with project teams and leaders who are struggling to understand how change management fits in their project plan and will lead to more project benefits and realized objectives.

The Future States Exercise

Future States blank sheet exercise.png

Steps for completing the Future States exercise:

  • Start with a blank sheet of paper
  • Draw a line down the middle to separate the page into two sides
  • On the left side, describe the Future State from the organization's perspective—the organizational benefits that the project or initiative is trying to achieve (this is usually an easy task for a project team or leader)
  • On the right side, describe the Future State for five individuals impacted by the change— how their own job will be different after the project is implemented.

Positioning Change Management

The change management connection for this exercise is the perspective of change on two levels: the organizational level and the individual level. In the exercise, you use a fairly simple and accessible model (the three states of change) as the foundation for examining the Future State at the organizational and the individual levels. You may find that your project team can instantly define the Future State from the organization's perspective, but struggle to even begin defining individual Future States.

The outcome we are looking for might sound something like: "Thank you for helping me start to look at the numerous Future States that this project is going to create. Change management is about enabling and encouraging impacted individuals to reach their own Future States. By working together on the project, we can achieve the organizational and individual Future States that will result in the improved performance we are trying to achieve."

This exercise can be eye-opening for many who have always thought about change strictly in terms of the organizational perspective. On a single sheet of paper, you are able to introduce the individual level of change and start the discussion about how to best facilitate these changes.

What This Means for You

The case for change management can certainly be made more analytical, more data-driven and more rigorous. However, the first step in building buy-in and commitment to change management is helping your project teams redefine how they view change—away from a strictly technical view of the project and toward a more complete view that includes the individuals who have to ultimately embrace and adopt the change. This exercise is designed to help you position and anchor change management for a project team with a simple analysis that starts with nothing more than a blank sheet of paper and a project to consider.

Looking for more ways to build buy-in? Try another blank sheet exercise, or attend change management certification.

Introduction to Change Management - Prosci

Written by
Tim Creasey
Tim Creasey

Tim Creasey is Prosci’s Chief Innovation Officer and a globally recognized leader in change management. His work forms the foundation of the largest body of knowledge in the world on managing the people side of change to deliver organizational results.