How does scenario planning work?

Dedicating some thought to your possible futures

The process

Some companies – very large ones – have entire planning teams, busily conducting research and developing future scenarios 24/7. (Well, almost.) What if you’re interested in introducing scenario thinking into your organization, but you don’t have a permanent staff of PhDs, MBAs, gurus, thinkers and seers?

One way to do it is by bringing in a facilitator (such as myself) to work with your senior management team, board, or perhaps a specially selected group of energetic managers from your company. Together we will move step-by-step through a systematic process that generates reasonably detailed, plausible future scenarios for your business – or your entire industry.

The process consists of a number of steps, among them:

  • Identifying the driving forces that have the potential to influence your future success
  • Defining the future’s most critical uncertainties for your organization
  • Based on these uncertainties, generating scenarios based on an “either-or” approach
  • Fleshing out story lines, and possibly crafting “day in the life” vignettes that help bring the look and feel of the future scenario down to earth
  • Validating the scenarios with agreed experts and identifying where more work or research might be needed
  • Identifying key signposts that could indicate, over the next few years, which scenario seems to be materializing

The first part of this process can be done in a focused workshop, which will generate the skeletal structure of the futures you may find yourself operating in. However, to put meat on these bones, it's good to spend some time in a follow-up working session or two that will be devoted to crafting the scenarios in more detail.


What then?

Then, either together with the facilitator or on your own, you can think long and hard about the scenarios that have been generated by the above process, and assess the implications of each one for your organization.

For example, when you look at one of the scenarios you've posited as a plausible future:

  • What capabilities would you need to beef up in order to thrive in that landscape?
  • What might be the best proactive measures you could already implement now so your organization would be as ready as possible to deal with the changes as they emerge?
  • What responses would you need to be able to execute quickly if you see signs that this is the scenario that is taking shape?

All this is a simplified version of the key points in the scenario planning process.  For more detailed information on each of these steps - and a couple more not shown here - consider getting a copy of my book on scenario planning (available here), which provides you with a good "how-to" manual, walking you through the methodology, explaining the reasoning behind each step, and suggesting pointers and tips on how to make the process as effective as it can be, once you and your team decide to take the plunge.


Getting the ball rolling quickly

Alternatively, maybe all you need is just a provocative talking-to. Contact me. I can present the concept of scenario planning to your team, and as a way of kicking off your own scenario development process we can generate 4 "quick and dirty" scenarios together: not highly polished, but guaranteed nevertheless to open your eyes to possible future landscapes you might not have considered before.

At that point, I can step back and let you do the heavy lifting yourselves, or continue to accompany you on your journey, as you see fit.


© 2012 Wade & Co. SA