Scenario Planning: Planning is better than prediction

Scenario planning is a big-picture method of thinking that allows people to see the future logically, systematically and realistically. It is primarily used as a resilience test for strategy, but can also provide a framework for innovation and risk analysis.  It involves several stages, in which research, interviews, reports, analysis and brainstorming all play a part, and is of value to both creative and analytical thinkers.  Scenario planning helps an organisation prepare for a range of possible futures.

Scenario planning provides a conceptual framework, within which you can evaluate and explore complex strategic concerns.

Scenario Planning Process Map

As business and organisational futures are difficult to predict scenario planning is a useful mapping tool.

Scenario planning needs an internal champion, most likely your CEO, and ideally an external facilitator to provide independent insight.

A complete process can take 3-12 months – there are no short-cuts in scenario planning.  The outcome should lead to a dynamic, ongoing and heightened awareness of alternative futures.   A good set of scenarios extends at least 10 years into the future, and will be valid for two to three years as long as they are reviewed periodically.

The key benefits of scenario planning are that you can:

  • explore the strategic options available to you, as individuals and as an organisation
  • develop new understandings of the future by envisioning a wider range of possibilities
  • design strategies that are robust enough to withstand future shocks and surprises
  • learn to research ‘change’ in the business environment and to think systematically about business or organisational concerns, and apply techniques to the strategic planning process
  • understand the power of storytelling.

Further reading: Watson, Richard and Freeman Oliver (2012). Futurevision; scenarios for the world in 2040.  Scribe.

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