Scenario Planning Process – Part 2

I attended an event celebrating 40 years of Shell scenarios last night, so it seems an appropriate moment to follow up on Part 1 of my 20 scenario planning tips and tricks. Here, in no particular order, is an assortment of observations and ideas from the projects I’ve been involved with.

11. Start with meta then migrate through macro to micro
Remember that when it comes to the implications of each scenario it’s always useful to start with high-level implications and then drill down. In other words, start with group implications and then drill down to individual divisions, departments, geographies or product and service lines. Again, a good way of bringing this to life is to use graphics not just words.

12. Don’t walk away
You will have invested time and money in the scenario process and if it’s time and money well spent don’t do it and then forget about it. Try to build scenario thinking into everyday decision-making and formalise the tracking of scenarios through horizon scanning or some similar research activity. Also, refresh the scenarios on a fairly regular basis (every 3-5 years seems like a practical proposition in most organisations)

13. Resist, resist
A common mistake with scenarios once they are done is to focus on the one that’s the most familiar or comfortable and ignore the rest. Don’t, unless you are deliberately building a preferred future. All scenarios should be created and treated equally no matter how uncomfortable they make people feel. Indeed, that’s partly the point of scenarios – to make people feel uncomfortable, either about what they think they know or know they don’t.

14. Emotional intelligence
Scenario planning should be a conversational process. It is about discovering what other people think and finding new ways to look at things. However, all too often the process is too logical and data driven. Be prepared to look for what’s not being said and tap into what’s being felt, but is not, or cannot, be articulated.

15. Tight and loose
There was some research many years ago about what made the difference between a Broadway smash and a Broadway flop. The answer, it seems, is to combine expertise with innocence. Build teams and workshops that consist of people with deep expertise and people with none.

16. Go wide and deep
If you are a bank creating scenarios there’s a great temptation to focus inward and look only at things that directly impact banking and finance. This would be fatal, not least because you will miss the potential of outsiders or non-incumbents to change the playing field. The whole point of scenarios is to explore the external macro-environment in which an organisation will be forced to adapt. Therefore explore up and down and in and out in terms of drivers. The economy, like technology, is likely to be a factor, but so too are demographic trends, the regulatory environment, customer attitudes, energy, politics and a bunch of other things not directly reacted to the industry or organisation in question.

17. Don’t forget about the social side
The area organisations seem to neglect above all others is people. I’m not just talking about demographics, but family structures and above all social trends, especially identity, values and beliefs, which combine with a host of other factors such as regulation (law), pricing and technology.

18. Look for the a ha moment
Done well, the scenario process should result in at least a few, and hopefully all, of those involved having some kind of epiphany. For example, half way through a project looking at the future of public libraries it occurred to many of us that the future of books or publishing is not the same as the future of public libraries. They are connected, but a public library without any physical books could almost work. A similar revelatory moment came in a workshop looking at how the recruitment industry might change. What the team suddenly realised was that it had created various futures for people like those sat around the table and much of the thinking was irrelevant for the majority of the working population, especially those being served by mainstream recruitment agencies.

19. Make specific recommendations
Most scenario projects look at strategic implications, but it’s incredible how many organisations will spend months crafting a set of scenarios and leave it at that. Any scenario planning process should conclude with a set of specific recommendations, which, more likely than not, will stem from a consideration of likely impact against likely probability.

20. And finally…shortcuts
Become ferociously curious about the scenarios created by other people and organisations. You’d be surprised about how much material is freely available and if you don’t have the time and money to create you own scenarios they can be a good short cut. Some scenario experts will violently disagree with this, arguing that scenarios are of use only for the people and time that created them. They answer a specific question and are rooted in time and place. I’d agree, up to a point, but you might be surprised by how much overlap there is between scenarios and stealing (seeking and reapplying in P&G speak) those belonging to others does have some merit.

For more on scenario planning see Future Vision: Scenarios for the World in 2040 by Richard Watson and Oliver Freeman.

Click here for tips 1-10


Further reading:

The Art of the Long View
Scenarios: The Art of Strategic Conversation

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