Using Scenario Planning Templates in Your Next Foresight Project

Scenario planning is one of the most useful activities you can engage in to inform the course of your organization’s strategy. It typically involves the development of multiple scenarios that will then be used to identify opportunities and mitigate risk.

When you conduct scenario planning, using templates to compare key factors across different scenarios can help focus in on points of divergence between the multiple possibilities. Clearly, such templates can’t stifle creative perspectives as they are developed, so handle them with care. But, a rough set of standard inputs for each scenario can speed the identification of useful ideas.

In this article, we’ll explore how using a scenario planning template can benefit your organization as you identify the implications of a range of possible future events. We’ll also touch on how the Strategy Connections App provides you with options for creating these templates.

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Scenario Planning Overview

Scenario planning is a deliberate attempt to reduce the uncertainty you will face as your company or organization works towards its strategic goals.

It accomplishes this by focusing an analysis on the changing conditions of the competitive environment independent of your strategic intentions. This analysis will help identify external factors to inform business strategy development in the context of possible future events.

A common sequence for progressing toward scenario planning is: brainstorming ideas, identifying the most important trends, creating an alterative futures analysis, and writing full scenarios. Each method provides additional context and information to support the evaluation of the developed planning scenarios.

Understanding the Scenario Planning Process

Whether you choose to use the four tools described above or another combination, there are several common steps needed to progress to the point where your scenario planning efforts are ready to analyze. They are:

Identify factors for inclusion

In this first phase, your team will narrow down the list of things you believe will change the competitive environment. Brainstorming is a common approach to generate these initial factors that you can evaluate.

You can start with a list of “things” that include variables, trends, drivers, or other similar concepts. But, you’ll eventually have to define trends so that you can trace a logical progression toward feasible futures. The Strategy Connections App allows you to add some context to each trend that includes defining variables or drivers of the trends.

Analyze relevant trends and drivers of change

Armed with a starting list of trends that will define your futures, your team can narrow the list to those your believe most critical. It is important to remember that the eventual scenario you develop is an imperfect model of reality. Therefore, you have to make an educated guess about what factors will be the most important for analysis – you can’t include everything in your model.

In the Strategy Connections App, you can narrow the list by voting among your team using one of four voting methods (simple, ranking, cardinal, or dot voting). It also supports an “admin override” so that the team lead can fast tag a trend for inclusion in future analysis regardless of the voting outcome (or in place of it).

Trends can be used to help determine, for example, how changes in technology may impact your industry’s ability to thrive in the market. Government organizations may want to assess the potential impact of shifting political conditions on their policy guidance. Also note that two types of organizations may look at the same trends and reach different conclusions about the implications of those trends.

It is also a good idea to augment your information with research and data for each trend. This simplifies the process of identifying indicators that you can monitor to detect changes in your environment early. In the Strategy Connections App, you can link research items (web links or attachments with notes) to trends for easy reference.

Determine how these trends interact to create a range of potential futures

Your goal with this scenario planning process should be to develop multiple scenarios based on the interaction of the most critical factors you identify. In this step, you’ll aim at creating an executive-summary level discussion of those futures.

This will provide your team with the grist needed to have more in-depth discussions and start to prioritize which ones you believe warrant more detail and analysis. These initial summaries of what you believe various futures may look like are intended to prompt discussion and debate, so aim for unconventional, and even controversial, scenarios.

A common approach used here is the alternative futures analysis, discussed above, but you can also simply project a future based on a limited number of trends you intend to explore.

Flesh out your scenario with details to ground your narrative

With a narrow list of futures to flesh out (likely between 3 and 8, depending on the size of the project), you can create a scenario plan and provide some writing assignments to your participants and develop longer narratives of the scenarios.

In this step, you’ll want to ensure the futures you describe are viewed through the lens of your organization (focused on its concerns), but do not presuppose what your strategies, choices, or actions in that future might be. This scenario planning exercise will ultimately inform a strategic planning effort to make those choices.

Elements of a Scenario Planning Template

Regardless of the specifics of your needs for developing future scenarios, a scenario planning template should guide the development of each of the futures you intend to explore. In the previous section we briefly mentioned that you should identify factors for inclusion in your template. This helps standardize some of the aspects of the scenario planning so that a comparison between the scenarios has a consistent basis. Here, we’ll discuss some of the types of items that should be included.

Scenario Planning Categories

Before diving into the elements of the scenario planning template, we should first discuss the origins of the futures you are going to explore. There are several approaches to developing the multiple scenarios you will need to make this scenario planning exercise effective. Three common approaches are below.

Base-, Best-, Worst-Case

In this approach, you’ll design your futures around three ideas. First, you’ll start with a “base” case, which assumes the current trends that you’ve noted will continue. This is the easiest future to create, since it no major shifts in the trends are factored in.

Second, you’ll create a “best” case, where the trends and drivers shift in your organization’s favor. Finally, you create a worst case scenario and create a scenario based on trends and factors that change in ways that are detrimental to your company.

Trends

In this approach, your scenario planning is built around one to three interacting trends. You vary the intensity of each (such as in an extension of the alterative future analysis) or swap out one or two of them to create variations from the base.

Wild Cards

This is more of an event specific approach, in which you posit events that significantly change the competitive environment. These events should all fall within the “plausible but unlikely” bucket.

Common Elements in Scenario Planning Templates

Development of a strategic planning template will help focus the entire scenario planning process in its final stages and ensure a common basis of comparison between the futures. Common elements that help accomplish this include:

A Detailed Description

A more detailed discussion of each of the possible futures. Sometimes this is presented as a story intended to immerse the reader. The most important aspect of this section is to provide enough detail for the readers to imagine themselves in that future which will help them think through implications later, regardless of the approach taken.

A Short list of Trends or drivers

This section should cover the details of what has created the future in question, whether it is a small set of trends, a single mega-trend, or a series of events. Keep your organization decision making out of these events to avoid biases about how successful your action plans will be. This scenario mapping exercise will help that part of the effort later.

Risks to Existing Goals, Processes, or Relationships

While we will seek to avoid exploring how your organization shaped the future with new strategies, you should identify what this future represents to your organization in terms of your existing goals. For example, if you use scenario planning to determine how new technologies will impact your business process in terms of cash flow, your finance teams should use one scenario to examine what risks there might be to your existing practices if others adopt the new technologies and your company does not.

A list of Indicators

If one of the several futures that you posit begin to take shape, how early can you detect it? This early detection might provide a strategic advantage. Use this section to identify those things that can be used as observable indicators that your team can use to help lay the groundwork for a quick response.

Clear Assumptions

All of the potential futures you create are based on a set of assumptions that must hold true for them to become feasible. As you list your assumptions for each, ask if they fail to hold true, does that future scenario change in any meaningful way? If not, you can drop that assumption. Restrict your list only to those necessary.

Scenario Analysis

Any scenario planning project should end with an effort to analyze the posited future events. A scenario analysis will center around one central question: what options are available for the organization in the posited futures? A more detailed discussion of risks, opportunities to change goals or strategies, and options to better position your company in the market can all be part of this analysis.

The scenario planning template will provide the common framework needed to compare your futures and draw out the implications and develop options for each. The scenario analysis is still prior to any strategic planning.

Creating a Scenario Planning Template with Strategy Connections

Creating templates at every step of the process is central to the Strategy Connections App, which is built to be project management software for strategic foresight and strategy projects. It is intended to help improve decision making on possible futures with collaborative development of key ideas throughout your scenario planning exercise.

Your admins can build templates to guide all project inputs on brainstorming efforts, trend analyses, alternative futures analysis, and scenario writing (with others in the works!). You can then use the tool to evaluate responses to the guidance you provide.

You can build your team to include key stakeholders across your organization and develop plans for multiple outcomes from the scenario planning process. Collaboratively anticipate negative possibilities from your scenario planning efforts and inform your strategic planning on how to best respond.

To learn more about how Strategy Connections can help you implement the concepts and ideas discussed here, click below.

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