Scenario-Based Planning: Helping your Team to Think Differently

By Robin Champ

Scenario-Based Planning

Albert Einstein said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. We can apply the same adage to strategy.  If we always use the same input and thought process when developing strategy, will we really get a different result? How do we prepare ourselves for an uncertain future, when we are often unaware that we are chained to our usual thought processes?

Scenario-based planning is a tool to help organizations prepare for those uncertain futures. A solution widely used by organizations such as Shell Oil Company and the United States Coast Guard, scenario-based planning exercises strategic foresight, but it is not the same as forecasting.  This difference is an important one. Forecasting is predicting and is often the track we find ourselves in as organizations. When predicting, we pick the most anticipated future, predict what might happen, and plan only around that one event.  We tend to use the same subject matter experts, the same background, and the same tools, which gives us comforting, consistent, and incomplete results. 

Contrarily, scenario-based planning as a foresight tool is intended to cast a wide net to the unknown future.  It helps us break outside of our conventional thinking, pushing the boundaries of our thought to examine the possible but not necessarily conventional ways the future could unfold. By doing so, we accept that the future is inherently uncertain and prepare accordingly. We’re not trying to develop one particular future, but rather explore many possible futures so that we are prepared for, as opposed to predicting, what we will need to stay relevant in the years ahead.

By pushing the boundaries, scenario-based planning expands our thought process, fuels innovation, and enables us to stay ahead of our competition.  While doing our operations well keeps us relevant today, we require innovation and strategy to keep us relevant tomorrow.  As I often say, “binning” what you do is not a strategy. I challenge everyone to get truly creative in order to stay relevant in the future. Scenario-based planning is a proven technique to help.

Need more information or assistance with your Scenario-Based Planning?   If so, you can learn more here.

Robin Champ is a senior trainer with LBL Strategies focusing on foresight and strategy. She served as Chief of the Global Futures Office at the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) and currently serves as the Chief of the Enterprise Strategy Division at the U.S. Secret Service. She spearheaded the introduction of Scenario-Based Planning for DTRA and is a frequent speaker on the subject at various Department of Defense (DoD) and interagency venues. She is also on the leadership committee for the Federal Foresight Community of Interest (FFCoI.org).