What is Scenario Planning?

A brief description

FSG scenario planning is a way to think, plan and act in the face of future change and uncertainty.

Whereas traditional strategic planning relies on probabilistic assumptions about the future, scenario planning makes no bet on a single, “most likely” future state. Instead, planners need to thoughtfully consider a set of alternative future business environments that cover the range of uncertainty they are facing–and forge sustainable, “robust” strategies accordingly.

We believe scenario planning is more than ever important today given the accelerating pace of change and the resulting uncertainty about what the future holds. Big data, powerful models and clever algorithms cannot deliver strategic insights about future conditions for which there are no data, and no hard certainties. Scenario planning, in contrast, relies on rigorous analysis of emerging trends, multidisciplinary collaboration among project teams, and the strength of human judgment.  

The term “scenario planning” actually covers a number of different forecasting, visioning and strategy approaches. (You can read what our colleague Charles Thomas has written about the various types of scenario planning.) But what FSG typically practices is the most mainstream and comprehensive – using strategic management or alternative futures scenarios to anticipate disruption, manage uncertainty, and form forward-looking strategies and plans.  

What are scenarios?

Scenarios are vivid representations of widely different but plausible alternative futures (usually 4 or 5), in which the organization’s leadership and other stakeholders are immersed in one or more workshops. The scenario development process itself is rigorous, as it typically entails a period of focused research, interviews with subject matter experts, and various other inputs to developing the scenario worlds. The scenario documents read like future histories, with fictional narratives and detailed descriptions of what the world is like in terms that are both relevant and challenging to participants.

 In the actual workshop, participants are divided into world teams and are tasked with coming up with strategies appropriate for their assigned world. These strategies are “stress tested” in each of the other worlds to identify common (“robust”) elements, which eventually form the bases of strategies and plans.

A focus on implementation

FSG scenario planning is practical. In developing project plans, we work backwards from our clients’ needs and requirements and collaborate closely on process, deliverables and schedule.  Most importantly, we ensure that the scenario process delivers executable results, as well as an experience that challenges conventional thinking and makes the sponsoring organization prepared for the future, whatever it holds.