The start of planning
The first step in planning is not to plan.
Gather your team and start a scenario conversation. Along the way this conversation will uncover a richness of ideas which leads to outcomes which will become your strategic plan.
Scenarios are not plans. They're hypothetical futures. Participants work with uncertainties by asking "what if" questions.
Scenarios, with a detailed and realistic narrative, can direct one's attention to aspect otherwise overlooked. Scenario planning stimulates decision makers to consider different possible future states. It can be a powerful tool for breaking through traditional thinking and in changing mindsets. It captures a richness and range of possibilities, opening the eyes of all involved to opportunities and threats they may otherwise have ignored.
Shell, the petroleum company, on its website states: "Scenarios are not mechanical forecasts. They recognise that people hold beliefs and make choices that can lead down different paths. They reveal different possible futures that are plausible and challenging."
Sunter observed in 1998 "that a scenario is a story of what can happen. It is not a forecast of what is going to happen". Scenario planning is "to think the unthinkable before it happens to you - either in a positive or negative way" e.g. the Titanic, the collapse of Barings (one the oldest merchant bank in the UK) and the 1986 scenarios concerning South Africa.
Developers of scenario planning
Scenario planning was in the past generally done by outside planning experts who delivered their hypothesis with extensive reasoning to clients.
Herman Kahn, co-founder of the Hudson Institute, USA, is generally regarded as the the most prominent developer of scenario planning. It was popularized by planners in Royal Dutch Shell from the 1970s onwards.
In 1982, Pierre Wack and Ted Newland formerly of Shell, introduced the Anglo American Corporation, South Africa, to this form of planning. Anglo's "High Road" and "Low Road" scenarios of 1986 are credited with making an impact on the thinking of prominent politicians of the then ruling government party, the National Party, and the ANC. The leaders on both sides chose the "High Road" which led to a peaceful change of government in 1994 and Nobel Prizes for the two leaders.
In South Africa, scenario planning has become a recognised planning tool.
Clem Sunter was one of three Anglo officials who delivered the High/Low Road presentations throughout the country. He subsequently wrote two books (1996 and 1998) about the trends affecting South Africa, providing scenarios of what could happen, depending on the choices that the leaders made. (It is remarkable that the 1986 H/L Road scenarios are still totally valid 24 years after having been developed, as they covered possible futures on the political and economic fronts that are still in the process of happening, positively or negatively, depending on the direction of the present government (2011) and of civil society. We choose our future.)
Chantell Ilbury and Clem Sunter in 2000 developed a 10-step conversation methodology. They placed the scenario development process squarely in the laps of leaders and managers.
The Sunter/Ilbury team sketched the evolution of their knowledge and experience in facilitating scenario conversations in three books (2001, 2005 and 2007). I had the good fortune of attending a Sunter H/L Road presentation in 1986 and thereafter three presentations by him, the most recent in April 2009. My scenario planning approach is based on this team's methodology.
Scenario planning benefits
Scenarios provide deep insights. In our fast-changing world it is wise to consider or develop a number of scenarios: A global, country, industry and a company matrix each with two to four scenarios and to develop red flags. What warning flags go up when a new trend develops?
ABPLAN has takens teams from 1 to 50 through scenario conversations and is of the opinion that this conversation, because of the wide range of ideas which it generates, should precede all formal planning.
For more details about the scenario conversation process
For information about the Chantell Ilbury and Clem Sunter publications see ... worth reading
Last modified: 03-01-2012