Use of Scenario Planning LO18144

RMTomasko (
Wed, 20 May 1998 22:38:16 EDT

Replying to LO18125 --

I'd second Richard Goodale's comment (LO18125) that scenario planning is,
and has been, very widely used. In my first year with a large consulting
firm (1978-79) I found myself helping prepare alternative future scenarios
for Citicorp, Seagram and Seattle City Light. Citicorp was also in the
midst of conducting a large scale learning history, as another input into
its long range planning.

In the years since many other approaches to planning have emerged, but
most seem to have built on the existing tools like scenarios and
portfolios, rather than replacing them. In the '90s scenarios have become
"hot" again as many of us read the glowing accounts of their use at Shell
by Wack, Schwartz, and Van der Heijen.

When business tools become trendy, the temptation is often strong to
ignore their limits and downsides.

Alfredo Gusman (in LO18104) cited C.K. Prahalad's concern that scenarios
may not be the best way to plan for your future. Prahalad brings up a
good point - scenarios start with what might be happening out there.
Creative strategic planning, though, often needs to begin with an intense
wish for something you want to bring about - a wish that is generated
inside, not "out there."

This is reinforced by Joseph Jaworski's (he headed Shell's Global Scenario
Planning in the early 1990s) observations that creatively used scenarios
can help managers confront their existing mental models about the future.
But he also felt the scenario-usage process was inherently reactive, at
best helping Shell managers respond faster than others to a turbulent
business environment over which they felt little control. Shell was less
good at using scenarios to help shape the business into what they wanted
it to be.

No, I don't believe scenarios are dead, or past being useful. Nor do I
think they are the best way to plan for the future you want to create.

Bob Tomasko


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