Scenario Planning: Making Better Decisions about Tomorrow, Today
The future is inherently unpredictable, forcing companies to conduct strategic planning in the face of great uncertainty. As a result, many companies struggle to develop strategies that take into account long-term threats and opportunities, while balancing short-term priorities. Scenario planning is a structured methodology you can use to test existing strategies against varied future states or scenarios. Scenario planning is not meant to predict the future. Instead, it allows you to explore a series of high-impact, uncertain—yet plausible—future states. This knowledge, in turn, enables you to recognize the “signposts” of scenarios as they unfold and react accordingly.
Frost & Sullivan’s Growth Team Membership (GTM) profiled Merck & Co., Inc. (the global pharmaceutical company) and how it applied scenario planning. Merck’s objective was to better anticipate how different strategies would hold up against the state of the global healthcare environment looking out 10 years. What follows are some of the key insights the team gleaned in understanding Merck’s approach.
Garner Internal/External Insights and Buy-In
To establish plausible scenarios for the future, it is important to involve a cross-divisional team to garner the full range of views within the company. It is equally important to tap into external perspectives on the industry, and outside scenario-planning consultants, to lend credibility and objectivity to the effort. Finally, C-level buy-in and participation in the initiative must be secured.
Challenge Assumptions about the Future
Before you can start exploring future scenarios, you must first understand your existing assumptions about the future. What is the conventional wisdom about where the industry and economic, political, and regulatory factors are headed over the next 10 years? What assumptions about the future underpin this outlook? Once this information has been brought to light, you need to challenge your underlying assumptions to explore alternative future scenarios. It can be helpful to pose this question: What if, and how could, your assumptions about the future turn out differently? The answers to this question uncover they key uncertainties you have about the future and allows you to start envisioning different future scenarios that could emerge.
Explore Future Scenarios’ Implications
After considering a range of alternative future scenarios, it is important to focus on a digestible number of scenarios—generally no more than four—to explore in depth. It is essential to filter the scenarios by plausibility and impact to select the most significant, relevant scenarios for your company and industry.
- Identify signposts of the future: A critical step in evaluating the final group of scenarios is to identify early indicators that would signal each scenario is coming to pass. A company should continually monitor this list of indicators to look for early warning signs so it can determine what, if any, strategic shifts are necessary. This enables you to hedge your bets against future risks and gain a first-mover advantage.
- Test current strategies against divergent futures: It is important to think about how your company’s current strategies would perform in the context of each scenario. What challenges and opportunities would you face? What actions should you consider taking now to prepare for each scenario?
Revisit Investment Decisions
Once you have identified and explored the most plausible scenarios, the next step is to present your findings to executive management and help them internalize the scenarios’ implications. It can be beneficial to run an investment exercise with executive management that compares their current long-range resource allocations with the allocations they would make in the context of each future scenario. If a particular scenario were coming to fruition, how might your company change its resource allocations toward existing and new business areas? This type of exercise can translate scenario planning into strategic discussions and decision-making about the future.
Learn from Merck’s Approach to Scenario Planning
Scenario planning enabled Merck to embed longer time horizons in its strategy planning, gain a deeper understanding of its internal capabilities and the competitive landscape, and prompt scenario-based resource allocation decisions.
- Register for a complimentary webinar on May 22nd featuring the Merck case and learn how Merck used scenario planning to explore long-term threats and opportunities.
- Download a three-page sample of the Merck Best Practice Guidebook, Scenario Planning: Fostering Long-Term Strategic Thinking.
- If you have questions regarding the Growth Team Membership™, contact us at GTMResearch@frost.com, follow us on Twitter @Frost_GTM, or visit us at www.gtm.frost.com.