I have heard many say that it takes bravery to complete a strategic plan and I would agree. I would also say that NOT having a strategic plan that stands up to many practiced scenarios is dangerous. We can see that in the case of COVID-19 in 2020 shows the importance of scenario planning. It's not just the fact that scenarios may have been planned for, they certainly seemed dusty and rusty. I'm sure there has been some innovative thinking applied to our in-flight adaptation, but the rollout has had more than a few bumps in terms of recognition, speed, and coordination. The results have life-changing for all of us and sadly life-ending for too many.
Scenario Planning Must Stitch Together Strategy, Tactics and Operations
Scenario thinking and analysis generally uses simulation/gaming for policymakers to combine know facts with potential emerging situations in single or complex arenas of economic, geopolitical, demographic, military, resources, and industrial capabilities. This includes tapping models with data and combining them in a predictive fashion until a particular scenario seems to be imminent or happening with anticipated opportunities or threats. These can be detected by leveraging emergent data recognition by looking for signals, events, or patterns. For scenarios that are moving from possible to probable to active, links to emergent and real-time analysis and data sources. This will allow for adjustments to tactics and operations that flex to the best shape possible for the active scenario(s) with optimum operational actions.
Scenario Planning Must Consider Multiple and Ever-Changing Contexts
Often scenario planning can be blinded by a single laser-focused approach on a single probable scenario that leads to the desired future. There need to be exercises that leverage lateral thinking and hybrid sets of complex scenario combinations. The scenario planning effort is not a "one and done" effort, but needs to factor in emergence in the worst case and subtle changes in the typical case. There can be a quick shift from just a scenario to a real possible future and in rare instances probable scenarios. Best practices would expect organizations to identify all likely scenarios and even a few "black swan" scenarios.
Scenarios Must be Practiced to be Effective
Likely scenarios (all of the probable and some of the possible) should be practiced at a reasonable frequency. The practice should include surprise changes to test organizational skills, processes, and system agility/responsiveness. Even though these are necessary drills, all participants must be communicated to as if the situations are real. Many hospitals have evacuation plans that they practice
on a regular basis pretending there is a real event like a hurricane, chemical spill, or flood.
There is a good lesson for organizations in watching the COVID-19 situation emerge. Organizations can no longer afford not to have up to date scenarios with practiced actions on the shelf that include both the tactics and operations. A communication program for practiced or active emergent scenarios is a must.