The methodology I use is a good mix of structure and creativity.

The methodology I use is a good mix of structure and creativity.

What happens in a scenario generation workshop? a short faq.

HOW MUCH TIME DO WE NEED?

The interactive scenario workshops I facilitate can last between ½ and 3 days, depending on your time availability. Clearly, the more time you have, the more detail we can go into.

ARE SHORTER WORKSHOPS POSSIBLE?

I have done so-called “speed workshops” of just one hour ( ! ), which as you can imagine are very high-energy events, if not a tad frenetic. Frankly, they’re risky. By zipping through this process at breakneck speed, we may emerge at the end of the hour with conclusions that are less insightful, original, or thought-provoking simply because we didn’t have the time to dig a little deeper. To get the best results, you really should be willing to invest some time in the process. I believe one full day is a minimum you should devote to the exercise.

HOW MANY PEOPLE SHOULD BE INVOLVED?

The size of the group can range from relatively small — 8 or 10 — to quite large. I’ve conducted workshops with over 200 participants, but this calls for some technological help (e.g. electronic brainstorming), which is very cool stuff but affects how well the participants connect with me and with each other—and let’s face it, there is an impact on the cost, too, of course. It’s doable, but not optimal.

The ideal number, in my experience, is between 16 and 28 participants, as with a group this size, the 4 working teams created during the workshop will each have 4 to 7 people in them, which I’ve found is about right for good team discussion and a high level of participation from everyone. 

WHAT IS THE PROCESS EXACTLY?

The exercise itself kicks off with an introductory presentation where I explain the whatwhy, and how of scenario thinking, and then I walk you through the main points of the process we’re about to undertake together. I use concrete examples from past workshops to illustrate each step to be followed.

When we get into the scenario generation process itself, we go through a number of steps:

  • In working teams, we identify a number of driving forces that could affect your future, using the so-called “PEST model”.

  • Back in a plenary session, we discuss these driving forces and try to reach consensus on which ones represent the most critical uncertainties affecting how your future landscape will change.

  • Based on this choice, we can construct an array of contrasting—but plausible—scenarios that could emerge, depending on the different ways in which these critical uncertainties eventually resolve themselves over time.

  • Back in the working teams again, we discuss and define key characteristics of each scenario, for example:

    • How would each scenario look and feel to your organization, which will be operating in that environment? What would be the key attributes of each scenario? Can any of this be quantified, even roughly?

    • Who would be likely winners and losers in each scenario? Many different organizations will find themselves advantaged (or disadvantaged) depending on how a given future landscape has unfolded. Which competitors of yours will do well? Who will probably struggle? What about other stakeholders: your customers, end consumers, suppliers, employees, etc.? How will they fare?

    • What new opportunities, challenges, and requirements would each scenario present?

  • Each working team then elaborates a “to do” list (potential actions, strategic initiatives or innovations) that you could undertake to improve the chances of your success in each scenario.

  • Lastly, we try to identify possible signposts that might appear as time goes on, indicating that one particular scenario seems to be emerging, rather than one of the others.

The process is thorough, and goes into some detail. If any of these steps is too rushed, the outcomes will be sub-optimal. That’s why you need to devote sufficient time to each stage of the process.

WHAT ARE THE OUTCOMES?

What you have at the end of the process is a portfolio of futures that could each plausibly materialize, a good understanding of what each of these futures would mean for you as an environment in which you are doing business, and a basic strategic response for each one. If time permits, this scenario-by-scenario “to-do” list can even outline such details as:

  • Specific action steps to be taken: What should be done to prepare for the scenario?

  • Timing: Do you have the luxury of waiting (how long?), or do you need to act now?

  • Cost: How much would it cost for each of the action steps to be implemented? Have you got the resources? Can you get them?

  • Organizational responsibility: Who will be in charge? How much manpower is needed? What skills would you need to succeed in this new world? Have you got them? If not, how will you beef up your capabilities?

  • Milestones expected: By when do you have to be ready?

Having conclusions that are structured and practical like this can serve as a road map for you to navigate the next few years, as you keep an eye on the landscape to see how it is actually evolving.