Scenario planning: What decisions can you make now?

Asking “What if” can prepare you for uncertain times. Get started with our scenario-planning process.

How many times a day do we say What If?

What if I don’t get that job? What if my kid doesn’t get into that college? What if it rains? What if I run out of toilet paper?!

When you apply the What Ifs to business practices, we call it scenario planning. Scenario planning is the process of analyzing a variety of future outcomes. And in laying out these future outcomes, you prepare yourself and your business for anything that may come its way.


It takes creativity to imagine the different stories that could unfold in the future. It takes a sense of wonder to look at two paths diverging in the woods and decide which one to take.

Forward-thinking has always been an important business mindset. But can we all agree that scenario planning has never been more critical than it is now?

The thing is, businesses are being asked to make more complicated decisions than ever. On a normal day, business decisions are difficult, but today’s decisions can’t be made without a careful analysis of what could be coming our way.

We’ve conducted scenario planning with many of our clients, even during the COVID-19 crisis. The current climate has given us an opportunity to hone our process, especially for those in the hardest-hit industries of retail chains and hospitality.

Our process starts in the same way those personal What Ifs typically do. We think of the best-case and the worst-case scenarios. Then we fill in probable potential scenarios in between. For our most recent scenario planning exercise, where we helped one of our multiunit healthcare clinics prepare their business for the uncertainties of COVID-19, we used the following framework to guide our collaborative brainstorm.

What business-level product or service innovations could we employ to benefit our customers?

For our healthcare clinic client, we recommended innovations for various scenarios, such as introducing chatbots, so they could interact with customers online by launching an app and forming strategic partnerships to drive revenue.

What advertising, messaging, branding or targeting is appropriate for our customers in each scenario?

For the same healthcare client, we suggested new target demos, a health-from-home content strategy, how to interact with customers via Zoom and how to shift their external comms from offer driven messages to educational content and brand building.

How can we reach out to or support our community? How can we improve our employee and staff relationships? What kind of cause marketing can we employ? Are there partnerships we can leverage to benefit our community?

In this category, we outlined community involvement our client could spearhead, such as educating med students, partnering with local institutions and developing public service announcements about safety and sanitation measures.

How are we gathering our customers’ true experiences, both on and offline? What service or product can we bring to them to make a difference in those experiences?

Things they could do here included introducing new financing options, redesigning the clinics to ensure safe distancing and expanding hours to allow for minimized capacity. Those are just a handful of examples that can come out of the ideation process.

The bottom line is that while scenario planning can be daunting, the cost of inaction is too high for most businesses. Now is not the time to go dark, whether your business’ doors are open or not.

We’d like to help you make sure those doors swing wide open again. With just a few days dedicated to some thoughtful scenario planning, you’ll be able to do that as confidently as possible.

Here’s hoping that whatever your particular scenarios are, you end up with the best one.

And if not, here’s hoping you’re as prepared for it as you can be.