Re: Strategic Planning Out-of-date? LO3626

William Hillis (
Fri, 3 Nov 1995 13:04:58 -0800

Replying to John O'Neill LO3585

>The biggest question is "what is the purpose of strategic planning?"

I agree, John. The ostensible reason is always some brave notion of
anticipating or preparing for the future. Whether this is the real
purpose of strategic planning seems to depend upon the methods employed.
If an organization employs scenario planning or similar learning
techniques, I think it is demonstrating an effort to come to grips with
the future. If an organization uses traditional strategic planning to
extrapolate historical trends and project current strategies forward 10 or
20 years, I think that the central underlying purpose may vary. (Perhaps
this sounds more diabolical than I intend. I'm only suggesting that
understanding the future is a secondary concern in traditional strategic
planning.) . . .

>Peter Senge in the 5th Discipline talks about a different type of
>strategic planning for a LO and uses Royal Dutch/Shell as an example. This
>type of strategic planning looks at where the world is today, and what
>possible directions the world may take. . . .
>This form of strategic planning is called scenario planning and is quite
>useful for exploring what could happen in the future. The aim of this
>planning is to define signposts (trigger events, warning events), shaping
>actions, and hedging actions. The signposts are ways that indicate to you
>that the future may look like scenario x. Shaping actions are preemptive
>actions your organisation can take to shape the environment, and position
>itself to take advantage of scenario x. Hedging actions are reactive
>actions your organisation will be "forced" to take if there is no warning,
>and things suddenly change (like the end of the Cold War).
>Further information about Shell's use of scenario planning can be found in:
>Geus "Planning as Learning", Harvard Business Review, Mar/Apr 1988, p70-74
>Wack "Scenarios: Unchartered Waters Ahead", Harvard Business Review, Sep/Oct
>1985 p73-89
>Wack "Scenarios: Shooting the Rapids", Harvard Business Review, Nov/Dec 1985,

I would add Peter Schwartz, _The Art of the Long View_ (New York:
Doubleday, 1991); Paul Schoemaker, "Multiple Scenario Development: Its
Conceptual and Behavioral Foundation," _Strategic Management Journal_, Vol
14, 193-213 (1993), and several articles in the May/June 1992 issue of
_Planning Review_.

>The key to strategic planning is to think about the environment (or the
>real world) in which your organisation operates, and start thinking about
>the types of things that may change in this environment, and how these
>changes may impact the way you do business, and the type of business
>you're in. Ideally, strategic planning is something that you should be
>doing ALL THE TIME !!!

Certainly, strategizing is something we should be doing all the time.
Unfortunately, the term strategic planning comes with a lot of baggage
that has less to do with thinking, learning, and strategizing than it does
with rote programming techniques.

>I can go on and on - I'm much more interested in hearing about whether
>other members of this list think strategic planning is a worthwhile
>activity in LOs, and if so, what techniques they find most useful (and

Following the model proposed by deGeus, Henry Mintzberg suggested that the
way to make strategic planning productive is to turn planners into
catalysts ("The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning [New York: The Free
Press, 1993]). This would change planning into a genuine learning

Of all the strategic planning methods out there, I think that scenario
planning is best-suited to large organizations in industries with specific
assets and long lead times for investment; that is where scenarios first
took off (see Wack and Schoemaker, above). Such organizations include oil
companies and utilities in the private sector, and transportation
departments like mine in the public sector. Sadly, most government
agencies are still stuck in what Mintzberg calls "enactment planning"
--i.e., they presume enough control over their environment that their
plans will inevitably be realized, given legislative endorsement of their
revenue proposals.

One of my favorite books right now is by Paul Sabatier and Hank
Jenkins-Smith, _Policy Change and Learning: An Advocacy Coalition
Approach_ (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1993). The authors suggest that
for public policy advocates, like the ones directing most agency planning
activities, policy-oriented "learning is instrumental." Advocates "will
resist information suggesting that their basic beliefs may be invalid or
unattainable." This means that the reliance on forecasting and other
extrapolative techniques is not based upon a lack of knowledge of
alternatives, but on biases against learning. The agency is unlikely to
consider necessary changes to policy until forced to do so by
perturbations external to their policy area, "such as macroeconomic
conditions or the rise of a new systemic governing coalition."

Too bad. Because these are exactly the types of events that scenario
planning is designed to anticipate.

William Hillis                  email:
WSDOT Financial Planning        Opinions expressed do not
tel: 360-(or 206-)705-7528      necessarily reflect the views
fax: 360-(or 206-)705-6803      of my employer.