Understanding your company’s future

This means researching in detail the impact of future phenomena on your company’s performance. You then need to know how to anticipate them.

Phase 2: 
Understanding the future

The second phase consists of supplementing, selecting, discussing and evaluating the information gathered. You need to answer the following questions: what does a trend/development mean for my company? What consequences are possible, likely, desirable, threatening or able to be influenced? And what can I do today to prepare my company to deal with these consequences?

Brainstorming

Brainstorming is a method of discovery and structuring of ideas which consists of gathering the ideas of a group of people on a particular subject spontaneously and using association, within the shortest possible period of time. In the context of a contingency process, this method is used to find ideas; for example, in the form of innovations and new sectors of business for the development of new products and/or services.

Here are some practical tips:

  • The basic rule is this: no negative criticism during a brainstorming session. Do not reject any idea outright. What might seem ridiculous initially may be THE solution of tomorrow.
  • If possible, customers, suppliers and people outside the business sector, of different ages, should also take part.
  • All the factors mentioned should be noted using keywords. Next, these keywords can be sorted according to basic ideas or thematic areas. Each participant individually evaluates the three factors he or she considers most important—for example, by awarding them points. The priorities for the next step of the work can therefore be fixed.

Trend extrapolation

The trend extrapolation method consists of projecting current trends and developments into the future. This measure is often used intuitively and is a useful guide for SMEs, at least in the short and medium term. The method is not recommended, however, for outlining a long-term view, given that the further you project into the future, the greater the uncertainty and the less predictable the results.

Here are some practical tips:

  • When implementing trend extrapolation, a high probability will be allocated for certain developments. The difficulty lies in objectively evaluating the different trends according to their “real” probability. For some developments, the aging of the population for example, the probability that these will occur is relatively high. For other developments, the company needs to continually call into question individual and everyday forecasts.
  • Do not rely on trend extrapolation on its own. Ask yourself the following question at least: could this also happen in a completely different way? If so, under what circumstances?

The Delphi method

This technique is based on the idea that a group of experts has more knowledge about a subject or development than a single individual. The goal is to reach a consensus which is as reliable as possible within a group of experts using several written questionnaires evaluated at various stages. The experts give their opinions and assessments independently to avoid influencing each other.

Here are some practical tips:

  • An abbreviated version of the technique, called the mini-Delphi method, can be conducted within any SME; experts from different departments, as well as qualified customers and suppliers, can be consulted for certain questions relating to the future (e.g. sector-based development, technological developments or new markets).
  • Focus on a limited number of questions and ask the people consulted to provide brief reasons for their evaluations.
  • Experts can also be consulted on a regular basis. For example, you can organize a monthly "future lunch" to discuss and evaluate various future-related themes in a relaxed atmosphere.

Roadmap

In the area of forward-looking research, a roadmap consists of drawing up the schedule for an expected development through to its culmination. This makes it possible to broadly structure and plan the stages for development for an extended period. In this way, long-term trends can be highlighted in their various phases, which makes it possible to take uncertainties and alternative directions into account.

Here are some practical tips.

  • A roadmap is produced graphically and is comparable to a map. It shows several possible routes and junctions.
  • The objectives, results or activities of a roadmap must then be identified. Finally, these elements are integrated into a general structure and connected with arrows.
  • This technique lends itself to the preparation of technological roadmaps, not only as a transparent representation of strategic developments and markets, production stages, process or organizational structures, but also, and above all, as an instrument of orientation, decision-making and communication.

The scenario technique

The objective of this technique is to propose several possible variants for the future. Unlike trend extrapolation, which only presents a predictable future running in a straight line, scenarios offer an extended palette of futures which are possible, desirable, probable or to be avoided.

Here are some practical tips:

  • Scenarios help to create reserve options so that various eventualities can  be prepared for. They can also serve as an excellent basis for communication within the company, as they present complex future developments transparently and in summary form.
  • Scenarios can take the form of a written document, an animated film, a comic strip or other visual representations.
  • Caution is advised, however, when using this technique, because it often requires too many resources and is not considered very productive by SMEs.
  • An alternative solution is to use sector-based or national scenarios and to plan your company in terms of these scenarios. Contingency programs within governments, large companies and professional associations have often already produced and published scenarios for a particular market or technology.
  • Consult a scenario specialist to assist you with methodology.

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Last modification 23.07.2018

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