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27 February, 2015 - 09:59

There are many other forecasts that managers ask for in order to try and anticipate what the future might hold so they can prepare contingency plans in case of unforeseen events. Examples of unforeseen events that may well affect future outcomes are the arrival of a new competitor, a change in the overall economic outlook which could affect costs and/or revenues either positively or negatively, or even the arrival of a new company in another line of business that could raise prevailing wage rates in your region.

So, what managers like to do is to develop forecasts of sales, costs, cash, profits, interest rates and the like using different assumptions which, of course, result in different outcomes, some good and some bad. Another word for such forecasts is scenarios. For example, let us assume that a forecast of the income statement for a business at the end of the year assumes that sales will grow by 8 per cent over the previous year and costs will grow by 6 per cent. A manager might ask for an alternative scenario where sales increase by 12 per cent and costs increase by 9 per cent and another scenario where sales decrease by 3 per cent and costs increase by 1 per cent.

The Wall Street Journal had a story recently on how businesses use scenarios for planning purposes. Quoting from it: “Each spring, executives at JDS Uniphase Corp. plan for three potential sales scenarios for the coming fiscal year, which begins in July. Last year, rattled by financial-market turmoil, they included an extremely pessimistic sales outlook and outlined potential cost cuts.

The planning proved useful when the economy stalled and customers began delaying orders later in the year. “We knew what levers to pull”, says Dave Vellequette, chief financial officer at the Milpatis, Calif., maker of fiber-optic telecommunications equipment.

The experience highlights the value of scenario planning, or preparing responses to imagined changes in conditions. “It’s not about predicting the future”, says Peter Schwartz, a partner at Monitor Group, a Cambridge, Mass. Consulting firm. “Scenario planning is a tool for learning” and making better decisions.” (Wall Street Journal 2009).