What-If Scenario Planning: Identify Events and Factors with the Fewest Negative Consequences

by Brand Post

Change can’t be avoided; it’s an inevitable element in every aspect of work-life and life in general. But when it comes to work and projects, some steps can be taken to influence and manage change. 

Under normal circumstances, uncertainty can throw a giant wrench into any project, let alone multiple projects. Add a crisis, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, and every business around the globe is forced to shift its strategy and plans due to COVID restrictions. The result is workforce reductions causing massive project disruptions or work stoppage altogether — further making change management difficult.

Why is change management so complex?

Companies found some key things challenging in their change management efforts — especially during a crisis like COVID-19. These include:

  • The speed of change 
  • Compounding factors 
  • Being in unchartered territory
  • The way work gets done 

We all know that things can suddenly change and that constantly compounding factors always exist; we know there have been pandemics in the past and that remote work isn’t new. So, what has been the real issue with effectively managing change, and what can be done about it? 

Things went wrong for most companies and their projects because many waited too long to act before beginning their change management efforts and/or because they didn’t take a holistic approach to address change in projects or their business in general. These two things alone made change management in project management far more daunting than it needs to be.

Sean Pales, Managing Director at ProSymmetry, explains: “Truly effective change management requires a multi-dimensional view of the effects that choices might have across the entire project portfolio.”

Effectively managing change in projects during periods of uncertainty

The first and most important way to recognize what has changed is to revisit your assumptions to ensure they are still valid. Then you need to mitigate sudden changes to a project and plan for as many eventualities as possible. This means having the ability to accurately run ‘what-if’ scenarios to identify what’s gone wrong in the past and what is likely to go wrong again. It also necessitates monitoring and evaluating your internal and external environment for scenarios that may not have been previously anticipated but could impact projects outcomes. Pales says project managers should be making sophisticated and complex ‘what if’ predictions that give the rich insights they need to make effective change management decisions. Strategically, this should all be factored into annual contingency plans. 

Anticipating change

Effectively forecasting and managing change requires complex data and the creation of sophisticated models that can effectively predict the likely outcomes of different situations and concepts — and this requires having the complete picture. When it comes to gaining 360-degree visibility, Pales explains, “Much of the time, change management doesn’t involve finding the ideal solution to a problem: it involves identifying which has the fewest negative consequences.” He goes on to say how automatically-generated ‘heatmaps’ and ‘coolmaps’ provide this 3-D resource visibility through easily digestible charts so that it’s quick and easy to see which projects are over-allocated and from where resources can afford to be diverted. Most importantly, having the correct information at the right time enables project managers to make the best decisions more quickly. 

Agility: Speeding up critical change management steps

Project managers need to quickly analyze real-time resource information across different project portfolios and execute effective change management. Donna Fitzgerald, Chief People Advocate at ProSymmetry and former Gartner Advisor, has put together a 12-step checklist for project managers to help better prepare for change.

Step 1: Get an agreement with the sponsor on value measures for better resource management.

Step 2: Set up a clear way to monitor if those measures are being met as the change progresses.

Step 3: Have a kick-off meeting with all impacted parties.  

Step 4: Set up a town hall with all system users.  

Step 5: Be clear about what features are important in your new resource management process and in what order, so team members know why things are being done now and what will change in the future.

Access Donna’s complete change management checklist at ProSymmetry. This comprehensive and well-laid-out checklist is based on a software implementation project, but it can be adapted to others.

Uncertainty and change are the only certainty project managers can count on. How well your project team responds to changes depends on conducting ‘what-if’ scenario planning and following Donna Fitzgerald’s change management checklist to identify events and factors with the fewest negative consequences.  


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