Portfolio Planning Made Simple

What If… - a Journey into How ‘What If’ Scenario Planning Can Affect Business of All Types, Even the World of Comics

Posted by Adam Boggess on 9/15/17 4:54 PM

I spend my days helping organizations make smarter decisions with better data and trade-off analysis, but I still make time to read a few too many comic books for my wife’s liking. I noticed a correlation between these two seemingly disparate parts of my life after recently catching up on some books that had taken interesting (and generally unfavorable) turns. I wondered how the authors made the decisions they did and if there were other options they considered and why they didn’t chose them. I thought, “Wait, this is the same dilemma many organizations I work with face daily with their resources.” 

And in light of the recent annual San Diego ComicCon event, I thought it would be appropriate to visit some of the major decisions and “What if” scenarios that have changed the landscape of comics and some of the most successful movies of this generation.

Let’s first start with a working definition of Scenario Planning and “What-if” Analysis in general.

Scenario Planning

Scenario planning allows a business to respond to alternative situations more quickly and effectively because they have explored many of the possible outcomes and have thought through their possible effects on the business. A scenario, in this context, is a potential action or combination of actions that could have a significant impact -- whether good or bad -- on an organization. Does this sound like something your organization is currently doing? If so, is it a smooth process; are the outcomes well received?

"What-if" Analysis

“What-if” analysis is a brainstorming technique used to determine how projected performance is affected by changes in the assumptions that those projections are based upon. How will a decision I make impact performance? Running a series of these (and other types of scenarios) can provide a fuller picture to the organization of the trade-offs of making different decisions. The smartest organizations practice it regularly.

So, with that as a foundation, please allow me to draw my analogy to the world of comics. 

Here are your top-3 Comic “What-if’s” (that actually happened):

1) What if Captain America was actually part of Hydra?

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This was a major announcement and shock to the comic world in the spring of 2017.  Captain America… Steve Rogers… Chris Pratt… oh wait, its Chris Evans… A handsome actor…  they all actually were an evil Hydra Agent the entire time. This is night masquerading as day, this is grass calling itself mud, and this is an upside-down world we live in where something like this can happen.

In this case, Captain America becoming a Hydra agent was a huge scenario, but probably not the only one. He could have stayed the same, he could have become president, he could have actually been dead the whole time and his whole storyline was a dream from an historian. Now as in all comics, the writers dictate where a comic or character goes and these major events tend to be dictated by sales and how successful they are with fans. The writer can then adjust and change or say “what if” to fix anything. Assume the storyline of Cap becoming a Hydra Agent fell flat on its face sales wise, the writers would pivot and adjust the story to fit a more approvable storyline.

Imagine the writer to be similar to a CIO or PMO head. Being able to “what if” scenario plan and pivot based on outside information or internal circumstances allows these organizations to make a more informed decision. In this analogy, what if your CIO had established priorities and values that were long standing, obvious pillars for your delivery process. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the business itself decides to drastically change and take on some new digital transformation initiatives.

How would that affect your portfolio or budget? What would be the required changes? Sometimes the landscape in business changes, or the need to predict change is required. Scenario planning is how these organizations stay prepared for this.

2) What if Thor was a woman?

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In the fall of 2014, Marvel announced that THOR would be a female. A woman would wield Mjolnir. This was a bold and extremely popular decision in readers’ eyes. The Thor that we knew previously had become unworthy of the title and power, so a mysterious female took over the mantle of God of Thunder.

Why make Thor a female? Other scenarios had to be on the table. What if they went with an ethnicity change instead of a gender change? What if Thor was the same but now a bad guy? What if Thor was killed off? When you make a decision, you have to think about what is best for the end user or customer over whether or not it might be an unpopular decision.

Sensitive topics like race or gender in comics or “pet projects” in business can have a tendency to hinder productivity, just based on perception alone. Being able to “what if” plan on these items will make you feel more confident in your selection and ultimately make the right decision.

Similar to above, planning ahead and knowing that a pet project might not be as valuable to the organization ahead of pushing it into production can dramatically improve the overall perception of the portfolio, and therefore productivity. 

3) What if Bruce Wayne had died instead of his parents?

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This is an interesting “what if” that was introduced in the Flash comics during an arch called Flash Point. This was basically a decision to put the Flash in an alternate universe where things were similar but very different under the hood. Thomas Wayne (Batman’s father) was not murdered in the alley by the theater. Bruce and his mother were, however. This forced Thomas Wayne down a similar (and familiar) path his son takes to become Batman in our reality. He is more ruthless and has a much darker shadow to him than the Batman we all know. 

This “what if” scenario is just that, a scenario; scenario planning allows organizations to see how decisions look and feel before actually moving forward with the decision. Having multiple scenarios play out might result in similar results, but digging deeper into those results is what shows you the difference and the reason they should or shouldn’t be decided on. The ability to “slice and dice” data and categorize information visually allows for the decision makers to real-time adjust budgets and workforce to meet the needs of the business.

Be Prepared

Being prepared to offer different options to your readers is no different than having all the options figured out for your business stakeholders. These are major decisions that can go 100 different ways, so having the ability to look across many scenarios and trade-offs, predict possible outcomes, and adjust and pivot allow for you to be a more flexible organization (or, in fact, a comic book writer).

How has scenario planning affected your business?


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