Scenario planning in project management

Scenario planning in project management

You know what they say – change is the only constant in life. Projects hit roadblocks, priorities flip-flop and team members come and go. Familiar, right?

And when change comes knocking, you need to be prepared.

Understanding the impact of changes on your plans and resources is crucial. For instance, what would happen if you put lower priority projects on hold, approved new initiatives, hired additional staff or reassigned team members to other projects? Will your plans still hold up? It’s essential to consider these scenarios to ensure your projects stay on track and can adapt to any shifts in the landscape.

Scenario planning is a technique used in project management to help you get answers to these questions.

Table of contents

What is scenario planning in project management?

Scenario planning in project management is a technique that involves running the slide rule over various possible outcomes. It is a forward-looking approach that helps project managers and teams develop contingency plans and make informed decisions to adapt to changing circumstances.

Typical questions scenario planning helps project managers answer are:

  • What if we delay a project?
  • What happens if we approve a new project?
  • How many more people do we need to keep things on track?
  • What happens if we change project priorities around?
  • Can we cut headcount and still keep projects on track?

Competing project selections, resource allocation plans and project timelines need to be evaluated against each other. However, typically you can have four or five options that each fit the bill in terms of resources, budget and alignment with your organization’s goals.

The trick is to work out which plays out the best for your organization.

Why is scenario planning important?

The importance of scenario planning is multi-faceted. When things change, scenario planning enables you to quickly evaluate different solutions and options meaning you can be agile and react faster. Risk is reduced as you better understand the impact of changes or roadblocks and can better plan for them. And importantly, decisions about projects are better rooted in your ability to deliver them based on resource capacity.

Finally, in a recent study, organizations cited attempting to run too many projects and doing the wrong projects as some of the largest challenges they face. Scenario planning helps you make sense of your goals and set project priorities.

Scenario planning - the benefits to you

Scenario planning is a powerful project management technique that enhances resilience, decision-making, and overall project success by preparing teams for a range of possible future scenarios. Here are the main benefits of deploying scenario planning in your project management toolbox.

Risk mitigation: By exploring different scenarios, project managers can identify potential risks and uncertainties. This allows teams to develop strategies to mitigate these risks and enhance project resilience.

Better decision making: Scenario planning gives project managers insights into possible future issues and hiccups. This lets teams anticipate challenges and devise effective solutions in advance.

Adapt to change: Projects are often subject to unexpected changes. Scenario planning helps teams develop alternate strategies that can be used based on the evolving circumstances.

Resource optimization: By considering different scenarios, project managers can identify resource requirements based on different project outcomes. This optimization helps in efficient resource allocation and prevents resource shortages.

Strategic planning: It allows teams to align their goals with potential future developments, ensuring that projects remain aligned with the organization’s overall strategic objectives.

How to do scenario planning in project management

When considering how to do scenario planning in project management, you have two main choices.

  • Build a scenario planning model in an Excel spreadsheet or Google Sheets.
  • Use scenario planning software.

Without being biased we don’t think building a scenario planning spreadsheet template is viable for most organizations due to the time and complexity involved.  Spreadsheet scenario planning solutions are also cumbersome, difficult to use, and inflexible. Sadly, spreadsheets just aren’t cut out for the complexity of scenario planning.

So to explain how to do scenario planning, we will walk you through how it works in Kelloo. Kelloo is a project planning, resource management, and lean portfolio management solution that incorporates scenario planning. 

In the following steps, you will learn how scenario planning can help you understand the impact of things like changes to project timings, changes to resource levels, approving new work, canceling projects, or putting projects on hold.

First create a scenario

In Kelloo you have a master scenario which is the current version of the “truth” you are working to. You can then have an unlimited number of “sandbox” scenarios where you can model your changes.

select a scenario for what if scenario analysis

Kelloo's resource management tools

Resource planning, forecasting and reporting in one place. We help you get the most from your projects and people.

Model resource capacity changes

Once you have created your scenario, you can model the impact of changing headcount capacity on your plans. So for example you could see if hiring additional developers for a period of time solves any resource constraints you have or improves project delivery timeframes.

In the following example, as we add additional FTE capacity into the resource pool the utilization levels of our resources are automatically recalculated.

Model schedule changes

Use what if planning to see the impact of changes to schedules and project timings.

1. Reschedule work to new dates

Small schedule changes can have a big impact on your people. Working with a scenario, you can extend, compress, delay or speed up when projects are happening. As you make changes the resource heatmap shows the impact on your people.


2. Delay or advance project timings

You can also move all the work for a project. In the following example, as we shift the project forward in time we can see the effect on the utilization of our resources.

3. Extend or compress project timeline

If projects fall behind schedule or progress quicker than expected use the resize project what if to see the impact on your resources.

Model project priority changes

Ideally, you should have a handle on the relative priority of your projects. The fact is, you are unlikely to be able to do every project requested and resources should be targeted onto higher priority projects first. Kelloo lets you model how changing priorities impacts your plans and people.

Prioritize project portfolio

Model pausing work on projects or approving new projects

If you want to model holding or cancelling a project, simply hit the toggle to exclude the project from your plan. The project will still be visible but all the allocation data is excluded from utilization and financial calculations. 

To model the impact of approving a new project, simply add it into your plan and include it in the utilization and financial calculations by hitting the include toggle.

Watch in the following example how the utilization of our resources is recalculated as we choose to include or exclude projects.

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The new what if planning features in Kelloo give you a crystal ball at your fingertips so you can see the future. What if planning shows what will happen if you change project timings, delay projects, hire or fire resources or cancel or commit to new projects.