6 steps to start planning when the future is uncertain

Even when the world has been turned upside down, take proactive steps towards a new desired state 


Randy is an Executive Fellow at LaMarsh Global and a Senior Change Advisor at The Kesterson Group.  Connect with Randy on LinkedIn  or read more about his background at  www.randykesterson.com. 


86% of the people I’ve talked to recently told me that their organization’s current state has changed substantially in the last 12 weeks.  

Only 18% of these people said their organization has started to consider a new desired future state. Many indicated they are currently in a “planning fog” – they simply cannot see far enough into the future with any certainty. They’re not planning for the future…not yet anyway. 

What can we do when our world has been turned upside down, we need to develop a plan, and yet we’re still “in the fog” with regard to visibility into the future?  

Proactive steps to get back on track 

Here are six steps to proactively begin planning, even when the future is clouded with uncertainties.  

Step 1: Redefine your current state  

Review your current situation. Assess the current state of your organization (or business unit or department) in terms of structure, process, people, culture and key metrics. The Managed Change methodology for change management defines each element as:  

  • Structure: Geography, organization, systems 
  • Process: The way we do work 
  • People: Skills and competencies 
  • Culture: Beliefs, behaviors, rules (written and unwritten)  
  • Key Metrics: Key measures for this part of the business  

Step 2: Identify the possible scenarios 

Define three scenarios for your business environment: 

  1. Downside case 
  2. Most likely case 
  3. Upside case 

If you need help with this, organizations like McKinsey & Company have done a great job defining planning scenarios for many industries while in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Be careful when defining the scenarios so that your downside case is not the absolute worst possible case, nor is your upside case the best possible conceivable outcome.  

Step 3: Revisit your desired state 

Revisit where you intend to take your organization (or your business unit, or your department) in the next few years. Again, think in terms of structure, process, people, culture and key metrics.  

Step 4: Identify the key gaps 

Now stand back and compare your revised current state to your new desired future state. What are the key gaps that need to be addressed? What are the projects that will help you close these gaps?  

Step 5: Reconsider your project portfolio 

Now it’s time to revisit your portfolio of projects. Given the key gaps identified that separate the revised current state from the new desired state, what changes need to be made to your project portfolio?  

Consider projects now in-flight and those planned for launch. These can be difficult decisions, but often needed. 

  • Which projects should be canceled?  
  • Which projects should be placed on hold?  
  • Which projects need to be given top priority right now?  
  • What new projects should be considered for launch?  

Step 6: Evaluate project risk 

Critical projects (those in-flight and those about to be launched) should be evaluated for project risk by someone skilled in a proven change management methodology. Resistance to change can significantly impede project outcomes, increase the time required to complete the project, and cause project budget overruns.  

A prediction for the future 

By following these six steps, your organization can begin to plan and then move ahead, even when shrouded in a dense fog.  

I predict that organizations will emerge from this period in history in three categories:  

  1. Thrivers 
  2. Survivors 
  3. Expirers 

Thrivers will emerge from the pandemic stronger than before. Survivors will emerge weaker than before, but still afloat as a business. Expirers will not emerge; they will be out of business.  

Those organizations that take proactive steps now to plan and then move forward – in spite of a lack of a crystal clear path ahead – will increase the likelihood that they will be thrivers or survivors in the post COVID-19 world.


About Randy Kesterson 

Randy Kesterson early retired from executive roles in industry and he works as a senior change advisor at The Kesterson Group, founded in 2013. Randy helps organizations improve (and demonstrate) the ROI from their change management initiatives and he coaches leaders and executives on improving their sponsorship of change.  

Randy has written and published two books about strategy deployment and change management. 

He lives in Davidson, NC with his wife Susan, their twelve-year-old son Chase, and Petey Smalz, their one-year-old French bulldog. 

For more information about Randy’s background, see RandyKesterson.com.  

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