Scenario Planning & Plan B

Leadership:  Scenario Planning and Plan B

Life, John Lennon indicates, is what happens when we are making other plans. 

Man plans, God laughs.  – Jewish adage

Yes, we have already experienced a long, long list of things we never saw coming in the first six months of 2020: impeachment, pandemic, school campuses closed, sports cancelled, Zoom everything, masks everywhere, working and schooling from home.

And as we contemplate the commencement of a new school year in just a few weeks, we are uncertain from day to day what the COVID numbers look like, and whether instruction and learning will be taking place virtually, in person, or both. Our minds are filled with the details of how to address the challenges that lie ahead.

Planning is both essential and woefully inadequate. As we are relearning daily, despite the best laid plans, things change.

Hack #1:  Assess alternate scenarios

  • Anticipate the future. No one knows for certain what it will look like. The wisdom of crowds says that if you ask a large group of people what will happen, you usually get a pretty good answer. Will COVID relent and let us open as usual? Pick a number. 10% chance? How many parents will want their kids in school if we open in person? Best estimate? Maybe 50%. What if it is 30%? 80%? And what are the odds that the governor, health department, or school board will say we need to go virtual?
  • Gather the facts; look for the trends. What is happening elsewhere? What are the parents in your school or district saying?
  • Consider the most likely scenarios, such as a 50/50 hybrid vs. completely virtual.

Hack #2: Vet the plans

  • Present potential plans to various contingents and gather perspectives: board, parents, health department, principals, and students.
  • Be sure to include all affected by your decisions: What do parents of special needs students say? What about parents of color or students of color?
  • Tweak the two best scenarios, or add a third. Identify the pros and cons of each.
  • Develop the two best options for implementation; don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

Hack #3: Communicate preparedness, not certainty

  • Refer often to your key values like safety and learning.
  • Cover the bases with caveats like: “Based on the best information we have currently…
  • Let stakeholders know plans may change, based on safety, learning, and new information.
  • Let people know about Plan B, and that, if possible, they will receive fair warning if things change.

Hack #4: Post-launch: Check in often for input and feedback.

  • Make tweaks to correct flaws in the plan.
  • Repeat often and communicate changes.

Hack #5: Keep working on Plan B

  • Keep Plan B handy; remember, things change.
  • Keep refining Plan B based on new information.

Hack #6: Plan for actual COVID cases

  • By September, nearly one percent of the US population will be getting COVID … every month. Odds are we will have COVID cases in families, in students, in staff. Have Plan X– or Plan 19, for COVID-19 – in hand, fully vetted, ready to go.

Hacks … are short cuts, new ways of thinking … that save time and bring better outcomes.  Keep these handy for navigating uncertain times.


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Larry Nyland – Leadership Coach and Consultant.
Seattle Schools superintendent 2014-2018

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