Forecasting Basics

In today’s fast-paced business world, accurate forecasting plays a critical role in decision-making and strategizing for success. The ability to predict future trends and outcomes is essential for businesses to effectively plan their resources, manage inventory, and optimize operations. In this article, we will explore the fundamentals of forecasting, examining key methodologies and techniques that enable organizations to make informed predictions and stay ahead of the competition. Whether you’re a seasoned professional or just starting your journey in forecasting, this article will provide you with a comprehensive overview of forecasting basics to enhance your understanding and application of this valuable business tool.

Forecasting Basics

Table of Contents

What is Forecasting

Definition of forecasting

Forecasting is the process of making predictions or estimates about future events or trends based on past and present data. It involves analyzing historical data, identifying patterns and trends, and using different methods and techniques to project future outcomes. By providing insights into what may happen in the future, forecasting helps businesses and organizations make more informed decisions and plan effectively for the future.

Purpose of forecasting

The primary purpose of forecasting is to reduce uncertainties and make informed decisions based on anticipated future conditions. It allows organizations to anticipate customer demand, plan production and inventory levels, allocate resources efficiently, and predict potential risks and opportunities. Forecasting also helps businesses in setting realistic goals, identifying potential problems, and aligning their strategies with future market conditions. In essence, the main purpose of forecasting is to improve decision-making and optimize business performance.

Types of forecasting

There are two main types of forecasting: quantitative forecasting and qualitative forecasting.

Quantitative forecasting involves using historical data and mathematical models to predict future values. This approach relies on numerical data, such as sales figures, production statistics, or financial records, to identify patterns and trends. Quantitative forecasting methods include time series analysis, regression analysis, moving averages, and exponential smoothing.

On the other hand, qualitative forecasting is based on expert opinions, judgment, and subjective assessments. It is used when reliable historical data is not available or when external factors, such as market trends or customer preferences, need to be considered. Qualitative forecasting methods include market research, scenario planning, judgment-based forecasting, and the Delphi method.

Importance of forecasting

Forecasting plays a crucial role in strategic planning and decision-making for businesses and organizations. It helps them anticipate changes and prepare for future challenges and opportunities. Some key reasons why forecasting is important are:

  1. Anticipating customer demand: By forecasting future demand, businesses can adjust their production levels, inventory management, and marketing strategies to meet customer needs and avoid shortages or excess inventory.

  2. Effective resource allocation: Forecasting enables organizations to allocate their resources, such as manpower, raw materials, and financial resources, in an optimized and efficient manner. This helps in reducing costs and maximizing productivity.

  3. Improved decision-making: Forecasting provides valuable insights and data-driven predictions that support informed decision-making. It helps in setting realistic goals, evaluating potential risks, and choosing the most appropriate course of action.

  4. Cost savings: Accurate forecasting can help reduce costs by avoiding overproduction, excess inventory, and unnecessary expenses. It allows businesses to plan their resources and operations efficiently, reducing waste and inefficiencies.

  5. Reduced risk: By identifying potential risks and uncertainties in advance, forecasting allows organizations to develop contingency plans and strategies to minimize the impact of unfavorable events or market changes.

  6. Business growth: Forecasting helps businesses identify new market opportunities, anticipate changes in customer preferences, and plan for growth and expansion. It enables organizations to stay competitive and seize emerging trends and market shifts.

  7. Efficient inventory management: Forecasting is crucial for optimizing inventory levels, ensuring that there is neither excess nor shortage of stock. This helps businesses maintain a balance between customer demand and resources, reducing costs and enhancing customer satisfaction.

  8. Optimized supply chain operations: Forecasting allows organizations to anticipate demand, plan production schedules, and coordinate logistics and supply chain activities effectively. It enables businesses to optimize their operations, reduce lead times, and improve overall efficiency.

  9. Enhanced customer satisfaction: Accurate forecasting helps businesses meet customer demands and expectations in a timely manner. By ensuring product availability and reducing order delays, forecasting contributes to enhanced customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Overall, forecasting plays a significant role in strategic planning and operational management by providing valuable insights and predictions for businesses and organizations. It helps them adapt to changing market conditions, minimize risks, optimize resources, and make informed decisions for long-term success.

Elements of Forecasting

Data analysis

Data analysis is a fundamental step in the forecasting process. It involves examining historical data, identifying patterns and trends, and understanding the dynamics of the variables being forecasted. Data analysis techniques can range from basic statistical methods to complex analytical tools and algorithms. By analyzing the data, businesses can gain insights into past performance and make informed predictions about future trends.

Trend analysis

Trend analysis is a method used to identify and analyze long-term patterns and tendencies in the data. It involves examining historical data over an extended period and identifying consistent upward or downward movements. By understanding the underlying trends, businesses can make predictions about future growth or decline and adjust their strategies accordingly.

Quantitative forecasting methods

Quantitative forecasting methods rely on mathematical models and historical data to predict future values. These methods use numerical data and statistical techniques to identify patterns and relationships between variables. Some common quantitative forecasting methods include time series analysis, regression analysis, moving averages, and exponential smoothing.

See also  Qualitative Forecasting

Qualitative forecasting methods

Qualitative forecasting methods are based on expert opinions, judgment, and subjective assessments. These methods are used when historical data is limited or when external factors, such as market trends, technological advancements, or customer preferences, need to be taken into account. Qualitative forecasting methods include market research, scenario planning, judgment-based forecasting, and the Delphi method.

Seasonal variations

Seasonal variations refer to predictable patterns and fluctuations that occur within a specific time period. These variations can be influenced by factors such as weather, holidays, or cultural events. Recognizing and accounting for seasonal variations is critical in forecasting accurately, especially in industries where demand or sales fluctuate throughout the year.

Cyclical patterns

Cyclical patterns are longer-term fluctuations that occur over an extended period, typically several years. These patterns are often influenced by economic cycles, business cycles, or industry-specific factors. Understanding cyclical patterns is important in forecasting, as it allows businesses to anticipate the impacts of economic downturns or upswings and adjust their strategies accordingly.

External factors

External factors, also known as exogenous variables, are variables that are outside the control of the organization but can significantly impact the forecasted outcome. These factors can include changes in government regulations, technological advancements, competitor actions, or shifts in consumer behavior. Incorporating external factors into the forecasting process is essential for accurate and comprehensive predictions.

Data collection

Data collection is a vital component of forecasting as it involves gathering relevant and reliable data to support the analysis and prediction process. Data can be collected from various sources, such as sales records, customer surveys, market research reports, or internal databases. Ensuring the accuracy, quality, and completeness of data is crucial for successful forecasting.

Methods of Forecasting

Moving averages

Moving averages is a widely used quantitative forecasting method that smooths out short-term fluctuations in data to identify underlying trends. It involves calculating the average value of a variable over a specific period, and then shifting the average as new data becomes available. Moving averages can be simple, where all data points are weighted equally, or weighted, where more recent data points are given greater weightage.

Exponential smoothing

Exponential smoothing is a quantitative forecasting method that assigns exponentially decreasing weights to past observations. It is particularly helpful in forecasting when historical data shows a stable trend or seasonality. Exponential smoothing assigns more weight to recent observations and less weight to older observations, making it sensitive to recent changes in data.

Regression analysis

Regression analysis is a statistical technique used to establish relationships between variables. It helps predict the value of a dependent variable based on the values of one or more independent variables. In forecasting, regression analysis can be used to identify the relationship between a dependent variable (e.g., sales) and independent variables (e.g., advertising expenditure, price, etc.), enabling businesses to make predictions based on the identified relationship.

Time series models

Time series models are quantitative forecasting methods that involve analyzing historical data to identify patterns and relationships over time. These models consider factors such as trends, seasonality, cyclical patterns, and irregular variations to make forecasts. Time series models can be simple, such as naive or moving average models, or more sophisticated, such as autoregressive integrated moving average (ARIMA) models or exponential smoothing models.

Delphi method

The Delphi method is a qualitative forecasting technique that involves obtaining consensus from a panel of experts through multiple rounds of questionnaires. In each round, the experts provide their opinions and forecasts anonymously, and the results of each round are shared with the panel. This iterative process continues until a consensus forecast is achieved. The Delphi method is especially useful when historical data is limited or when expert insights are needed.

Judgmental forecasting

Judgmental forecasting relies on the knowledge and expertise of individuals or groups to make predictions. It involves qualitative assessments, expert opinions, and subjective judgment to forecast future outcomes. Judgmental forecasting can be based on experience, market intelligence, intuition, or a combination of these factors. While it may be subjective, judgmental forecasting can provide valuable insights, especially in situations where historical data is limited or where human insights are critical.

Market research

Market research involves collecting and analyzing data from customers, competitors, or the market to gain insights into future trends and demand patterns. By conducting surveys, interviews, focus groups, or analyzing secondary data, businesses can gather information on customer preferences, market behavior, and emerging market trends. Market research is particularly valuable in industries where customer demand and preferences change frequently.

Scenario planning

Scenario planning is a strategic forecasting technique that involves developing multiple future scenarios based on different sets of assumptions and variables. It allows businesses to envision different possible outcomes and their potential impacts, helping them prepare for a range of future scenarios. By considering alternative scenarios, businesses can develop contingency plans, allocate resources effectively, and minimize the impacts of uncertain events.

Simulation modeling

Simulation modeling uses computer-based models and algorithms to simulate and analyze the potential outcomes of different scenarios. It involves creating a virtual representation of a real system or process and experimenting with different inputs and variables to observe their effects on the system’s behavior. Simulation modeling enables businesses to test and refine their forecasts, understand the potential consequences of various decisions, and make more informed choices.

Accuracy Measures

Mean Absolute Error (MAE)

Mean Absolute Error (MAE) is a measure of accuracy that calculates the average absolute difference between forecasted values and actual values. It provides an indication of how close the forecasted values are to the actual values, with lower MAE values indicating higher accuracy. MAE is calculated by summing the absolute differences between forecasted and actual values, and dividing the sum by the number of observations.

Mean Squared Error (MSE)

Mean Squared Error (MSE) is another measure of accuracy that calculates the average of the squared differences between forecasted values and actual values. MSE gives higher weightage to larger errors, and it is particularly useful when larger errors have more significant consequences. MSE is calculated by summing the squared differences between forecasted and actual values, and dividing the sum by the number of observations.

Root Mean Squared Error (RMSE)

Root Mean Squared Error (RMSE) is the square root of the Mean Squared Error. It provides an estimate of the standard deviation of the errors and is commonly used to compare forecasting models and techniques. RMSE is calculated by taking the square root of the mean of the squared differences between forecasted and actual values.

Mean Absolute Percentage Error (MAPE)

Mean Absolute Percentage Error (MAPE) measures the average percentage difference between forecasted values and actual values. It provides a relative measure of accuracy and is particularly useful when comparing forecasts across different variables or time periods. MAPE is calculated by summing the absolute percentage differences between forecasted and actual values, and dividing the sum by the number of observations.

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Coefficient of Determination (R-squared)

The Coefficient of Determination, also known as R-squared, measures the proportion of the variance in the dependent variable that is predictable from the independent variables in a regression model. R-squared ranges from 0 to 1, with higher values indicating a better fit between the forecasted and actual values. It provides a measure of the model’s predictive power and is commonly used to assess the accuracy of regression-based forecasting models.

Forecasting Basics

Forecasting Techniques

Univariate forecasting

Univariate forecasting involves using a single variable to make predictions about future values. It relies on historical data for that specific variable and uses statistical techniques to identify patterns and trends. Univariate forecasting techniques include moving averages, exponential smoothing, and time series analysis.

Multivariate forecasting

Multivariate forecasting involves using multiple variables together to make predictions. It takes into account the interdependencies and relationships between variables and uses statistical techniques such as regression analysis and time series models to forecast future outcomes. Multivariate forecasting is particularly useful when multiple factors influence the variable being forecasted.

Regression-based forecasting

Regression-based forecasting uses regression analysis to establish a relationship between the dependent variable and one or more independent variables. It predicts future values of the dependent variable based on the values of the independent variables. Regression-based forecasting can be simple linear regression or more complex nonlinear regression models, depending on the nature of the relationship between the variables.

Time series analysis

Time series analysis focuses on analyzing historical data to identify patterns, trends, and seasonality. It involves modeling the historical data and using statistical techniques to forecast future values based on the identified patterns. Time series analysis techniques include moving averages, exponential smoothing, autoregressive integrated moving average (ARIMA) models, and state space modeling.

Qualitative forecasting techniques

Qualitative forecasting techniques rely on expert opinions, judgment, and subjective assessments to make predictions. These techniques are used when reliable historical data is not available or when external factors, market trends, or customer preferences need to be considered. Qualitative forecasting techniques include market research, scenario planning, and judgment-based forecasting.

Quantitative forecasting techniques

Quantitative forecasting techniques use mathematical models and historical data to make predictions. These techniques rely on statistical analysis, time series modeling, regression analysis, and other mathematical tools to identify patterns and relationships between variables. Quantitative forecasting techniques are particularly useful when historical data is available and can provide accurate predictions based on past patterns.

Judgment-based forecasting

Judgment-based forecasting relies on the knowledge and expertise of individuals or groups to make predictions. It involves qualitative assessments, expert opinions, and subjective judgment to forecast future outcomes. Judgment-based forecasting can be based on experience, market intelligence, intuition, or a combination of these factors. While it may be subjective, judgment-based forecasting can provide valuable insights, especially in situations where historical data is limited or where human insights are critical.

Challenges in Forecasting

Lack of data

One of the challenges in forecasting is the lack of sufficient data to generate accurate predictions. Historical data is essential for many forecasting methods, and when data is limited or incomplete, it can lead to less reliable forecasts. This challenge can be addressed by seeking alternative data sources, exploring new data collection methods, or using qualitative forecasting techniques that rely on expert opinions and judgment.

Data inaccuracies

Data inaccuracies, such as errors, inconsistencies, or missing values, can significantly impact the accuracy of forecasts. Inaccurate data can lead to incorrect predictions, unreliable trends, and flawed decision-making. Addressing this challenge requires implementing data quality controls, ensuring data integrity, and using data cleaning techniques to minimize inaccuracies.

Unpredictable events

Forecasting is inherently challenging when unpredictable events occur, such as natural disasters, political changes, or sudden shifts in consumer behavior. These events can disrupt the patterns and relationships observed in historical data, making it harder to predict future outcomes. To mitigate this challenge, forecasters need to be aware of external factors, be agile in adapting their models and assumptions, and incorporate scenario planning to account for unforeseen events.

Economic fluctuations

Economic fluctuations, such as recessions, inflation, or changes in interest rates, can have a significant impact on forecasts. These fluctuations can disrupt demand patterns, alter customer behavior, and impact market conditions, making forecasting more complex. Addressing this challenge requires monitoring economic indicators, using econometric models, and considering macroeconomic projections in forecasting.

Technology advancements

Rapid technological advancements and innovations can significantly impact forecasts, especially in industries driven by technological changes. New technologies, disruptive business models, or evolving customer preferences can render historical data obsolete or introduce new variables and relationships that need to be incorporated into the forecasting process. Staying updated with technology trends, embracing predictive analytics, and collaborating with experts can help address this challenge.

Competitor actions

Competitors’ actions, such as product launches, pricing changes, or marketing strategies, can influence market dynamics and disrupt forecasts. Changes in the competitive landscape can affect demand patterns, market share, and customer preferences, making it difficult to make accurate predictions. Monitoring competitors, conducting competitor analysis, and incorporating market intelligence into forecasting can help mitigate this challenge.

Changing consumer behavior

Consumer behavior is subject to change due to evolving trends, social influences, or shifting demographics. These changes can impact demand patterns, customer preferences, and buying habits, making it challenging to forecast accurately. Understanding consumer behavior through market research, analyzing social trends, and using advanced analytics can help address this challenge.

Legal and regulatory changes

Changes in laws, regulations, or government policies can have implications for businesses and industries, affecting market conditions, supply chain dynamics, or consumer behavior. Forecasting in such environments can be challenging, as it requires considering the impacts of legal and regulatory changes on future outcomes. Staying updated with legal and regulatory developments, monitoring policy changes, and collaborating with legal experts can help address this challenge.

Forecasting Basics

Forecasting Applications

Sales forecasting

Sales forecasting is crucial for businesses to plan production, allocate resources, and set sales targets. By predicting future sales volumes, businesses can adjust their inventory levels, manufacturing schedules, and marketing strategies. Sales forecasting helps businesses anticipate market demand, optimize pricing strategies, and identify potential growth opportunities.

Financial forecasting

Financial forecasting involves predicting a company’s future financial performance, including revenues, expenses, profitability, and cash flow. It helps businesses set realistic financial goals, plan investments, manage costs, and secure financing. Financial forecasting also assists in evaluating the financial viability of business initiatives, making informed investment decisions, and preparing financial statements and reports.

Supply chain forecasting

Supply chain forecasting is essential for optimizing supply chain operations, managing inventory levels, and ensuring efficient logistics and distribution. By forecasting demand and coordinating with suppliers, businesses can reduce lead times, minimize stockouts, and improve order fulfillment rates. Supply chain forecasting also enables efficient procurement, production planning, and supplier management.

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Production forecasting

Production forecasting involves estimating the quantity and timing of production requirements to meet customer demand. It helps businesses plan production schedules, allocate resources, and optimize capacity utilization. Accurate production forecasting reduces production costs, minimizes inventory levels, and ensures timely delivery of products to customers.

Human resource forecasting

Human resource forecasting is the process of predicting future workforce needs and requirements. By analyzing historical data, industry trends, and business objectives, organizations can determine the optimal number of employees, required skill sets, and recruitment strategies. Human resource forecasting ensures adequate staffing, manages talent shortages and surpluses, and supports workforce planning and development.

Inventory forecasting

Inventory forecasting is critical for managing inventory levels and minimizing carrying costs. By predicting future demand, businesses can optimize inventory levels, reduce stockouts and overstocking, and improve cash flow. Accurate inventory forecasting enables efficient order management, prevents obsolescence, and improves overall supply chain performance.

Demand forecasting

Demand forecasting is the process of estimating future customer demand for a product or service. It helps businesses plan production schedules, allocate resources, and optimize inventory levels. Accurate demand forecasting reduces stockouts, prevents overproduction, and improves customer satisfaction by ensuring products are available when and where customers need them.

Capacity planning

Capacity planning involves determining the optimal capacity levels required to meet future demand. It helps businesses allocate resources, plan investments, and manage production capacity. Capacity planning ensures that businesses have the necessary infrastructure, technology, and resources to support growth, avoid bottlenecks, and maximize operational efficiency.

Forecasting Software

Statistical Forecasting Software

Statistical forecasting software uses advanced statistical techniques and algorithms to analyze historical data and generate forecasts. These software tools automate the forecasting process, making it easier to handle large volumes of data, incorporate multiple variables, and generate accurate predictions. Statistical forecasting software often includes features such as data visualization, model selection, and accuracy evaluation.

Excel-based Forecasting Tools

Excel-based forecasting tools leverage the capabilities of Microsoft Excel to perform data analysis, manipulate data, and generate forecasts. These tools often use built-in Excel functions, add-ins, or macros to implement forecasting models and calculations. Excel-based forecasting tools are popular due to their ease of use, familiarity, and flexibility. However, they may require manual data handling and lack some advanced statistical features.

Machine Learning Forecasting Tools

Machine learning forecasting tools use algorithms and models to analyze data, identify patterns, and generate forecasts. These tools leverage machine learning techniques, such as neural networks, decision trees, or support vector machines, to make predictions based on historical data. Machine learning forecasting tools can handle complex data sets, handle large volumes of data, and automatically adapt to changing conditions.

Cloud-based Forecasting Solutions

Cloud-based forecasting solutions are web-based software platforms that provide forecasting capabilities. These solutions offer the advantage of accessibility from anywhere with an internet connection, collaboration features, and scalability. Cloud-based forecasting solutions often include data integration capabilities, visualization tools, and automation features to streamline the forecasting process.

Collaborative Planning Forecasting and Replenishment (CPFR)

Collaborative Planning Forecasting and Replenishment (CPFR) is a framework and process for forecasting and coordinating supply chain activities between trading partners. It involves sharing information, collaborating on demand forecasting, and jointly planning inventory levels, production schedules, and order fulfillment. CPFR typically involves the use of specialized software or systems that support collaborative forecasting and supply chain coordination.

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) Systems with Forecasting Modules

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems are integrated software platforms that manage various aspects of a business’s operations, including forecasting. Many ERP systems include forecasting modules or functionality that allow businesses to generate forecasts based on historical data, manage demand planning, and optimize inventory levels. ERP systems with forecasting modules provide an integrated solution for forecasting within the broader context of business operations and resource planning.

Benefits of Forecasting

Effective resource allocation

Forecasting enables businesses to allocate resources, such as manpower, raw materials, and financial resources, effectively. By accurately predicting demand and production requirements, businesses can optimize their resource allocation, reduce costs, and improve productivity.

Improved decision-making

By providing insights into future trends and potential outcomes, forecasting helps businesses make informed decisions. It allows organizations to evaluate different scenarios, weigh the risks and rewards, and choose the most appropriate course of action.

Cost savings

Accurate forecasting helps businesses avoid overproduction, excess inventory, and unnecessary expenses. By aligning production and inventory levels with anticipated demand, businesses can minimize waste, reduce carrying costs, and optimize their operations.

Reduced risk

Forecasting helps businesses anticipate and mitigate potential risks. By identifying potential challenges and uncertainties in advance, organizations can develop contingency plans, implement risk mitigation strategies, and stay prepared for unexpected events or market shifts.

Business growth

Forecasting enables businesses to identify new market opportunities and plan for growth. By analyzing market trends, customer preferences, and emerging technologies, organizations can adjust their strategies, develop new products or services, and capture market share.

Efficient inventory management

Accurate forecasting helps businesses optimize their inventory levels. By anticipating demand patterns, businesses can ensure that they have the right amount of stock on hand, reducing the risk of stockouts or excess inventory. Efficient inventory management contributes to cost savings, improved customer service, and streamlined operations.

Optimized supply chain operations

Forecasting allows businesses to coordinate their supply chain activities effectively. By predicting demand, planning production schedules, and optimizing logistics, organizations can reduce lead times, improve order fulfillment rates, and enhance overall supply chain performance.

Enhanced customer satisfaction

Accurate forecasting ensures that businesses can meet customer demands in a timely manner. By having the right products available when customers need them, organizations can improve customer satisfaction, loyalty, and retention. Forecasting also helps businesses anticipate customer preferences, enabling them to tailor their offerings and marketing strategies to meet customer needs.

Common Mistakes in Forecasting

Over-reliance on historical data

Over-reliance on historical data can be a common mistake in forecasting. While historical data is an essential input for many forecasting methods, it may not always capture future changes or unique circumstances. Failing to consider external factors or the possibility of shifts in market dynamics can lead to inaccurate forecasts.

Neglecting external factors

Forecasts can be impacted by external factors such as economic conditions, technological advancements, or regulatory changes. Neglecting to incorporate these external factors into the forecasting process can result in inaccurate predictions. It is crucial to consider the broader business environment and market conditions when making forecasts.

Ignoring qualitative insights

Forecasting should not rely solely on quantitative data and models. Ignoring qualitative insights, such as market research or expert opinions, can limit the accuracy and relevance of forecasts. Combining qualitative and quantitative approaches can provide a more comprehensive understanding of future trends and outcomes.

Lack of collaboration and communication

Forecasting requires collaboration and communication among different stakeholders within an organization. Failure to involve key departments or individuals, such as sales, marketing, finance, or operations, can lead to biased or incomplete forecasts. Foster collaboration and ensure effective communication channels to enhance the accuracy and buy-in for forecasts.

Unclear objectives and assumptions

Forecasting should have clear objectives and well-defined assumptions. Lack of clarity can result in inconsistent or contradictory forecasts. Establish clear goals and assumptions upfront, ensuring that all stakeholders are aligned on the purpose and scope of the forecast.

Inadequate data analysis

Inaccurate or insufficient data analysis can lead to unreliable forecasts. Failing to analyze data properly, including identifying outliers, trends, or seasonality, can result in flawed predictions. Ensure robust data analysis techniques and tools are used to extract meaningful insights from the data.

Not reviewing and revising forecasts regularly

Forecasts should be regularly reviewed and revised based on updated information and actual performance. Failing to review and update forecasts can result in outdated or irrelevant predictions. Regularly monitor the accuracy of forecasts, compare them against actual outcomes, and incorporate new data to improve future forecasts.

Not considering alternative scenarios

Forecasting is inherently uncertain, and there may be multiple plausible scenarios for the future. Not considering alternative scenarios can result in overly optimistic or pessimistic forecasts. Incorporate scenario planning techniques to explore different possibilities, evaluate risks and opportunities, and make more robust forecasts.