Chernobyl: What does this HBO mini-drama series tell about Scenario Planning?


If the season finale of Game of Thrones felt like a bad break-up and had left you in despair with a desperate need for closure, HBO finally managed to offer a worthy rebound. The five-part HBO mini-series is a dramatization of one of the worst man-made disasters in human history which occurred in the erstwhile Soviet Union in April of 1986, where an RBMK fission reactor exploded leaving the radiating core exposed.

The 5-part mini-series gives a gripping, nerving and mind-boggling account of the eventualities of the incident, which involved complete and immediate evacuation of 50,000 residents from the city of Pripyat, neutralization of nearby fauna and unforgiving measures which were followed to contain the radiation.

Currently, at the top spot at IMDb with 9.7 rating in TV series category, the show is is well-lit with actors of extreme caliber (Jared Harris, who plays Valery Legasov, chief of the investigating committee for the disaster and Stellan Skarsgard who plays Boris Shcherbina, Vice-chairman to then council of ministers, responsible for gathering and delivering necessary resources for the mitigation efforts, and many others actors of critical acclaim).

While I excuse myself from revealing any spoilers (I know.. an atrocity in itself..), can’t help to correlate the turn of events and draw parallels to the model of Scenario Planning, formulated by managers of Shell in the mid-1970s when the oil industry was facing instability with respect to oil prices. The premise of the approach states that business /organizational scenarios would inherently change and rather than to try and remove uncertainty, the challenge should be to accept and understand it. While solution providers and Russian think-tanks vested with the responsibility of containing the exposed nuclear core and reducing the aftereffects of the disaster to a minimum, understood the gravity of the situation, yet accepted the fact that it might by very difficult perhaps impossible to “get all things right”.

The aim of scenario planning is not to get things right but to highlight what are the major forces driving the system and what is the relationship between these forces, what could be the possible outcomes and worst-case scenarios (many know about them, but it is only the brave who openly talk about them ). Such was the case for Chernobyl where organizational politics, sycophancy and Soviet Union’ s position to avoid global humiliation lead to an initial understating of the situation gravity, it was only through the efforts of characters in the story, the complexity of the situation was realized and the damage was mitigated. Watch the season for more on this.

So what exactly is scenario planning? Essentially, a three-step process:


First, it involves structuring the future into:

  1. Predetermined Events, i.e, the events which have been already set in motion, their inter-dependencies and break in trends. Understanding these might help us in getting some ideas/perspectives about how to predict uncertain events. To take an example form our miniseries, the meltdown of the core was imminent (a predetermined event) which has to be delayed and stopped.

At the very first stage after the identification/classification of these events, you would which trends are likely to happen, though you may not know when exactly they would happen.


Charting of the interrelationships — what could be the combined effect of the above events on your business /organizational environment. How are any two events related?


Developing scenarios depending on the basis of resulting uncertainties — three is an ideal number, or four when it comes to scenario generation. But it is important to note that it is dangerous to present three scenarios describing outcomes along a single dimension, our brain is wired in such a way that we cannot resist seeing the middle one as some sort of baseline. Also when presented with two scenarios we could be biased about the one which is a happy outcome.

Below is a representation of the process:

Drucker said,” The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence; it is to act with yesterday’s logic.” While it may not be possible to predict the future as it is a result of countless uncertainties, scenario planning, when done correctly, warns about all major events which could happen.

What if something still gets left out? We might ask if there are are any dimensions that we have not covered while charting interrelationships? At the end of the day, option planning is merely guided speculation, it is the action and execution which determines its effectiveness.



I write about technology,films,personal anecdotes and anything which inspires me in the moment.

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I write about technology,films,personal anecdotes and anything which inspires me in the moment.