Plans that really work!

Untold resources are expended every year by organizations creating elaborate plans- annual plans, new product or service introduction plans, sales/marketing plans- and are beautifully bound in leather notebooks only to gather dust on the bookshelf of executives. Why- because they simply don't work!

The most effective plans of which I am aware were those created by NASA in the lunar landing program.

In 1961, President John F. Kennedy established a goal for our country; "we will land a man on the moon by the end of this decade."

The reaction of everyone- scientists, engineers, test pilots, members of Congress, ordinary citizens- was "how are we possibly going to do that, we don't have . . .?"

A few scientists, including Werner Von Braun, responded, "sure we can but we are going to need one heck of a plan and that plan will be composed of technology, equipment, concepts, 90+% of which haven't even been invented!"

"How'd they do that"?

NASA modified and adapted techniques and processes pioneered in the development and production of America's first nuclear submarine- the first project of its scope ever to be completed early and under budget!

They worked backwards!

NASA led a remarkable process, involving thousands of resources, of inventing the plan by starting from the end.

"What are all the things we have to think about, solve and do
to make that happen?"

They started with "where will he land?" With the three-fourth's of the Earth's surface being water, whatever vehicle he's in will have to be able to float!

The next question back from "where will he land?" was "where will he be coming from?" Scientists knew that it simply wasn't feasible to send a vehicle from Earth directly to the Moon and then return directly to Earth.
Long hours of discussion, research and debate focused on the "Earth orbit" or "Moon orbit" alternatives.

The combination of Earth orbit and Moon orbit was adopted.

"But what do we do with the fact that the gravitational field on the Moon is only one-sixth that of the Earth?"

Clearly, some kind of combination vehicle was required.

On and on NASA scientists and engineers went until the questions were resolved and guidance could be given to the design of components. NASA did not start with "what kind of propulsion system or rockets do we need?" or "at the beginning" as most executives and managers do. In fact, that set of decisions was actually made towards the end of the process although simultaneous development was taking place.

The same kind of process can be used to create meaningful, integrated and "do-able" plans for organizations- from new product design to organizational change.

Step 1
Imagine all the key leaders of the organization in one large room. Butcher paper covers the walls and each person has a packet of 'post-its' and pens.

On the right side of the room, participants establish the GOAL.
Begin at the end and work backward!

Don't forget: H.W.I.K.I.W.I.S.I? How Will I Know It When I See It?
Too often stating the goal, what we are trying to achieve, is couched in very general and amorphous terms. We must be as specific as possible throughout this process. Avoid generalities such as "global marketer"- what specific markets do you mean- literally, worldwide or the Asian rim?
" World class producer". What does that mean? BE SPECIFIC!

Step 2

Identify all the streams of activity that makes up our goal.
Culture, products/services, markets, organization, recognition,
compensation, market share, profitability, learning/development,

Step 3

For each of those streams of activity, identify the last thing that will be in place in each when we are at our goal.

Step 4


Step 5

After working backward for each activity stream, in step 5 we reverse the direction. This "reversal" provides another view of each stream of activity, the sequence of events or steps that will be required to move from today.

During this step, for each activity stream we must identify: who, what, when, how, resource implications, and potential integration needs with other streams of activity.

Step 6 The really difficult part

Most plans fail for two distinct but related reasons: inaccurate forecasts of resource implications and the absence of integration. Working on our plan in both directions, the resource implications and potential integration needs will become apparent.

Historically, working forward from today does not indicate either resource implications or integration needs. We are, mentally, so accustomed to that form of thinking that we overlook items/needs and/or make subconscious assumptions that are not valid. Too often they lead to plans that look a little like this:

Step 7

Pull the entire plan together with a keen and realistic eye on the accuracy of resource requirements and the absolute necessity of integration. We can't do B until A is completed. Doing activity stream C requires coordination with steps 3 and 4 in activity stream F.

Backward planning is difficult work precisely because we are unaccustomed to thinking and planning that way...and that is precisely why it should be done! Step 8

Periodic 'reality checks' on the plan content and its implementation must occur. Regardless of how well the planning is accomplished, 'things' never work out completely as planned.

  • periodically assess progress
  • constantly check changes taking place in the world around you
  • accept that any plan must be a 'living document' where change is a fact of life. CAUTION! When the inevitable changes do occur, repeat revisit steps 6 and 7 to insure that the revised plan is still doable and can be adequately funded with resources, etc.

If we do it right, we will have an ever-evolving, reality based, integrated plan that will actually work!