Backwards Planning, a Surefire method to FAIL

Posted on
March 1, 2019

Many organizations target completion dates for projects and then plan backwards from those dates to present time. The problem with this approach is that typically a few individuals (who may not even be responsible for the work) define and manipulate the durations of activities to be performed by others to meet the targeted completion date. These individuals build the perfect plan, albeit with no room for change. While it looks “good on paper”, more often than not, backwards planning simply doesn’t account for the real project work effort.

When project schedules are created by backwards planning, the elapsed time required by team members to complete the require work effort is ignored. Instead, the focus is on shortening task duration, frequently with unrealistic timing, to achieve a stipulated completion date.
When pre-defined task durations and unrealistic delivery dates are mandated to the project delivery team, team member buy-in is significantly reduced. More often than not, the team surrenders to failure before the project ever starts.

The best project managers architect project schedules by forward planning. They include activities, durations and network logic mutually contributed by project team members. They validate the project schedule, confirm the true duration of the work effort and gain buy-in from accountable resources.
When a forward planned project completion date exceeds its target, a skilled project manager is able to optimize the critical path to achieve the target date with identified risk. Then, with mutual agreement by the delivery team and project sponsor(s) there can be opportunity to reduce the project work scope; increase cost to accelerate the schedule; shorten time allotted for critical activities; assume agreeable risk; or ultimately to accept a new target date.

While not every forward planned project is feasible, and forecasted deadline dates are not always able to be met, confidence in forward planning enables informed project direction discussions early on and ensures there are no surprises at the end.