Got a big project to complete?  How will you approach it?  What are the steps?  Well…here’s an idea.  Work backwards!

How do most people approach a big project?  They just start.  They do something, anything, that makes them feel like they have taken a step toward their goal.  They do a little bit here and a little bit there, and hope that all those bits will eventually come together as a completed task.  And sometimes they do actually produce something, but probably not in the most efficient manner and probably not without undue frustration.

My dad once took a car engine completely apart, down to the last bolt and nut, cleaned each piece, then put the whole thing back together.  He wasn’t a mechanic, although admittedly he had a decent understanding of a combustion engine.  Nevertheless, he had well over a hundred parts that had to go back together in a certain order, for the engine to run.  I always wondered how he did that.  And I think I finally learned how.

You see, as he was taking that car apart, he had to think about how it would go back together.  He didn’t organize the parts by what when in first, but by what went in last.  In other words, he worked backwards.  In essence, he arranged the pieces in the order of what went in right before the car was finished, and what went in right before that, and right before that and so on, until the car was an organized string of parts on the garage floor.

So what if you took on a project in the same manner, working backwards?  My suggestion is that you will likely work more efficiently, finish your project faster and your project will be more comprehensive than it might otherwise be.  How does this work?  You start at the finish.  Visualize the finished project and ask yourself what happened right before the project was finished and what happened right before that until you get to the start of your project.

Let’s look at a very simplified example.  Let’s say you’re a processor and you want to offer a new edible to your customers.  I created the above chart, starting at the end with the customer placing the order.  I went backwards thinking at each step of the way, what would happen immediately before.  For example, the product shouldn’t go to your customer for sampling, unless you had completed testing.  You wouldn’t want to send it for testing, until you had tweaked the product to taste just the way you want it.  I realize this is an elementary example; any experienced processor would know the steps and the correct order in which to do them.  I only suggest this be a way to think about your project, particularly one that is overwhelming because you don’t know where to start.  It’s also a good exercise to help assure that you haven’t missed any major steps because as you work backwards, you will realize that things must go in a certain order.

prj mgt diagram 04.04.16So if you have a venture before you that seems too far away or impossible to reach, start to break it down by working backward.  Visualize the end result and begin dropping in the tasks that must be completed to achieve the goal.  Not only will it help you to capture all the required steps, but will help you to set a timeline, using the desired date of the finished project as your starting point.   It’s a slightly different approach from traditional planning, but you may find it quite useful.