The Military Backward Planning Process Ensures Project Success

The Military Backward Planning Process Ensures Project Success | USAA Member Community

Project planning is a difficult process. One of the greatest difficulties in project planning is how to connect the present to the future when the plan is complete. The complexities in project planning lies in how to ensure all the elements such as budget, people, locations, transportation, and materials that are needed to create a successful project come together.


The military’s answer to project planning as well as the planning of military operations lies in the use of the backward planning process. The secret to the backward planning process is that its starts with success or what the successful end of the project looks like and then creates a plan that moves from the successful conclusion “backwards” to the present. 


These five tips help make a successful use of the Military Backward Planning process:

Military Backward Planning Process Tip #1 – Fully Describe in Detail What a Successful Plan Looks Like. Most plans start with a description of what to do from the present. The solution of the entire reason for doing the plan can then end up being vague or not specific enough.  Instead, start with a full description of what success looks like in very specific detail. For example, if you are planning a customer meeting, where are the table settings? What time of day is it? What will the room smell like? This may seem like insignificant details, but the small details assembled together leads to the overall success of the plan. 


Military Backward Planning Process Tip #2 – Make a Complete List of all Available Assets that Support the Plan. Too often, planning can start with a brief plan and then everyone flies into a flurry of work, activities, and potentially disjointed and uncoordinated actions. Instead of jumping immediately into plan execution, stop and create a list of all available assets, people, resources, and material that are available to support the plan. Assets to help with the plan can be specific people, departments, budgets, contractors, locations, material resources, and intellectual resources. In addition, what other “outside” resources do you have in friends / partners that could support your plan?


Military Backward Planning Process Tip #3 – Create a Project Synchronization Matrix. The next step in developing the project plan using the backward planning process is to create a synchronization matrix. In the synchronization matrix, list the time elements (hours, days, or weeks) across the horizontal axis and then the resources available to complete the project along the vertical axis (see chart below). Next, start by completing the activities that each resource has to perform working from the completed plan to the project start.




EXAMPLE – Project Synchronization Matrix


Plan Resources

Current Week

Week + 1

Week +2

Complete Project

Resource A

Activity 3

Activity 2

Activity 1

Final Result

Resource B

Activity 3

Activity 2

Activity 1

Final Result



Military Backward Planning Process Tip#4 – Determine Key Project Activities Starting from Project Completion to the Present. In the synchronization matrix, start your activities working from the completed project back to the present. Therefore, if my project is to provide supplies to help build a bridge, my completed project is that the bridge is open. The week before the bridge opens: I should be part of the final bridge inspection and clean up of the construction site. This backward logic goes back to the first week of the project where I inspect the construction site and finalize the list of needed supplies. When you create a project task list, the current week activities are listed first leading the final week activities. The simplicity of this process is that when you start with success and work backwards, you incorporate all the critical steps necessary to get you to success.


Military Backward Planning Process #5 – Wargame and Share the Final Plan with your Team. When the draft synchronization matrix and draft project task list is created, war gaming is the next step. The war game process is when you put a draft plan against expected challenges and potential problems to ensure that your plan will be successful. For example, the supplies for the bridge building project may include placing gravel at key spots in the dirt road leading to the work site so the road does not wash out and stop construction when it rains. Once a problem is identified in the war game process, the synchronization matrix and project task list are adjusted to take advantage of the learning point.


When the backward planning process is complete, the final step is to widely share and discuss the detailed project plan with those responsible for the day-to-day execution of the plan. Backward planning, a synchronization matrix, and a project task list are all leadership tools to help a project leader be successful. However, the backward planning process assists leadership and does not replace leadership. Backward planning is a simple, cost effective, and ultimately effective tool in project planning and execution to ensure the project is completed on time and to the specified standard.


Have something to add to this article? Share your insights in the comments below.


About the blogger:
Chad is the author of two books: (1) Combat Leader to Corporate Leader and (2) Battlefield to Business Success. Chad’s brand message is that organizations & individuals need to translate and apply military skills to business because they immediately produce results and are cost effective. Chad is a retired US Army Special Forces Lieutenant Colonel with 20+ years of Active and Reserve service in infantry, Special Forces, and joint headquarters units. He served in Iraq, Bosnia, Korea, and throughout the United States. He was awarded the Bronze Star, the Combat Infantryman Badge, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Special Forces Tab, and the Ranger Tab.  Chad is an adjunct Lecturer of Marketing at Creighton University in Omaha, NE. In addition to teaching, he is a mid-level marketing executive and has worked in marketing and sales roles for various companies, including General Electric, Comcast, and Manugistics. He has been published in over 110 different articles in over 85 separate publications including The Harvard Business Review blog, Business Week Online, Forbes, Christian Science Monitor, and USA Today. He has a BA from Northwestern University and an MBA from Georgetown University.



236027 - 1016