Project Tip Go Forward By Working Backwards

Project Tip Image Arrows

Project Tip Image Arrows

Whether you are planning a project in work or in your  personal life, or you are responsible for organizing others, this project tip may be for you.

Have you ever worked on a job or project and just when it is almost at the finishing point, realize that something was missed or overlooked?

You’re not alone in this, I have been there myself more times than I like to admit, as have many people that I know and have worked with.

The most frustrating part of this is that what was overlooked is quite often blindingly obvious!  How do you avoid this trap?

Several years ago a project tip was shared with me and it has made a big difference!

Image of rings

In 2015/2016 I was working on the biggest project of my life, my wedding.

I applied this project tip and thankfully everything on the day went smoothly and according to plan.

So what is this great tip?

Project Tip: Go Forward By Working Backward

The tip was to start at the end and work back.

Doesn’t make sense?

The example I was given to demonstrate this idea was making tea.

If you had to write down how to make tea you might say

  1. you boil water
  2. put a teabag in a cup
  3. pour in water
  4. pour in milk
  5. and stir.

5 simple steps, if this is how your production line was to be set up and run this is simple and nothing can go wrong?

In reality it can go wrong.

Okay, this is an extremely simplified example but it is purely for demonstration purposes.

If you were to work on your “production line” here in reverse then your first step (in reverse) is to stir.

Now you have to think about what you stir with? Where do you get it?  You now know that a spoon needs to be available for this point of the process.


Prior to this you pour in milk.

Again, where does the milk come from?

You now know that you need to have ensure there is milk available too.


You work through all the steps and you then know all tools, materials and resources that you are going to need.

The master-chef preparing this cup of tea can plan ahead and have everything ready and available.  If any materials are missing, then it is known early in the process.

Again, this is a simplified example with obvious examples of what can go wrong, but it is quite often the obvious that gets overlooked.

In a production line material lead times may be overlooked or not thought through which results in running out of material.

In an office it can even be as simple as no pens in stationery!

In a cross functional team it could be not having the right people available when needed.

In a project, important stakeholders may be overlooked, phase one of a project may be implemented without considering this impact on the current process which will be replaced by phase two in the future.


Don’t get me wrong, i’m not saying every single process or procedure needs to be extremely detailed, sometimes it can be overkill.

What I’m saying here is that by working backwards you can reduce the likelihood of overlooking something.


Let’s take my wedding as an example.

There are lots of checklists and to-do lists out there to help plan the big day, but sometimes things still get overlooked, delayed, or don’t work out.

We knew we had a magician and some other treats for our guests at the reception, then there would be a meal and speeches, a band, some dancers, some evening food, more music from the band and then a dj.

How does working backwards help with this?

Let’s start at the end withe the DJ:

  • What time does he start at?
  • When does he set up?
  • Will he be in the band’s way?
  • When does he show up?

So, we knew he would start immediately after the band with no delay and he would set up when the band were taking a break so he wouldn’t be in their way.  We knew we had to tell him when the band were taking a break so.

Before the dj we had the band:

  • What time do they plan on finishing at? (so we can tell the DJ)
  • What time do they plan on taking a break? (so we can tell the DJ, the dancers and the hotel for evening food)

During the band’s break, the hotel will be providing evening food.

They obviously need to know when the band plan on taking a break.  They need to know when the dancers will be finished performing (to reduce the risk of accidents).

The dancers need to know when the band will be taking a break.  They also need to know if they can play their music through the band’s sound system.

Before the band set up they need to know what time the meal and speeches would be finished at.

In order to know this the hotel need to know what time we plan on calling guests, etc., if the speeches would be before or after the meal.

Before the meal we had a magician booked to entertain our guests at the reception.

The magician needs to know what time the ceremony would be over at, how far the venue was from the church and what time guests would be called for dinner.

From this he knows how long he will have and what time he should arrive at, etc.

At the reception we also had a sweet cart and biscuits laid out for our guests.

Working backwards forced us to think about how they are set up, who will do it and when they should be set up.

As well as how they are cleared away afterwards.

Project Tip Image Arrows


There is nothing complicated or revolutionary about this project tip, but by making you think of something in a different way, the often obvious and overlooked does not need to be overlooked.

In planning the wedding all parties knew what was happening and when.

The day went smoothly and without interruption or worrying that the dancers can’t perform because they have no way to play their music, or the band have finished and the DJ is only arriving now.

Look back at your own experience, did you have a job, project or process that did not run smoothly because something or somebody was overlooked?

If you had applied this project tip do you think it would have run smoother?

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