Results Focused Backplanning

RF Backplanning is a powerful tool that helps organizations translate their Strategic Plans into reality. RF Backplanning engages a cross-organizational group to work backwards from the final outcomes to define each earlier result that must be accomplished to achieve success. The process can be applied in any organization: for-profit and non-profit, manufacturing or professional services, large or small. Ultimately, the process can be run and managed by internal staff.

Challenges in Strategy Execution

Most organizations have a strategy, long-range plans, and detailed work plans. Unfortunately, organizations also have many conflicting priorities and projects behind schedule. Top management may be either too removed from day-to-day operations or too involved in all the details. In addition, much of the “work” people are doing isn’t actually related to achieving the strategic goals but instead is fire fighting, dealing with politics, etc.

The largest organizational challenge is posed by implementing the new initiatives required to achieve the strategy. Such initiatives usually have a desirable end goal but an uncertain path to achieve them. Many initiatives tend to focus on the simple first steps, which are readily understood, while difficult issues are put off to later in the process. In effect, desired results are expected to occur eventually, almost magically, at the last minute. When the results don’t materialize, people are dismayed and excuse themselves by claiming that the initiative was unrealistic. Finger pointing and politics take over, and the strategy slips further into the background. Finally, to cover the problems, previously expected results are modified to fit the action taken by the organization. The end results may not even resemble the original strategy.

A Unique Approach

Results Focused Backplanning (RFB) transforms the chaotic strategic implementation experience into a cohesive process that is much more successful and efficient. RFB helps organizations shift the focus from what activities seem important today to what truly must be achieved to stay on course and fulfil the strategy. With Backplanning, in order to keep on track to achieving the final target strategy, distant business goals are translated into the non-negotiable results that must be accomplished in three-month increments. Top management sees clearly which decisions must be made today so that the future strategy can succeed. Quarterly progress is easy to measure with clear accountability across organization boundaries. The process uncovers and addresses key false assumptions that negatively impact achieving the strategy early in the process. And, finally, the organization modifies its actions to achieve the critical results.

Example of Applications

Business Challenge Result
Product Sales: Product sales had been stagnant. Results Focused Backplan including product improvements, a new marketing plan, and sales programs.
  • Within four months of initiating the Backplanning process, sales increased from $2 million to $6 million.
  • Within one year sales reached $25 million.
Product Development: Changes in target customers and product portfolio dictated shifts in product development. The Backplanning process was used to align R&D, manufacturing, marketing, business development and sales.
  • Product launched six months sooner than originally planned.
  • Number of units sold exceeded the original sales targets by 40%.
  • Breakeven achieved 9 months earlier than original projections.
Turn Around and Revenue Improvement: New CEO uses Backplanning to shift the organization’s focus from numerous projects and activities to the 2-3 key results required.
  • Went from a $30 million business to a $50-60 million business in one year.
  • Account reps went from $125,000 per year average revenue to $285,000 in less than 1 year.
  • Increased profit by over 15%.
Cycle Time Reduction: Company lost key customer responsible for 15% of revenues due to chronically late shipments.
  • A one-day cycle time from order-to-ship achieved in 6 weeks, ahead of schedule.
  • Backplanning helped reduce overall cycle time by 25% in two months.

How It Works

Results Focused Backplanning starts by defining a future end point by which measurable results must be achieved. Then, by planning backwards, RFB helps to identify incremental results that must be achieved at specific points from the future outcome back to the present. The long-term result may seem unachievable, but Results Focused Backplanning is designed to sub-divide an overwhelming challenge into manageable elements.

Backplanning identifies what incremental results must be achieved to actually meet a long-term goal. A related advantage is a shift in attention from activities to incremental short-term results that must be achieved to meet a longer-term goal. This ensures that at any point both line and top management can:

  • See a clear connection between current actions and the future result
  • Understand clearly what works and what doesn’t work
  • Keep everyone focused on the few critical efforts that really deliver results
  • Adjust the approach if short-term results are not achieved
  • Quickly stop efforts that aren’t producing the required results
  • Measure and track what really matters to the organization and its customers

The RFB process has three key phases:

  1. Sharpening the focus on final results
    The management team begins by clarifying, in detail, what success would look like if the strategy is achieved. This process is done with a level of clarity not found in most strategy or long-range plans. The outcome from this work is a translation of the strategy into an identification of the 20% of results that if achieved will bring 80% of success for the strategy. The critical 20% of results become the focus for the Results Focused Backplanning process.
  2. Planning backwards from the final results to the present
    The management team along with key individuals from across the organization create the needed Backplans. Each plan shows in clear, measurable terms what must be achieved in each three-month increment. The key events, which drive the incremental results, are identified. These events define what projects and activities will be needed across the organization and in what sequence the activities need to take place to achieve success. At this point, everyone now sees a snapshot of what must be done to achieve strategic success. The information is available at the right level of detail, i.e., not too much, not too little. This allows many hidden assumptions to be brought out and addressed. Often, during the process, the teams discover significant challenges in what can be achieved, and these dramatically modify the timeframes and effort needed to achieve success. Also, the team uncovers major issues that had been hidden, to permitting key decisions to be made that will dramatically improve the overall success of the strategy.
  3. Executing and sustaining the plans
    Each backplan is sponsored by a senior manager backed up with the needed resources. The senior manager is responsible for addressing and executing key events on behalf of the sponsor. This implementation approach is based on the seminal Harvard Business Review articles, “The Discipline of Teams” by John Katzenbach and Douglas Smith, and “Successful Change Programs Begin with Results,” by Robert Schaffer and Harvey Thomson. The process uses cross-functional teams to focus first on the results that must be achieved in 30-90 days and then on how to accomplish them. A tracking tool is used to map the current progress toward the results defined in the specific Results Focused Backplan.
RF Backplanning Planning Approach Contentional Approach
One large goal turned into manageable incremental goals One or more large goals
Plans from the future independent of current capabilities Plan from today based on current capabilities and limitations
Focus on achieving results Focus on activities (studies, programs, training)
Plan backwards from what must be achieved in x years Focus on current problems and putting out fires
Shows results every 1-3 months Show results once a year
Changes the steps but don ’t change the results that must be achieved Change the results to fit the steps taken

Summary of Benefits

  • Shifts focus from what is realistic today to what must be achieved tomorrow
  • Transforms a distant 2-year goal into what must be accomplished in 3-month increments
  • Forces top management to make required key decisions NOW
  • Makes progress easy to measure
  • Drives cross-organizational collaboration
  • Uncovers false assumptions that negatively impact success

Case Studies