Back to the Future Planning

Planning is a systemic and cyclical process. It usually encompasses a 1 year period.  But sometimes you have goals that require multiple years to accomplish. Here’s how to do “Back to the Future” planning.

Step forward to the future. Imagine your company (or your department) three years from today.

What does it look like? What are your big successes? What’s changed? What’s remained the same? How much of your vision will you have achieved by then?

Sometimes it’s difficult to plan three years ahead.  But try to fast forward to that spot, then mentally turn around and “look back” at your company today.  Then ask “What needs to happen, each year, to get my company to this place in three years (or whatever your time frame)?” Getting from “here to there” can be a quite scary – like climbing a mountain you’ve never climbed before.

But if you can mentally “fly to the top of the mountain” and look down, you can begin to see a route that makes sense.  The seemingly insurmountable now becomes achievable when you break your grand vision into incremental steps that can be accomplished in months, quarters and years.  We call it going “Back to the Future”.

How to Get “Back to the Future”

Here’s an example.  If your vision includes being a global company, you want to be selling in 3 new countries in 3 years, that will require several years to accomplish – and will impact several years’ plans.

So let’s go “back to the future” with this goal.

Assume it’s three years from now.  Imagine your company is selling your products in – pick three countries – let’s say China, India and Brazil.

You begin by asking:

  • How long did it take to ramp up sales and marketing in each country?  [Probably at least a year, AFTER we had an office, had hired sales people, and have developed marketing materials.]
  • OK – then how long did to take to establish a country office, including the infrastructure needed to connect our home office – before we could begin selling? [First we’d need to hire the person to direct the office and have him/her involved in the selection of the office location, fitting out the office, decisions about the technology infrastructure, which people to hire in which positions.]

Clearly the starting point is people. After you’ve selected the person to head the office, that person can help you find office space and begin recruiting the additional people in the new office, determine what marketing collateral is right for that country. Assume 3-6 months to find the right people and 3-6 months to locate, set-up and move into an office. That’s a lot of time but just getting a phone line installed in some countries can take months.

In the following year, you’d ramp up marketing and sales.  You’ll need your local country staff to design and execute on the marketing and sales plan. Then there’d be the cost of recruiting and training staff, rent, IT hardware, software, travel, telecom, and tariffs. Hmmmm. You begin to wonder if you can afford to launch in three new countries in the next three years.  But can we afford not to?

These kinds of questions may frustrate the “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead” or the “we’ll figure this out as we go” CEOs.  But growth is risky enough when you’ve assessed the costs and tried to anticipate what can go wrong. When you “look back from the future”, you can see more clearly – and can readjust priorities, move aggressively to overcome anticipated obstacles, or look for alternatives if certain initiatives are just too expen

In this case, when you “look back” you may decide to alter your plan – launch in one country at a time, rather than three at once, or roll out the three country expansion over five years, or find a partner in the country, use sales reps – or seek outside financing  if you think there is a narrow “window of opportunity”.

Entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial companies are, by definition, forward focused.  But by “looking back,” you gain a different perspective on what’s required to achieve your goals – and more reality about the timeframes required. The CEO, President and  Executive team must work together to translate the vision into reality.


Always begin by identifying your customers, and then defining your vision, values, goals and strategies.  Build the plan around them. [See my blog on Essential Elements of a Plan]

Understand the multi-step planning process.  Expect departments to develop Action Plans to achieve the goals and strategies you and the Executive Team have selected. [See my blog on the 11 step planning process]

Finalize, then implement the plan, track results, review progress, and hold people accountable. If they are not achieving the goals, ask why.  Make changes as needed, but be prepared to find other people who can and will do what’s necessary to achieve your company’s goals.

Planning charts the course to growth and your future. Whether you plan one year at a time or go “back to the future” to plan goals that take multiple years to achieve, involve your people in the development of the plan, give them the resources, and then hold them account able for executing the plan. Finally, don’t forget to celebrate victories and share the rewards with those who produce.

By this time I’m sure you understand why I say, “Your planning process is as important as your actual plan in the development of your company.”