Backwards planning and the one-third-two-third
rule are a couple of simple and effective planning tips.
Backwards Planning and the one-third-two-thirds rule are also brief
topics in my book, Corporate Infantry: Everything I
know about Corporate Sales I learned in Combat.
The information below is an excerpt from my book.
If you enjoy it, come back to this link to get the entire
I will cover the one-third-two-third rule first, and then cover
backwards planning. If you are looking for a more detailed
planning process, click
here to go to my page on Strategic Planning.
If corporate America could grab a hold of this concept, they could
crush any competitor on initiating a new product rollout while at the
same time improving everyone’s quality of working environment and
Here is how it works. It is brilliantly
simple. From the second you receive the mission until the date and time
of the mission, you allocate 1/3 of that time to plan and disseminate
your orders. Your subordinates receive the rest of the time to plan and
disseminate their orders.
Here is how it works on a small scale. You are a team leader (19-20
years old) in 1st squad, 3rd platoon, C Company, 2nd battalion, 2nd
brigade. It is noon on 1 June, and your Brigade Commander received the
following mission order:
of 1st Battalion of 2nd Brigade are conducting movement to contact
operations NLT at 2100 on 2 June in the JP Valley in order to make
contact and destroy the enemy. 2nd battalion (the battalion you are in)
is to provide security to the east to prevent enemy reinforcements and
resupply of the forces under attack by 1st Battalion. 3rd
Battalion remains in the rear and has a be-prepared mission to
support/relieve 1st Battalion.
Brigade disseminates these missions at noon on the first of June. That
means that there are 33 hours to start the mission.
The Battalion Commander takes 11 hours to plan the security mission of
his Battalion and disseminate this information to his Company
There are now 22 hours left for the Company Commanders to plan and
disseminate to their Platoon Leaders. They take 1/3 of that time, seven
hours, and give the remaining 2/3 (15 hours, 40 minutes) to their
platoon leaders to plan, prepare and disseminate to their squad
The platoon leader takes his 1/3 of the allotted time to plan, prepare
and disseminate (5 hours) and leaves 10 hours for the squad leaders to
Squad leaders take their 3.5 hours, which leaves 6.5 hours for the team
leaders. Team leaders take their 2 hours and that leaves 4 hours for
Joe Soldier to get his shit together.
So many times the Colonel Engles of the world will think their planning
is so superior and important that they believe in the 2/3-1/3 rule.
They disregard that the great General Patton said, 'A good plan today
is better than a great plan tomorrow.'
Let us see what would happen if you have an Engle in your chain of
Colonel Engle takes 22 of the 33 hours
available to plan and create his wonderfully intricate, well thought
out, and documented plan.
That leaves 11 hours for the Company Commanders. They take their 2/3
and leave four.
The Platoon Leaders are scrambling and run a little over and take 2.5
hours, leaving 1.5 hours to the Squad Leaders.
The Team Leader take their 1 hour and leave Joe 30 minutes to hit the
latrine and dress before jumping on a helicopter to have his ass shot
All the leaders used the majority of the
time to make a perfect plan, and 90 percent of the fighting men in the
unit do not even know what it is!
A much better alternative is to only use one-third of the planning time
available, and leave the rest to your subordinates. Even if it results
in an 80 percent solution or even if it is not a perfect plan, a plan
that is known by all is much better than a perfect plan known by few.
This is a big reason we are always scrambling around out here in the
The President of a corporation needs to present the next year fiscal
plan to the Board of Directors. The CEO starts planning what to put in
the reports. If he chews up too much of the allotted time
making everything “just right” for an effective presentation, it will
cause all the reporting departments underneath him to
They are now under a short time constraint to get their portions back
to the CEO, and put their subordinates on an even shorter time
constraint. It trickles all the way down to the poor bastard
taking work home with him to get the job done.
Your corporation needs to adopt the one-third-two thirds rule for
planning. The effect will be better results with greater job
satisfaction for all.
Now we take that one-third-two-third rule and apply it to the backwards
Backwards planning is a process in which you start your planning at the
end result or “goal” you want to achieve. Then, you plan
backwards from that point to where you are in time and space right now.
Task Force 160th, the Army’s Special Operations Aviation Regiment, has
the standard to be time-on-target plus or minus 30 seconds.
They are committed to getting their helicopters at the intended target
within 30 seconds of when they are supposed to be. Despite
the fact they are flying at night, wearing night vision goggles, in a
foreign country, and flying 2 hours to get there.
This means that if a unit on the ground is attacking an objective at
09:00 and they need helicopter rocket support, Task Force 160th will
start firing rockets onto the objective between 08:59.30 and
09:00.30. That is amazing!!
Task Force 160th uses backwards planning to insure that they can make
this happen, every time, and everywhere, under any
circumstance. Lives depend on this.
Let’s say you are given the mission to attack an enemy fortified
hilltop 24 hours from now at 0500. You would immediately
start the backwards planning process. List out all the tasks
that need to occur in order to attack the objective on time, and then
sequence those tasks.
The mission starts at T-time (no this isn’t tee-time for you
golfers, or tea-time for you Brits). The “T” stands for
“Time”, or the time at which to attack your target. (This is
where the term D-day came from. D-day was the “Day” we started our
Working backwards from T-time, you would have T-minus-30 seconds,
T-minus-one hour, T-minus-three-hours…
05:00 (T-time): Attack Hilltop.
It will take us two hours to conduct a
reconnaissance of the hilltop
once we get there.
03:00: (T-2 hours) Begin reconnaissance.
It will take four hours or traveling
for us to reach the base of the
22:00: (T-6 hours) Leave to conduct the mission.
It will take two hours to rehearse the
20:00: (T-8 hours) Start rehearsals.
It will take one hour for Pre-mission
19:00: (T-9 hours) Pre-mission inspections begin.
Now we use our one-third-two-thirds rule for planning. We are
sitting at T-24 hours. We know that at T- 9 hours, the plan,
must be complete and disseminated. T-24 less T-9 leaves 15
hours for planning.
You take one-third (5 hours) to complete and disseminate your plan,
leaving 10 hours for your subordinates to do the same.
Then we do some more backwards planning. We have 5 hours to
complete and disseminate the plan for the mission. What tasks
need to be completed in order to have the plan ready? Then
sequence those tasks and backwards plan.
Use backwards planning for sales meetings, sales conventions, new
product roll out, planning your field calls… If you start
with the end result, identify the key tasks that need to be completed
along the way, and then sequence them, you should be on time and on
task all the time.