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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 book.

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.

The One-Third-Two-Third Rule

Exerpt from my book, Corporate Infantry: Everything I 
know about Corporate Sales I learned in Combat

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 morale.

    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:

Elements 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 Commanders.

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 leaders.

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 prepare.

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 command.

    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 at.

    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 civilian world. 

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 scramble. 

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.

Backwards Planning


Now we take that one-third-two-third rule and apply it to the backwards planning rule. 

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 attack.) 

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              hilltop.

22:00: (T-6 hours) Leave to conduct the mission.

     It will take two hours to rehearse the mission.

20:00: (T-8 hours)  Start rehearsals.

     It will take one hour for Pre-mission inspections.

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.



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