Backwards Forwards Planning

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Backwards forwards planning is a process to help ensure you start your exploration of ideas from the most appropriate place. The process is appropriate to open ended problems; where there is no right or correct answer. The intention is to help you gain perspective and to develop a gut feeling of the avenue to start your exploration. For example, if you come out of your house and your car does not start the logical answer is deductive analysis. Check the fuel,electrics,mechanical to find where there is something that was working and is now not working. However, that process will not get you to the meeting on time. You may need to call a taxi or borrow your a car or put your running shoes on! If you are in a creative process defining the problem is going to put you in a box. You want to define wishes and outcomes and then figure out how to achieve them.

The process has three stages.

  1. Write down the short version of the problem, preferably starting with "How to…"
  2. If you were to solve the problem in statement 1, what higher level problem would it also solve? Write this down. Continue asking what higher level problem it solves and writing them down. Try to obtain at least 3 statements.
  3. Going back to statement 1, ask what other benefits would flow from it, if it were a solution. Make sure these are different from those in stage 2.

You can then look at the various definitions and decide which is the most appropriate statement of the problem.

As an example, you are at home, your car is at the garage for repairs and you feel you really need to go and do the food shopping. Your first statement might be;

   "How to get into the shops."

If you were to work down the list of additional problems this would solve you might write down

   "I could get all the food and drink for the week"

Followed by

   " I could relax and not worry any more about where the food was"

Which may lead you to

   " I could finish that painting I want to hang in the living room"

Working the other way, what benefits would you also have if you could get to the shops may lead to;

   " I could have a look at some clothes whilst I was there."
   " I could enjoy some retail therapy" and
   " I could call in on my friend for a chat since they live near the shop."

Place the words "how to or I wish" in front of each of these plusses and they become new potential places to start problem solving from

It may be that your original statement is the problem to be solved, or it may be that "How to find time to complete the picture I'm painting" is more important to you. Using this process with literally hundreds of people I have found that about 80% of the time they choose a new task headline

See also Chunking