Back to Basics (Part 13): How to plan your projects backwards

Annalena Simonis, Wednesday 04 November 2020 | Reading time: 6 min.

Everybody knows the problem: At the end of the project it gets really hectic as everyone tries to complete postponed tasks in time. We will show you a method for stress-free project planning without time pressure: backward planning.

There are projects that need to be completed until a specific date. An obvious example is the planning of an event. The project goal is clearly defined and must be achieved at a pre-defined time or date. A delay or postponement in planning would risk the overall success of the project. Also projects whose finalization has an impact on further processes are often under increased time pressure. But even with larger projects, many managers are familiar with the following situation: At the beginning, nobody really knows where to start and towards the end, time becomes tight because the schedule is not followed or the effort has been wrongly estimated.

So how do you plan projects that are under high deadline pressure without being frantically busy?


The solution for on-time projects: The work-back schedule!

The secret of successful and especially stress-free project planning often lies in so-called "regressive planning" or work-back planning. The InLoox glossary defines work-back planning like this:


A work-back project plan, or workback schedule, is a method that lets you schedule your project phases from the end date backwards. This is useful when your project has a known, hard deadline that needs to be met.


In simple terms, you plan your project from back to front. You start with the specified end date on which you need to achieve the project goal (target state) and plan backwards to the present day (actual state).

Graphic: Work-back schedule easy explained

Graphic: Work-back planning

The big advantage of this method: You immediately recognize which prerequisites need to be created in earlier phases so that the later steps can also be implemented according to plan. Here are some projects where backward planning is particularly useful:

  • Events or exhibitions with specific dates
  • Projects in production and material planning
  • Projects with fixed delivery dates
  • The final thesis
  • Projects of freelancers (commissioned work)

This is how it works: Plan backwards in just a few steps

We'll stick to the example of planning an event and show you step by step how you can easily plan your company's next exhibition appearance backwards. Of course this example can also be applied to all other projects.

1. Define the overall goal and milestones

At the beginning you should define the overall goal and all relevant milestones. To ensure that the event runs smoothly, all preparations should be completed as early as possible. The goal of workback planning is therefore to determine the necessary start date to achieve the project goal by the specified date. Therefore the first step starts with a look at the calendar. To define all necessary activities and milestones, it is best to use the 5Ws and 2Hs for your project start.

2. Define activities

Next, you will go into the intermediate steps in more detail. Start with the definition of the individual planning activities according to the 5Ws and 2Hs. In the example project, you now start planning the last steps before the event begins. It can also be helpful to first create a list of all necessary tasks and then put them in the right order. The Kanban board in InLoox is particularly suitable for this purpose, since you can easily assign the tasks listed to a activity in planning.

3. Define effort and dependencies

After you have listed all the steps, think about how much time you have to assign to each step. Which tasks can be done at the same time, and where is a dependency between the individual steps? For example, the necessary materials can only be ordered once they have been approved by the manager. Particular attention should therefore be paid to dependencies on third parties when planning the intermediate steps. So mark steps such as "stand construction", "approval by the exhibition organizers or supervisors", "printing the flyers" or "delivery of catering", where you have to rely on project-independent employees or providers.

Important: Plan enough buffer time for these steps!

In order for you to be able to plan backwards from the beginning, it is recommended to use a project management software. InLoox helps you to create stress-free planning with simple features.


Work-back planning with InLoox - one click is enough!

Do you already have a project in planning and want to find out when to start in order to finish at a certain time? With InLoox you can easily change the planning direction of your project. All you need is one click!

1. After you have created a new project, go to “Planning” via the menu bar.

2. Click on the "Settings" tab in the ribbon at the top.

3. Select the "Direction" button on the left

4. First click on "Backward Planning" in the dropdown list to set a check mark.

5. Click on “Direction” again and now select the end of planning by either entering it manually or selecting it from the calendar.

Also read other articles of this series:

  1. Effective Project Sponsorship
  2. Project Manager versus Subject Matter Expert
  3. Kick-Start Your Projects with the 5Ws and 2Hs
  4.  Use Earned Value Management to Measure Success
  5.  How to Keep Project Stakeholders Happy
  6. The Project Management Life Cycle Model – A Roadmap to Success
  7. The Different Project Management Office (PMO) Types
  8. Top-Down Versus Bottom-Up Project Planning
  9. Project Environment Analysis with PESTLE
  10. How to Create a Project Network Diagram
  11. How to Create a Phase-Milestone Plan
  12. What You Need to Create a Meaningful Project Status Report

Subscribe to our newsletter

Please enter your name.


Currently no upcoming events