Working Backwards

Working Backwards

We often set goals in different areas in life - health, family, career, etc.. It could be losing 20 lbs by the end of the year, climbing the Half Dome in Yosemite by next summer, becoming a manager in 2 years, or starting a business. Having a defined goal in mind gives us clarity, and the logical next step is to take actions to work toward the goal. But the truth is that we fall short easily, especially after the initial motivation starts to wear off and other priorities get in the way. Let's think about the last few New Year's resolutions, and I am sure we all can think of one that we didn't quite achieve. Is there a better method to make these important goals come true? 

There's a popular Amazon product management method called "Working Backwards," and it might be something we can all consider. The product team’s first step is to draft a press release announcing the product’s availability. The audience for this press release is the product’s customer. This press release is consisted of the below:

  • The product’s name
  • The intended customer
  • The problem the product solves
  • The benefits to the customer
  • A quote from someone at the company explaining in an inspirational way why you developed the product and what you hope it will do for your customer
  • A call to action telling the customer how to advantage of the product right away
  • Optional addendum: FAQ answering the business or tactical questions about building the product

"What does this have to do with my goals, especially if I am not a product manager?" you might wonder. The idea here is actually to start from the results and work backwards to the present day, by identifying the people, problem, solution, feelings, motivation, and more specific details. If your plan is to run the marathon in 6 months, it might be ideal with a "press release" like the below:



On October 11, Mr. John Smith completed the Boston Marathon in 3 hours and 45 minutes. He had the goal of improving his health and establishing more discipline in his life so he can share these values with his two kids. Mr. Smith is 5'11" and 250 lbs, and he was feeling sluggish and tired everyday after working 8 hours in the office as an accountant. He tried multiple times to lose weight and to improve his health previously, but always gave up in less than two months. "I wanted to be healthy, but it's either more overtime during the tax season, or my kids had soccer games I wanted to attend, and I just kept gaining weight," Mr. Smith said. One day he realized he had to work backwards and establish milestones and incremental goals, and he was determined to make it work! "Knowing I only had 7 months to train, I had to lose 70 pounds before the race. I set small goals of losing 10 pounds a month, by first watching my diet and then exercising at least 30 minutes a day. The first month was really difficult, but I was close to the 10-pound goal by the end. The second month I increased my daily exercise time to 45 minutes, with more time in cardio, and this time I made the 10-pound goals. The third month I was injured for 10 days, so I had to take a break, but this is when I changed my diet more by cutting carbs, and then I went back to my exercise routines. I did 3 trial runs before the race, and here I am today!" Mr. Smith claimed that he's never one with the strongest will, but when he crossed the finish line on October 11th at the marathon, he already had a new goal in mind for his next challenge. He's proud of what he's able to make happen - running a marathon within 3 hour and 45 minutes - he knew he had to make it for himself and his family. He's now more confident, healthy, and happier than ever before. If you would like to achieve your personal goals but haven't been able to, please visit Mr. Smith's personal blog and reach out to him for more tips.



The above is just a short sample, but we can see that with this "press release", the writer defined the end goal - running a marathon within 3 hours and 45 minutes. With the end goal in mind, he set incremental goals (10 pounds a month), and had risk management plans in case things were to happen (e.g. injury). He had the details of how much he wanted to exercise, had specific plans on his diet, and he knew he had to have 3 trial runs first. There's also his feelings at the end, because he wanted to visualize the feeling of success so that it could help drive him forward. Beyond just himself accomplishing the goal, he's hoping to influence more people and help others achieve their dreams, by making each other accountable. 

So what are your goals, and are you interested in trying out this "Working Backwards" method to accomplish your own goals in life? Let's start from the end result we want to hit and the feeling we want to have, and start planning and executing. Let's try it together!