I was browsing through the postings to the learning-org list when I came
across the following quote, which refers to a technique described in a
presentation made at a systems thinking conference:
"They use "backcasting": define the goal, and work backwards
from it, rather than forecasting from today's trends"
Working backward from a goal state is one of the problem solving
strategies described by Allen Newell and Herbert Simon in their 1972 book,
"Human Problem Solving." It is also a production planning technique of
long, long standing (and I'll come back to that in a minute). But what
prompts this posting is a combination of factors. First, other messages
in the learning-org digest dealt with jargon. ("Backcasting" strikes me
Second, I was reminded of Peter Drucker's comment that many people think
they're using Gantt charts when they're not. Allow me to explain.
Henry Gantt was one of Frederick Winslow Taylor's associates and one of
the chief engineers of what later became known as "scientific management."
The charts Gantt invented have a familiar look to them. Vertical lines
mark off time segments. Horizontal lines indicate the duration of
activities. Little diamonds frequently mark milestones. Etcetera,
etcetera, etcetera. Many software packages will produce and print what
are called Gantt charts -- but, as Drucker notes, they're not.
You see, it was Henry Gantt who first figured out that the best way to
plan is to start with the desired result AND THEN WORK BACKWARD FROM THERE
as a way of determining what needed to be done to achieve it. The things
that needed to be done could then be arrayed in relation to one another as
to when and how long. In any event, true Gantt charts, like so many other
things, reflect an effort to engineer a certain result, and the value they
deliver comes as much from the process of producing them as it does from
the end product itself. (That remark ought to have a familiar ring to
What I see being passed around and passed off as Gantt charts are usually
nothing more than a collection or hodge-podge of activities laid out in
the FORM of a Gantt chart, but they have nothing of the SUBSTANCE of what
Henry Gantt intended. They almost invariably reflect someone's view of
how to move forward (without having first worked backward from the goal or
-- Fred Nickols firstname.lastname@example.org
P.S. Although this posting was prompted by my reading the learning-org digest, it strikes me that other discussants on other lists might have an interest in it, too; hence, the cross posting.