I learn so much when I spend time with project managers.

It may be the manager of a product development team that needs to get a critical product launched by a certain date. Or someone building a new factory, needing to get it into production by a certain date.

When I was a kid, I watched my father a lot. He was responsible for developing and managing “giga-projects,” like a new transit system for a city, new airports, harbors, power plants, and so forth. These projects involved coordinating thousands of people, hundreds of thousands of activities, billions in investment. The projects all had a common theme–“we need to get this complete and in service by a certain date (and on budget).”

As project managers develop a project plan, they never start at the beginning. They always start at the end. They ask the question, “When do we need to have this in place, producing the results needed?”

It could be launching a new toy by a certain date to capture buying for the Christmas season. It may be having manufacturing capacity available by a certain date so you can make those toys, fulfilling demand. It may be having a power plant in place by a certain date, so the city has power and can work.

Meeting these target dates is critical. It could mean millions in revenue. It could mean survival of a start-up. It could be making sure the public/community is safe. The impact of a delay can be profound–even causing companies and communities to fail if the target date isn’t achieved.

So project managers never start their planning at the beginning, they start at the end.

They start working backwards thinking, “What needs to be accomplished by what date to achieve our end goal?” They know the reason for the project is to produce a result or an outcome by a certain time. They know there are consequences to not achieving this date, lost revenue, lost opportunity,………

Too often, both we and our customers lose sight of this. We forget the reason they are buying is to produce a business result by a certain date.

When we are developing our sales strategies, as we help our customers through their buying process, we mistakenly focus on “What’s next?” We engage the customers, address certain issues, closing meetings with action plans on “here are the next steps.”

But then we get off target. Things slip, customer attention gets diverted, we get distracted. What we had hoped to accomplish this week slips to next week. Those things we had hoped to accomplish next week, slip into next month.

Our target close dates slip and slip and slip.

More importantly, the customer loses! They miss critical deadlines, they lose/defer opportunity, they lose money.

We owe it to our customers to always start with the end in mind, then develop our buying/selling plan by working backwards.

What do we need to accomplish by when? What are the milestones? How do we manage slips/delays without impacting the end decision?

With our customers, it is even more important to start with the end in mind. Often, our solutions are just a small part of their overall project.

We can create great value by helping them look not just our part of the project, but the entire project. If they are slipping in other areas, those out of our control, it will impact our ability to achieve our goals, achieving our target close date. If we want to maintain our expected close date, we need to make sure the entire customer project stays on schedule.

Are you helping your customer develop and execute their project plan? Are you helping them manage the plan with the end in mind?