I recently began to notice that working backwards is a vital practice in my career as an arts manager and consultant. Early on, I learned never to enter a classroom without identifying a desired objective, having a plan for achieving that objective, and having measures at hand to prove that the objective was indeed achieved. Thus, at the end of a lesson, it was clear whether or not the objective had been achieved.
A few years later, I experienced the same thing with my mentor Michael Kaiser. Our team always worked backwards. Regardless of the organization’s age, size, genre, location, or issue, no strategic plan, no capacity-building program, no resource or tool our team developed, would launch without a clear, shared definition of success among all stakeholders, with outlined proof points to ensure that everyone would know whether that success had been achieved.
Now, before launching each internal or external project, initiative, campaign, survey, or program, my collaborators and I typically make it a point to define what success looks like.
Why work backwards? Why define success?
There are huge benefits to this practice, which can be applied to new and current programs or processes. It is much easier to design or redesign using this type of working-backwards framework; the principle can be applied to nearly anything: programs, websites, marketing campaigns, board engagement, institutional branding efforts, and much more. It can also yield incredibly successful strategic plans.
Taking a moment to define how we will know when we are successful helps:
- Ensure we are looking at the endeavor objectively and grounding our creativity in our main purpose (avoiding mission or purpose drift).
- Provide clarity about specific outcomes and shaping the best possible process to achieve them.
- Put success on our minds and guide us toward getting specific and deliberately moving toward success.
- Serve as a gut check on hidden costs for undertaking the endeavor, such as which expenses – including resources, capacity, and non-monetary assets – are needed to achieve success.
- Help us prioritize the endeavor within the overall framework of our organization’s current operations and outcomes.
And oh, right… It is also fun to get specific about what success looks like. Isn’t it delicious to envision and begin to anticipate the excitement of how it will feel when we achieve our success? Foreseeing the end goal, figuring out how to make it happen, and then savoring it when it transpires, is the sweetest sensation of all.
Note: My intention for this blog, which launched one year ago this week, was to centralize and make available to anyone a source of arts management observations and insights. Please feel free to share with me your general feedback or requests for anything specific you would be interested in my exploring in the future. Thank you for reading!