Planning is looking ahead and controlling is looking back

“Planning is looking ahead and Controlling is looking back”

It is often stated that planning is looking ahead and controlling is looking back. But is this statement correct?

Well, not really. This statement is only partially correct.

Because planning and controlling are both backward-looking as well as forward-looking functions of management.

In this blog, we have discussed the meaning of this statement.

What is planning?

Every business would like to succeed, boost sales, and generate profits. All managers aspire to this and work hard to fulfill their objectives. However, in order to make these visions a reality, managers must put in a lot of effort in planning for the future, creating business projections, and hitting goals. They should decide ahead of time what to accomplish and how to do it.

Planning, therefore, involves setting objectives and developing an appropriate course of action to achieve those objectives. It is a fundamental managerial function. It aims to bridge the gap between where we are and where we aspire to go.

What is controlling?

Controlling is the process of ensuring that actual activities correspond to the plans made. If no controls are implemented, the process of planning becomes meaningless. Imagine you set a sales plan, but if you didn’t track actual performance in comparison to targets, it won’t serve any purpose.

Controlling should not be regarded as the final function of management. It is a management function that returns the management cycle back to the planning function. The controlling function determines the extent to which actual performance deviates from standards, analyses the causes of such deviations, and strives to take remedial actions based on the findings. This approach aids in the formation of future plans in light of the difficulties that were recognized, allowing for better planning in the future. As a result, controlling only completes one cycle of the management process while improving planning in the subsequent cycle.

Is planning a backward or forward-looking process?

Typically, planning is regarded as a forward-looking process. Plans are created with the help of forecasting. The future conditions and events of a business are anticipated and plans are prepared accordingly. Thus, planning is looking ahead.

Suppose, on the basis of a sales forecast, you make a plan as to how much to produce, how to create customer awareness and how to advertise the product, how to make the product available in the market, etc. All these plans are futuristic and are guided towards achieving a specified level of target in the future. That is why planning is typically looking ahead.

But at the same time, planning is also backward-looking. This is so because it is also guided by past experiences and the feedback report of the controlling function. As stated earlier, the deviations and difficulties recognized through the controlling function in one cycle help to formulate better plans for the subsequent cycle.

Is controlling a backward or forward-looking process?

Controlling, as a vital component of management, is both a forward as well as backward-looking function. It is a backward-looking function in the sense that it evaluates the work done and analyses deviations from established standards. Based on these deviations, it attempts to implement the necessary remedial actions so that these deviations do not occur in the future. As a result, it directs the future course of action and strives to improve future performance. It is thus a forward-looking function at the same time. In nutshell, it may be observed that controlling is both a forward and a backward-looking function.


From the above discussion, one can say that the statement “Planning is looking ahead and controlling is looking back” is only partially correct. Both of these functions are backward as well as forward-looking. To sum up:

  • Plans are made for the future and are based on projections of future conditions. (Forward-looking function)
  • Controlling is like a retrospective review of past activities to identify deviations from standards. (Backward-looking function)
  • Planning is also influenced by past experiences. (Backward-looking function)
  • The corrective action established by the control function strives to improve future performance. (Forward-looking function)

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