Execution... the first in a series of thoughts

"Plan your work and work your plan"... simple, pithy, insightful and used around the world. If you are not doing this then what are you doing? But let's say you are doing this with all the effort and gusto you have but still everything goes terribly wrong... I mean horribly, just awfully wrong. The sun of course will still rise in the east as it always does and you will want to (or have to) figure out what went wrong.

You had a plan and you worked the plan... so what happened?" This is one of those "galvanizing topics" that pit those who plan strategically against those who execute tactically - It can be great fun to get popcorn and watch the bun fight, unless of course you are in the middle of it and then it's not as much fun. I want to point out here that when I say "went wrong" I am not suggesting measuring to perfection* but rather measured against expectations to targets or expected thresholds of quality.

So back to the question at hand... was it a "poor plan that was executed well or a great plan that was executed poorly?" To try and scratch at the answer to this and glean some understanding, I do have a "little case study" to entertain us all.

A friend told me about the following and I have no doubt that it reflects a real situation:

"A medium sized company wanted to launch a new product (a line extender). Prior to the launch date an informational YouTube video was launched which contained a call to action website address at the end  (Important note to set the stage: the web page was not active). When marketing was informed they quickly activated the web page with a "Coming soon" message. As part of the product launch, there was a sampling campaign that was highlighted on the new web page encouraging customers to request a sample. When a customer clicked on the request sample icon, the customer was taken to a page where there was no mention of the new product sample or the ability to order one. Marketing was once again informed and two days later the web page was updated allowing the a customer to request a sample of the product and receive it once officially launched. This all happened one month before the official launch (as god is my witness this is what I was told). It was also indicated to me that the product revenue following the official launch did not meet expectations."

I was not there but as an observer and taking the story at face value, I think it is fair to say this was a bit of an "execution shit show". I can only speculate as to the reasons, and hey, why not?

  1. In all of this there was no thought or consideration to the customer, particularly with developing expectations that could not be met.
  2. It seems there was no coordinated rollout plan integrating the various communication channels and activities.
  3. There seems to be no operational process and governance in place to to ensure activities stay controlled and within expectations.
  4. Very possibly reflects a fragmented marketing function with different agendas.

I will go out on a limb here and say that the execution of the new product was "sub optimal". I do suspect that someone, somewhere had some more "choice words" (at least I would hope so).

Now back to the aforementioned bun fight - I think those who strategically determined the need for the new product launch have every right to throw the buns a little harder here... but there is something hidden in this tale, never to be discovered. How do we know that the new product wasn't destined to be a dud; all that time and those resources wasted as there was no market interest? Simply wasting time and resources with an irrelevant line extender. This we will never know.

It is said that ruthlessly effective execution is needed to be successful, as well as differentiating, in an ever-growing competitive environment. I would also suggest that optimizing your ability to execute is imperative for determining if strategic direction hits the mark, needs course correction or a complete overhaul. Since strategy is reliant on effective execution, the burden falls on those who execute and those who manage execution. Frankly it is also easier to start with optimizing your ability to execute effectively, as more often than not, it consists of internal variables making control and measurement easier**.

I have been doing this long enough to know when "an idea" will just not work, but in that same breath I also know to keep my mouth shut until I can say that execution was optimal. Then I pick up a bun.


* To be chased but never obtained.

** Optimizing execution is comparatively easier; most aspects are within your control such as process, resources, training, governance, and with shorted timeframes it allows for effective measurement against KPIs (Key performance Indicators). Strategy tends to have a broader macro perspective with longer time frames that are influenced by both internal and external parameters.