Project Success: Execution Versus Strategy

Photo by Bill Oxford on Unsplash.

The most critical part of any strategy isn’t the innovative idea or clearly defined outcome; it is the answer to the simple question: “Can we execute it?”

As Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and many CEOs after them have said, “Vision without execution is hallucination.” If you can’t execute a strategy successfully, it might as well not exist.

For reasons we’ll explore in this article, many organizational leaders aren’t using the available data to strengthen their strategies. However, if you’re able to harness data and plan for strong execution, you’ll be well-positioned to bring your most innovative, exciting ideas to life.

Let’s take a closer look at why execution is the most important aspect of any plan and how you can make sure your organization is ready to execute your ideas before investing in your next major project.

What about Execution?

Countless words and hours are spent discussing strategy, but too often, the execution of said strategy doesn’t receive the same treatment. It’s easy to get swept away by the energy and passion of generating new ideas and overlook the comparatively dull task of measuring execution readiness—your organization’s ability to execute your plan.

Why aren’t leaders talking about and, more importantly, planning for execution instead of assuming their strategies will go off without a hitch? Old decision models are to blame. To move past these obstacles, we need to unlearn practices that no longer apply in today’s landscape.

Evolving Beyond Old Management Theories

Downplaying execution is a symptom of traditional management theory that has overstayed its welcome. This old approach results in failure because it leads to biases and other poor decision influencers, such as overestimating the value of past experiences. Leaders pursue ideas and attempt to make up for shortcomings later, often to disappointing and costly results.

Instead of moving ahead with ideas and trying to force the issue, decision-makers would benefit from being more selective about which initiatives to pursue from the start.

By using the data already available, organizations can measure their capability to execute their ideas before spending time and resources on new initiatives. Forming strategies around realistic goals—goals they demonstrably have the money, skills, and people to achieve—is the key to outperforming the average 50% failure rate of all organizational decisions.

Rely on Data, Not Intuition

If you’re relying on the traditional intuition-based decision-making models, now is the time to forget what you’ve learned and let your ideas reach their full potential. Your gut is not a good decision-maker. There’s a reason critical scores, bond ratings, and personality tests exist: there is value in measuring data in a neutral way.

Experience gives you the ability to absorb raw information and process it better, but to make truly informed decisions and accurately gauge your ability to execute your ideas, you must rely on unbiased data.

Decision-making is the hardest part of running an organization, and no amount of experience or process will replace measuring the execution readiness of any initiative. No executive has the crystal-ball intuition to look into their operation and instantly understand their team’s ability to execute their vision, but they do have the data.

This article is based on the book Measure, Executive, Win! by Alex Castro