“Our strategy is sound. It is aspects of our operational execution that are not.” Information Week, April 25, 2011, pg 46. Attributed to Cisco CEO John Chambers.
The trick with any strategy is to have one that aims our team from where we are to where we want to go. The insight is from where we are now. If we just pick any old strategy and say “this is what we are going to do” and it is not somehow related to where we are now then the success of that strategy will be quite rare. Otherwise, everyone’s successful strategy would be to “be number one by out hustling everyone else!”
We had just delivered are biggest project, on time and with good quality. Our customers were surprised and delighted (and some were even not ready to take the product because they didn’t believe we could ever deliver anything on time). However, another part of the strategy had been to practically “give away” our current product so that we could grab market share. Our super new product, while having good early reviews, only received ho hum reactions from the market. The combination of a bland new product (we manufactured over a million of them in anticipation) with the give away of our current best selling product arguably sent the company into a financial tailspin.
At the “all hands” meeting all the VPs were there to tell us what went wrong and how they were going to fix it. At one point, the current speaking VP said something like “our plan was fine but the execution was not!” A very courageous (project?) manager stood up and said “no, we executed and delivered, you did not.” The president of the company had to rush in to save the dumbstruck senior VP. The manager’s comment had impact because of its unstated implication. We executed and delivered, so if anything was wrong it was not with our project management execution, which had been the whipping boy for years. By getting the execution right it highlighted that the real core problems may be elsewhere (e.g. mediocre product design and selection, low margin sales tactics, etc.).
Our strategy and related plans need to be the bridge from our current capabilities to where we want to be. If we find ourselves regularly saying that the strategy or plan is fine but we just don’t execute the project well, then we need to honestly review our senior level approved strategy and plans. They may not be the effective project management tools we need them to be. (Compare this with official project plans that don’t line up with actual plans.)
Do you have any good or bad examples of strategy and execution alignment – and how you fixed it (if needed)?