Devil is in the execution

Execution is the buzzword for the initiative du jour . When all is said and done, it seems, all of the initiatives of the last several decades don't amount to much without execution. Well, duh! The interesting thing about all the attention to execution is that it's being hailed as some new discovery, some breakthrough in management.


Execution is the buzzword for the initiative du jour . When all is said and done, it seems, all of the initiatives of the last several decades don't amount to much without execution. Well, duh!

The interesting thing about all the attention to execution is that it's being hailed as some new discovery, some breakthrough in management. Heck, any high school coach in the past half century could have told us that success lies more in the execution of a play than in the plan of the play itself. It doesn't take a management guru to figure out that you win basketball games by shooting baskets. You know the old saw about success being 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. That's execution.

Now, this is not to detract from the work of Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan, authors of the best-selling book, Execution: the Discipline of Getting Things Done . They do bring to the forefront the concept that execution is a discipline that can be specifically defined and learned. Bravo for that! But successful managers have intuitively known this all along.

I'm not real accomplished at execution myself. Just ask any of my staff members. Or, just ask my wife about the innumerable projects I've started and never finished. And then there's the book (or two) that I was always going to write. But this editorial isn't about me.

To see the results of some world-class execution, just look at the awards special report in this issue. Whether it's bringing a really useful product to market or setting the standards for reliability, these companies know how to execute.

It's been my privilege over the years to examine hundreds of excellent new products and dozens of outstanding industrial plants. The one common thread among them all is execution. No matter what new initiative is adopted or what management technique is involved, success always boils down to execution.

And the secret to this execution — or the devil — is in the details. Every award-winning plant I'm familiar with has been absolutely relentless in pursuing the details and tenacious in its follow through. These are key ingredients of execution.

It's easy to establish goals. It's easy to set up teams. It's easy to launch an initiative. It's easy to talk the talk.

It's tough to gather data, to document, to maintain the team meeting schedules, to keep plugging against inconvenience and adversity — in short, to execute the original commitment.

To be in a plant that executes well is to be inspired. The people feel useful and proud of their accomplishments. Frustration and grumbling are minimized. There's a sense of purpose and mission.

But the success is not in the strategy set forth by management, although that's important. The real success is in the down and dirty execution, the practice of making things happen at every level — especially the lowest levels.

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