Get Better Results Than What Your Imagined By Focusing on Execution

Get Better Results Than What Your Imagined By Focusing on Execution






March 22, 2019

I was talking to the three senior executives of a fairly large business. They were very happy with the business situation. Their business was operating in a comfortable oligopoly, with comfortable competitive pressures. The business strategy was noted to be very sound.

But, they lamented, that the comfortable position never translated into equivalent profits. Every year, for the past 3-4 years, the year-end profits would fall just a bit short of the budget. It was not as if the budget was too ‘stretchy’ either.

Bad Execution Kills Many Good Strategies

These gentlemen were very disappointed in their own ‘execution team’ – somehow they always seemed to lose the plot in the last quarter.

Almost everyone who was not among the three top people of the company were counted as the ‘execution team’.

I agreed with them that execution was the key to the results. I also questioned the artificial divide between ‘strategy’ and ‘execution’ because to me thinking and action are really two sides of the same coin called life.

I have noted elsewhere that thinking people sometimes have a low regard for working people, and vice versa. In a ship a captain can plan a voyage in a few hours – that will take his navigators weeks to execute.

A good captain has been a good navigator in an earlier life. Being dismissive towards the day-to-day execution concerns will never get you to the destination.

Execution is Hard

Even when the strategies are sound, the difficulty in execution is grossly underestimated. This is particularly true if the strategists are not invovled in execution of thier own strategies.

Over the past 25 years I must have seen dozens of project reports from highly branded strategy firms, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars each, which had fundamental execution related errors. I have written many times about this phenomenon.

Because Strategy Consultants Do Not Have To Execute, They Can Pass Off Anything That Sounds Good As a Sound Strategy

From the lofty heights of board rooms the waves on the surface of the sea look far more calm and easy to navigate, than they actually are. It is also quite easy to miss hidden dangers and path markers from the distance.

People who lack visceral experience in day-to-day execution can trivialize the struggle, the complexity and the trade-offs involved.

Does that mean that it is impossible to get past the struggle, complexity and trade-offs?

Quite the contrary!

Every ship does manage to arrive at its destination. The ships where the route planners work with the route trudgers as a single team are the happiest and most efficient.

Good Planning is The Key To Good Execution

In my experience, execution shortfall results from either, or both of, two reasons:

  1. bad strategy
  2. bad planning of execution

Sometimes the strategy itself is unsound. You just did not know that at the time strategy was formulated. It is best to acknowledge when this is the case and move on. Why waste good money after bad?

At other times, strategy was sound, but the planning of execution was inadequate. Dismissive attitude towards execution might have been a problem. Saying that they will figure it out as they along is not enough.

Or, as in the case at the start of this article, over the years the business itself had gradually become much more complex than at the beginning. As a result, to cope with the complexity, the additional fulfilement costs had increased exponentially.

Most strategists do not understand complexity for a curious reason

Streategists build a simplified models of the world in order to understand how the relationships work in real life. Simplified models of causes and effects help them understand the key drivers of an event, and their impact.

By necessity, these models are based on reduced complexity. As a result, one driver that the strategists least understand is complexity.

In fact, it will be fair to say that the true impact of complexity on cost can be modeled only with a great deal of difficulty, and only be an extremely experienced practitioner who also has a good handle on all other drivers of costs.

Do NOT Underestimate Cost Of Complexity

Just because the effects of complexity are difficult to model, does not mean that they are trivial.

That is the reason why complexity and its impact on costs of a business are least understood subject. That is why most CEOs and their teams struggle to understand the need for supply chain software, and SaaS companies struggle to sell their value proposition to senior management.

Senior executives are reluctant to buy services that will just make the life of their staff a little bit easier. They do not understand the full financial impact of complexity till someone shows it to them after modeling it.

A Simple Solution

This business, like many others, just needed a much better supply chain planning and scheduling system than they used in the past when the business was a relatively simpler affair.

Senior executives never realised this difficult truth until they were shown the cause and effect in a step by step demonstration.

A small investment in a systematic approach to fulfilment paid off handsomely within months of investment.

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  1. These ideas and concepts will be usually expressed by our thought leaders in multiple forums - conferences, speeches, books, reports, workshops, webinars, videos and training. You may have heard us say the same thing before.
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  3. All anecdotes are based on true stories to highlight the key points of the article - some details are changed to protect identification of the parties involved. 
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Our Quick Notes On Five Flows Of Supply Chain Management

Part of our new “Quick Notes” series – this report answers your most pertinent questions of the topic.

  • What are the five flows of SCM?
  • Why are they important TO YOU?
  • How can you map, track, and optimise these flows to serve YOU?
  • What is the importance of difference between "Supply Chain" and "Value Chain"?
  • What are the stellar case studies of each of the five flows?


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  • A good strategy is a broader term. Start making a strategy place all the elements and aspects of your mind and assemble them. Putting the right pieces together makes a perfect and complete jigsaw puzzle. Similarly, when you keep in mind all the financial, physical and labor resources of your company in mind and formulate a strategy. Not everyone is a strategy maker. Strategy making is a science and only a scientist can make it perfect. Companies stand with stability if the foundation of the underlying strategy is strong and reliable. Hence a good strategy formulation has distinctive significance in any company.

  • Such a worthy article Vivek. This article has answered all my questions related to planning, strategy, execution, assessment and more specifically the importance of execution. Planning helps to achieve objectives. Every organization has certain objectives or targets. It keeps working hard to fulfill these goals. Planning helps an organization to achieve these aims, but with some ease and promptness. Planning also helps an organization to avoid doing some random (done by chance) activities. The planning process provides the information top management needs to make effective decisions about how to allocate the resources in a way that will enable the organization to reach its objectives. Productivity is maximized and resources are not wasted on projects with little chance of success. Thanks for writing such a detailed article. It was worth reading.

  • Plan, execute and succeed. Achieving excellence is more a matter of hard work rather than luck. Knowing what you are going to do and planning how to do it are two entirely different things. You hear more stories every day about people who were born with nothing but managed to achieve success in their lives. Achieving success is directly related to the amount of, and quality of planning we put towards our goals. A plan, allows us to format our dreams into tangible realities that we can easily break down into smaller more manageable chunks. Then comes the execution of plans. The execution of a plan is the most critical part, it is crucial to the achieving or failing of your goals and consequently the success you achieve. If we want to achieve success, then we need to learn how to execute our plans. Now you achieve success.

  • The credibility of strategists is the most terrifying concern we are facing these days. A good strategy executed badly by the strategies is the most disastrous thing ever. I read somewhere traits of a good strategist and here, I would like to share as it is relevant to the topic of this article.
    Positive and Confident. Business strategists work under a lot of pressure because they are responsible for giving life to a mere thought
    Competitive. A great strategist is always competitive
    Reasonable. Success is achieved by those who are reasonable
    Critical Thinker
    Great Communication Skills
    The business strategist must be capable enough to ensure the timely execution of relevant plans.

  • The cost of bad execution is substantial for both individuals and professionals. Poor plan execution is demoralizing, but what many don’t realize is that it’s actually costing your organization a lot of money. IT projects are notorious for having a high rate of partial or total failure. These failures are often born of poor project execution and can lead to serious outcomes. When a project suffers from poor execution it either delays the current project resources moving to a new project or it draws in resources off another project to help with the remediation. In either case, there is another of the organization’s projects that get delayed or restrained. It is rare for an organization’s to factor in the cost of these ‘other project’ delays when assessing the cost of a poor project deliverable.

  • Execution is hard. Start a project and measure its progress by following the execution of processes and relevant strategies. Complete execution makes the project successful. Execution is involved in every phase of project ranging from project initiation to the end. Execution of planning processes, assessments, methodologies, management strategies, mitigation plans, risk analysis reports, and technological operations must be carried out carefully. Flaws and bugs in execution halt the success of the project and give major setbacks. Executives must pay attention to this critical process so that they may not fail to get the desired outcomes. Poor executions shake the company profits and create an air of trust deficit. The project misses the deadlines because the execution of several processes is flawed.

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