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Execution – Flawless vs. Good Enough June 17, 2009

Posted by Edwin Ritter in Trends.
Tags: , , , , ,

I attended an interesting talk today titled ‘Flawless Execution’. Interesting topic on getting improved and consistent performance from your team. The event was organized by the Rochester Small Business Council (SBC). Kudos to them for scheduling this event. The main speaker, from Afterburner Consulting, was a retired Navy fighter pilot who flew F-14s. He described how they plan each mission and the elements involved in the planning. The steps they use include  :

  1. Plan
  2. Brief
  3. Execute
  4. Debrief

For the armed services, that dedication and commitment to execute a common process is the difference between life and death. Literally. So it follows that having a debrief of what worked and what could be done better is a key part of that process. The speaker also stressed that during that discussion, it is nameless and rankless. That is, everyone involved, be they leaders, peers or  subordinates, are candid and admit to mistakes. They also point out to each other  improvements. It is win-win for each individual and also the team. It makes perfect sense and the candor for a subordinate to call out a squad leader on their mistakes – within the debrief session- is an accepted military practice. The team attitude is ‘I made a mistake, I will fix it’.

When the process is run with flawless execution, the result is a Win. Successful mission, objective realized. Live to fight another day. In the military, those aren’t cliches, they are the truth.

In the business world, having a common, repeatable and reliable process is a good thing also. Flawless execution by your team will lead to increased sales. It better, else what good is perfect execution if it doesn’t lead to sales? That is another problem. For now, let’s assume the team is working on the right things. Getting your team to be consistent where everyone knows their role can be trying at times. As a manager, having consistent team performance can be very challenging. There are lots of reasons for this admittedly and you control a good part of that. Some within a teams’ control; other things are beyond their control.

In business and in war,  speed is a key enabler. For many, omitting the Debrief part of the process is tempting and easy to do. Roll the Lessons Learned into the planning – save some time. Works for awhile – until the Lessons Learned are gone. Then, a team repeats mistakes; does not learn, can’t pass on their knowledge to others. Lost opportunity, lower sales and things slow down. Not good business.

The speaker also stressed contingency planning – ‘What if’ scenarios. If the Squad Leader is taken out, what is the chain of command? If there is equipment malfunction, what is the backup plan? One all those elements are in place (steps 1-4 and contingency), then the team is ready to perform its’ mission.

The business consequences of not making a sale, losing to a competitor are not as drastic as in military combat. It is not life and death.  We tend to use the military based cliches, but they never have the same intensity or impact.

All told, it is not a new process, not a radical way of managing. It is common sense. I have heard this in other forms in the past; I’m sure you have too. In the business world, we tend to make assumptions about these steps and the process in general. Not every team has SMART* goals. Getting everyone you work with committed to,  and, using a common process can be an unrealistic goal.  For most businesses, simply having a process  is good enough. Some times, execution is good, others; not so much.  From my experience, that is due to the corporate culture and management style. What is accepted behavior? How are people rewarded? Do they each have SMART goals? Don’t assume so.

Flawless execution requires everyone in the organization is using the same process in the same way. I have seen this in the past with ERP projects. Lead, follow or you’ll get run over because ERP is coming. Common process, common goal, common deployment of teams working on the same timeline. Works and there are lots of consultants willing to help you get there. 😉

Do you want your execution flawless or just good enough? Your choice and your teams’ also. Good luck.

*Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic and Timed.



1. scorevolunteer - June 21, 2009

Good summary of interesting talk. My favorite part was the nameless, rankless debrief. If a team can accomplish this (biz is not life or death so..) I think the changes and progress would be remarkable.

This would requires fearless, confident leadership who are looking to build an extraordinary culture. Would it help every aspect of the business, you bet. Something to strive for…

Edwin Ritter - June 21, 2009

Thanks for your comments. Having a work environment that accepts feedback within and at all levels of the organization is unique. Confidence is certainly a key part required with the leadership team. Same for honesty and willing to work for the common, or team good. Hard to do – hence the consulting practice.

2. Chris Bigelow - July 22, 2009

Ed – Great summary of the Afterburner presentation. The process makes sense and no doubt works in a military setting. But most commercial businesses lack the discipline (and autocratic rule) to employ this method. The few that do are most likely in the defense or aerospace industries and are heavily salted with ex-military personnel.

Edwin Ritter - July 22, 2009

Agreed – the right culture and having everyone on the same page is key. At the risk of repeat, I do like the closed loop and having lessons learned after projects.

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