It may seem like a simple idea, but I have often been faced by the reality of great (or even just “good”) ideas failing in the marketplace because of a lack of implementation planning. Too often most of the time is focused in the planning stages of a business on the “whats”; “what” has worked in the past, “what” is competition doing, “what” has been successful in a limited market or region, “what” do our customers need from us, “what are our ready-now innovation plans, etc.
A litany of “whats” but very little time spent on the “hows.”
This came to life recently in a meeting that I had with a client in my consulting business. We are working on a major brand/organization restructuring project and at a break I asked one of our client contacts about past “change initiatives” that have been executed by his company. He described a few different examples of initiatives over the past few years, each of which had “gone off the rails” at one point or another. I asked his opinion on why the initiatives had struggled, and quickly he responded that once they got 80% of the way to a conclusion, they “pulled the trigger” and moved on to the next issue/opportunity, not waiting to insure the first idea was executed fully and successfully. That conversation reminded me of this dynamic of businesses and their leadership teams being so focused on the initiatives to deploy they forget the critical importance of executing those initiatives well…. Too focused on the “whats,” not the “hows.”
While the following is not an exhaustive list of ways to insure the “hows” are anticipated and planned for, these three ideas should be helpful in taking steps to insure that “the hows” get the right amount of focus:
Before completing any project plan, ask the question to see the implementation plan or “map,” and if you are part of the project team, remember that no project is compete without one! While not a hard and fast rule of thumb, if you haven’t spent at least 10-15% of your project planning time in building the implementation map, you have probably NOT given it the right amount of attention. Insure that you map the steps required to “get the job done” with distinction. Think of yourself as the general contractor on a building site, and push yourself to see what steps need to be taken to complete the project ahead of time, under budget, and at a very high level of quality! No small task but if you don't take the time to ask yourself how to accomplish those outcomes, it is rare to accomplish them!
Once the implementation map is drafted, start piecing together the “competency grid,” in other words the skills that are required to achieve success on this initiative. If we want or need to rebuild a planning system, do we have the talent in-house to achieve that goal or do we need to go outside for the resources? Don't get stuck on “how many” or “how much” you need (that is coming in the next phase), stay focused on the needed skills. Working with a client recently who is in the middle of a major new product rollout, we realized that the organization didn't have any resources to call on or cover the targeted retail stores and check shelf placement and on-shelf pricing post rollout and have now scrambled to put that in place. A better approach would have been to identify the competency required (in-store merchandiser coverage) as part of a “competency grid” and had that in place before the rollout.
Now we need to work on the “how many” and “how much” of the project plan. Remembering the “implementation map” and the “competency grid,” now we need to actually analyze and build a model of the quantity of the capacities needed to fulfill or exceed the requirements of the “implementation map.” This is so crucial in order to accurately build an implementation budget, so often either forgotten or only built at a surface level to fulfill project plan requirements.
As you dig into the work ahead, remember these three steps and most importantly remember to put your attention on the “hows” of your project/business, not just the “whats.” As I have shared in earlier essays, “good” ideas executed brilliantly typically exceed the impact of “brilliant” ideas executed adequately…. Focus on the “hows!”