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Monday, March 08, 2010

Execution – The Fine Art of Getting It Done (Part II)

(The following post is authored by Eric Kurjan, President of Six Disciplines Ohio. Six Disciplines brings “big company” process improvement to organizations looking to jump beyond the status quo. For more information visit


Execution – The Fine Art of Getting It Done

In last month’s newsletter, I shared the key processes for building the strategy (see the original post here) .  In this article I will share some of the finer points of bringing the strategy to life.

To start, the keys to a good strategy are found in the words, “Where”, “What” and “How”, which are an easy to remember summary of the Six Disciplines process for Disciplines I and Discipline II.  However, it is the next words of “Who” and “When” which turn the plan into action.  This is the crux of Disciplines IV – Work the Plan. This is where we need to engage the organization to do the “real work”.  If we can get our employees focused on what is most important and measure the activities then the results will follow.  The added benefit is that “who” and “when” are the cornerstones for creating a much higher level of accountability in the organization.  The concept we are trying to create is that the work which is assigned is a contract between the Team Member/Employee and the company.   In essence every quarter we are saying “I (name here) commit to do this work for Company X”.

 Without a doubt, execution is the tougher, more critical side of the strategy/execution equation - getting it done, measuring progress along the way, and finding what doesn’t work early enough to make course corrections, are the steps to insure individual activities support the Vital Few Objectives (VFOs).

The best way to drive the execution of the strategy is to create a plan for the specific assigned work for each quarter of the year.  We call this an Individual Plan or IP.   The IP consists of two key components.  First, the normal everyday tasks as described in your job description are called sustaining or “Run the Business” activities. Second are the tasks or activities which are intended to “Change the Business”.  These are the date-driven tasks that are supporting the initiatives/projects which we have chosen to implement to truly change the direction of the company and support the key objectives (VFOs).

Here is an example of a simple Individual Plan:

This example of an “Individual Plan” breaks the work into the two key components of “Change the Business” and “Run the Business” activities. It also sets due dates, defines priorities and approximates the hours it will take to complete the tasks assigned.  The “IP” also takes into account other activities like “Personal Development” and “Administrative Activities”.  We include one more segment called the “Parking Lot” which is a staging area for tasks that you are not committing to complete this quarter but if time permits you might put some work into them.

The tendency for most people and organizations is to over-commit.  Somehow everyone thinks they can achieve much more in a given timeframe.  A critical component is to place a “Weight” or priority on the key tasks.  The weighting allows you to be sure you are focused on those key items first.  The weighting is not intended to represent the item with the most hours but the items that must get done.  If trying to make a judgment on where to spend your time, the weight should dictate that decision.  A second critical component is time or the “Hours”.  This is the estimate of the hours required to complete the tasks in the IP.  These hours may not be exact but they at least give a range of the required time.  To gauge the workload we suggest you start with 520 hours per quarter (40 hours per week x 13 weeks).  The hours may vary by role in the organization but it is a good spot to start.

In my example, Susan is carrying 632 hours for her Quarter 2 IP.  That works out to be a little less than 50 hours per week which may be fine for Susan’s role.  What we are looking for are unrealistic hours – both total hours and individual tasks that would cause Susan to be unable to fulfill her commitment, her “contract” for the quarter. Even the best plans need to have room for adjustment.  Another important consideration is that since it is a “contract” between the employee and organization, the manager needs to sign-off on this contract too. To sign-off on the contract, the manager needs to agree with the tasks Susan plans to work on and that the hours are realistic.  This also means the manager cannot add more work on Susan’s plan after the quarter has started.  Although placing more work on employees is a very common occurrence it generally means that the original IP has little value and the “contracted” work will not be completed on time.

So how do we adjust for the changes that are likely to occur?  First, we always recommend including a “catch-all” bucket called “Unplanned Time” to account for the unexpected.  The second is that there is a trade-off.  If there is work/tasks that are truly more important than what has already been assigned then something needs to be reprioritized, the date pushed out or the current task replaced/removed.  This will be difficult for managers and leaders who are used to just coming up with “brilliant’ ideas and then dropping them on someone in the organization.  Unfortunately, many of these “brilliant” ideas do not even fit within the objectives set in the strategy.  So the IP actually helps prevent “brilliant” ideas from distracting the organization.

It is this lack of focus and commitment to the execution phase that kills most strategies.  It is like cheating on your diet.  If you remain true to the plan you will lose weight, if you cheat, you won’t. Living up to the contract by each person with an IP makes the strategy succeed.  Execution is a simple concept, but hard to live by.

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