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Book Review – Execution

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Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done

Over the weekend I finished “Execution. The Discipline of Getting Things Done” by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan. This book is a succinct summary of all that is wrong in many companies. Larry and Ram analyze many of the most dysfunctional behaviors seen in large corporations and lay out some steps to address them. While many of their stories focus on senior management and execution failures, their suggestions and guidelines work just as well for all levels of management. If you are responsible for planning and getting things done, this book will give you some tips and ideas as well as codifying your “gut feel” for why some people just don’t get things done. My only complaint with the book was that it did not address the problems of getting your information systems to “get things done”. As businesses are increasingly embodied in their information systems I think this is going to become more and more important. Clearly this is my bias but to give you a sense of what I mean, here are some of my favorite quotes from the book with commentary.

  • “when a company executes well, its people are not brought to their knees by changes in the business environment”
    But if that company has information systems that do not change easily then it will lack the agility it needs to respond to these changes. In reality most businesses now have information systems that must be changed to cope with a new business environment. If these systems are hard to change, they will be brought to their knees.
  • “leaders placed too much emphasis on what some call high-level strategy,…,and not enough on implementation” and “unless you translate big thoughts into concrete steps for action, they’re pointless”
    Ram and Larry are talking here mostly about the implementation in terms of making sure successive layers in the organization can deliver on the strategy – that all the pieces add up. Again, if the lowest levels of your organization are driven by information systems, or if your customers interact directly with your information systems, you need to also be concerned with the implementation of your strategy in those systems. But most information systems are impenetrable to most business people and so it can be hard to tell, let alone ensure this.
  • “If your business has to survive difficult times, it if has to make an important shift in response to change – and these days just about every business does – it’s far, far more likely to succeed if it’s executing well”
    I have written a lot about the need to have agility in your information systems to cope with change but I thought this quote brought home how essential this is.
  • “when decision-making is decentralized or highly fragmented, …, people at many levels have to make endless trade-offs”
    In reality people at every level are making trade-offs and you need to decide how to make sure that the right trade-offs are being made even when the trade-off is being made by someone with limited business know-how or by an automated system. Using analytics to embed effective risk management and risk/reward trade-offs will help make the information systems at the bottom of your organization manage this.
  • “Behaviors are beliefs turned into actions…They’re where the rubber meets the road”
    The business rules embedded in your information system are where the rubber hits the road. They decide how your website treats customers, how your IVR system works and so on. Controlling them is essential for turning your beliefs into behaviors.

There were some other interesting sections from an enterprise decision management or EDM perspective. One of the building blocks identified was “insist on realism” and it struck me that this is part of what makes the use of analytics in EDM so powerful. Analytics are, because they are derived from actual data, steeped in realism. Using them to drive decisions can really improve the amount of realism in your decisions. Similarly the use of rules to define how customers are treated allows for a realistic assessment of how they were, in fact, treated in a way that interviewing people and asking them how they treat customers will never be.

Finally I thought the quote about execution below was lovely and very relevant to EDM. EDM is not tactical, it is fundamental to your strategy. If your systems don’t follow the rules your strategy implies or use the data on which you based it, how likely are they to do it right?

“People think of execution as the tactical side of business. That’s the first big mistake. Tactics are central to execution, but execution is not tactics. Execution is fundamental to strategy and has to shape it”

You can buy the book here.

Originally published on the EDM blog.

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