Execution comes into vogue every few years in the business book cycle. (One of the best books on this topic is still, "Execution: the Discipline of Getting Things Done" by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan. There is one reason for this situation, too few people get it right consistently.
With all of the books written about execution, how can this still be? Often its because the measurements used are wrong or too complex.
Wrong Measurement - Measuring the outcome only. When you hear the comment (or are tempted to make the comment) "our 'x' is always over budget", look for the issue in that you have the outcome only measured. Without a few tracking measurements or process controls, you won't know you are in trouble until it is too late.
Too Complex - Measurements take expert analysis. Expert analysis can be very useful, but when trying to execute, the KPI's or steps along the way need to be supported by numbers and data that require little or no interpretation. Did this step get completed? Yes/No. Are on track month-to-date? These are great measurements. Poor ones have your teams waiting for reports from the financial analysts before making a step. (This doesn't mean that great financial analysts are unimportant. They are critically important. It just means that for teams to execute their day-to-day work needs to be tied to progress to goal with easy to understand information.)
So enough about what doesn't work. Below, are a few keys to successful use of KPI's and process controls leading to better execution:
Business Plan Execution: Align KPI's and processes with financial reports, specifically, cash flow results.
Vendor Contract Execution: Align vendor KPI's with their contracts, not your hopes.
Project Execution: Align project KPI's with the calendar and simplify projects to meet the calendar when necessary. Every time a change is made, take something out of the deliverables or add time to the calendar. Getting more done well in a shorter time happens once in a blue moon and if you force your staff to tell you it won't, plan on being disappointed.
Finally, the most important thing you can do is make it clear. Have daily huddles, weekly meetings and monthly deep dives on all major initiatives. And, this is key, don't remove them from your agenda's or talking points unless completed. It's the details that aren't completed step by step that will cause the painful build up of technical and execution debt. It’s boring to bring up an issue over each week or ask a question every day in a huddle, but its also rewarding. Try it and watch your successes start to build.
"In the military, as in any organization, giving the order mighrt be the easiest part. Execution is the real game." - General Russell Honore
(If you don't know about General Honore, the general who finally brought some order to New Orleans after hurricane Katrina, check this humorous video out.)