Creating strong and effective strategy is challenging, to say the least. Much literature, academic research and industrial resources have been invested in creating sound strategy for firms and their operations.
However, significant losses still occur each year because of a failure to connect strategy and the actions the firm undertakes.
How can this be avoided? Perhaps more importantly, how can an operations executive identify the difference between a failure to execute strategy properly and a failed strategy when results don’t measure up?
The only way to adequately distinguish between a failed strategy and failed execution of a successful strategy is to first rule out improper execution. The successful operations executive must ensure that, when strategy is developed, it is executed consistently within the organization so performance can be measured, controlled and adjusted as necessary.
With undisciplined execution (where some parts of the organization follow strategic direction of the firm and others do not), we see inconsistent branding, inconsistent process delivery, inconsistent profitability, and inconsistent and uncontrollable performance. So how do we ensure strategy is properly executed?
1. Data Data Data
Using many of the tools of Six Sigma, such as box plots and other statistical assessments, the operations management team can test for consistency between departments, plants and other stratifications. While this alone doesn’t allow for proper testing of strategy execution, a thorough understanding of the data and “facts” within the operation certainly assists management in understanding what has gone right and wrong in its execution and to identify problems (or opportunities) before time is lost.
2. Assess the Processes
It’s not atypical for documented processes to be inconsistent with “how it’s done” on the shop floor. That said, a good starting point is to consider the documented processes and assess whether or not they are consistent with the strategy that management seeks to implement. If the processes were followed to the letter, would the strategy have been properly executed? If not, it is time to update the processes and conduct thorough training for the staff.
3. Test the System
With well-timed and well-controlled test scenarios within the operation, executives can assess the processes within their organization. Are the processes that were tested in Step 2 being followed? If not, what corrective actions are required? Is there a reason these processes aren’t being followed? If appropriate, these reasons should be documented so that proper process adjustment can occur.
4. Employ Assistance
Especially when new processes are put in place, execution support can be a very appropriate response. Since the operations executive is quite busy, consistent and effective strategic assessment can be difficult. For this reason, it can be appropriate to bring a disinterested third-party into the mix. This third party, charged with support of strategic implementation, can serve as mentor, coach, judge and feedback mechanism to senior management. The third-party can also provide reference to other industries and other implementation scenarios to assist management in determining strategic failure or failure of implementation.
By properly executing operations strategy, organizations can allow senior management to make strategic adjustment in the competitive landscape. These four steps allow the management team to understand execution within the organization and to see opportunities for continuous improvement.
Jason Piatt is cofounder and president of Praestar Technology Corp. Prior to founding Praestar Technology, Jason held various tactical and executive positions in engineering, sales and marketing, and program management with a leading power transmission component manufacturer. He has served as a member of the faculty at Penn State University and has taught at Pennsylvania College of Technology in electrical and mechanical engineering technology, mathematics, and physics. Jason and the Praestar Consulting team have assisted numerous manufacturers in the areas of lean manufacturing, Six Sigma, sales and marketing management, and strategy formation.