Planning and Execution: One Isn’t Enough

Through my work at the Engineering Management Institute, I have worked with many engineering companies with a focus on helping them grow their business. One of the biggest pitfalls that I have observed among these companies is the failure to be able to plan AND execute. Most companies can do one of these really well, but they typically fall short with the other complementary action.

For example, they might have a sound recruiting strategy that includes visits to top colleges where they would speak in front of the engineering students, but they don’t employ anyone who can execute on that task effectively. Planning, but poor execution.

I’ve helped engineers who are looking for employment. They prepare a list of 10 companies that they would like to work for. However, rather than preparing 10 different customized resumes (one for each company), they send out a generic resume to all ten. Planning, but poor execution.

On the flip side, think about a sports team that has the most skilled players on the field. They are faster and stronger than their opponent, but their coaching staff fails to put together a game plan that ensures their talent is used effectively across the team and game. Execution, but poor planning.

I’ve talked to leaders in at least five engineering companies this year who told me their firm went through an elaborate strategic planning process, but they are too busy to implement their plan. Planning, but poor (or no) execution.

I’d like to offer some actions you can take to try to ensure your company is able to both plan and execute effectively.

1: When Planning, Consider Execution

While this sounds obvious, I often see leadership teams creating plans and not considering how they can execute the plans and bring them down to the ground on a daily basis. For example, if a company has a goal of planning to increase business in one specific sector, but they don’t have the staff in place to find that work, then they can’t execute the plan — unless, of course, the first step is to hire the right people. If that’s the case, then they better factor in some time for the new staff to learn about their company and prepare themselves to sell.

“Ideas are a dime a dozen. People who implement them are priceless.” ~ Mary Kay Ash

As part of your planning process, you must think about how you will implement your plan in detail. Some questions you might ask are:

  • Do we have the personnel in place to execute on this plan?
  • Do we have the software needed to achieve this goal?
  • What is at stake if we try to implement this plan without having the necessary resources?

2: Have a Plan B if the Execution Doesn’t Work

Imagine going through a planning process that could take weeks, months, or even years, and then when you put it in place, and it doesn’t work. I believe it is irresponsible for leaders to spend so much time, effort, and energy on a plan without considering the possibility of the plan NOT working.

Most great military leaders won their most important battles utilizing their Plan B (or Plan C). For example, if you hire a group of professionals because you are planning to land a large project or series of projects, and it falls through, what happens to these talented professionals? Can you utilize them elsewhere? Will they just serve as overhead for months? Will you have to let them go?

These are the questions you should ask yourself before you hire them. Again, this may sound obvious, but based on what I have witnessed, it is not. In fact, it seems to be more common to not have a Plan B.

3: Focus on the 80/20 Drivers in Your Plan to Reduce Risk

The Pareto Principle (or 80/20 Rule) says that 80% of your company’s success comes from 20% of its efforts. Crazy, but true. This is applicable across all departments of your organization. By considering the 80/20 rule in your strategic planning efforts, you can make sure you focus on the biggest success drivers so that even if you fall short on your plan, you most likely will still win big.

For example, if you recognize that 80% of your revenue (or profit) comes from two service lines, you might create a plan for doing more work in those areas. If you put a lot of effort into these two sectors and you only achieve a 50% win rate, you’ll probably still bring in more revenue than if you performed better in those sectors that were driving only 20% of the revenue.

Here’s another example more focused on your personal health and well-being. You’ve been feeling drained lately. You’re tired every day and you lack the energy you need to be able to think clearly. You attribute the issue mostly to sleep deprivation, as you only get five hours of sleep each night. However, you also feel like your diet could be improved. When creating a plan to address these issues, put an emphasis on going from five hours to eight hours of sleep each night. Even if you achieve 50% success, you’ll increase your weekly sleep time by 10.5 hours (30%), which will likely make a massive difference. Focusing on sleep first, as opposed to messing around with a few of your meals, will likely drive a much bigger return.

One Last Piece of Advice

There is an old military adage that says Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance. While I generally agree with the statement, planning and preparation ARE always critical to success, but you also need to ensure that you can execute the plan or else it may not prove helpful at all.

This article was originally posted on LinkedIn here.

  • If you enjoyed this post, please consider downloading our free list of 33 Productivity Routines of Top Engineering Executives. Click the button below to download.

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To your success.

Anthony Fasano, PE, LEED AP
Engineering Management Institute
Author of Engineer Your Own Success

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