This column is authored by Ajay Shrivastava, Chief Technology Officer, Knowlarity
Execution is the “secret sauce” that differentiates a successful startup from a failed one. Deliberately chosen strategy to favor speed and iterations (over delayed perfection), is the common winning strategy, one can spot in every high growth startup’s journey.
“A good plan violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan executed next week.” – General Patton
Blame game, buck passing, slowness, low morale, friction etc. start to infect the organizations as they grow beyond couple scores of people. These debilitating, energy sucking and time wasting loops, become impediments in the organization’s progress.
Principles of Violent Execution: Tried, Tested and Evolved
I was fortunate to have worked in “small growing startups” to “largest companies” in the world. Here are my tried and tested principles, following which, any organization can transform into a high performing execution machine, within weeks easily.
1. Get Shit Done
“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” – Roosevelt
Work is considered DONE, only when it generates the desired business metric movement. It’s NOT DONE when just all the “planned tasks” are complete. As an analogy, the team gets the award for goals in soccer, all the hard work otherwise doesn’t matter in the real world. This real world fact has to be embraced as it is.
2. One Thing at a Time
You can’t focus well on many things at a time. The context switching results in shallower job and cumulatively longer duration.
“The shortest way to do many things is to do only one thing at a time.” – Mozart
Haven’t seen multi tasking work efficiently even for competent people in conducive environments too. Prioritize hard. Focus on top one and kill it. Go to next.
3. Make it Work, then Make it Better
Justifying ‘delays’ in ‘name of perfection’, is the biggest problem plaguing the industry now. Even though everyone talks about MVP/Agile, I have rarely seen people understand it well esp in the engineering department. I wrote Minimum Viable Technology – MVT in this regard to tackle it.
“Continuous Improvement is better than Delayed Perfection.” – Mark Twain
The employees should be trained to focus on identifying and solving the ‘real problem on the ground’. Don’t waste energy on unnecessary solutions to ‘hypothetical problems’.
4. Move Fast and Keep Delivering
“Moving fast” is invariably the lifeline for organizations fighting to survive and excel. “Keep making small progress” frequently.
“In the new world, it is not the big fish which eats the small fish, it’s the fast fish which eats the slow fish.” – Klaus Schwab
Small steps each day ensure quick feedback from the end user and therefore provide the timely opportunity for course correction. By analogy in cricket, it’s like making two runs on every ball Vs planning to hit a six on last two balls. You face more stress, risk and as a result more failures.
5. Solve in Real time – F2F > Call > Chat > Email
Emails are least effective and unfortunately most-used of all communication methods for “transactional decision making”. As per my experience, email chains invariably delay tasks and creates warring factions within the organization.
“The greatest victory is that which requires no battle.” – Sun Tzu
The more “human touch” you have, the more quickly issues are resolved, the camaraderie strengthened and friction reduced. Encourage “F2F > Call > Chat > Email” in your organization and you will witness “faster execution” and “amicable environment” immediately. Emails should be used primarily for sending notes, giving context and not for transactional debates and decision making.
6. Disagree and Commit
‘Democracy’ allows dissent so people are free to give ideas, debate and disagree. The con is that execution becomes slow and sabotaged due to this. On the other hand. ‘Dictatorship’ does not allow free opinions but the execution is flawless and disciplined. We need best of both.
We need best of both worlds – ‘discussion like democracy’ + ‘execution like dictatorship’
7. You are Leader
When leaders/CEOs face problems, they instinctively start looking out for solutions rather than feeling like a victim of circumstances. The same leadership trait needs to be inculcated in every employee.
“If you have time to whine then you have time to find solution.” -Dee Dee Artner
Every employee (even a fresher) should be made the leader of his/her assigned area. So the organization hierarchy is a hierarchy of leaders from top to bottom.
There would be several small or big issues cropping in these areas. Now, when employees talk to their managers, it should be a leader-to-leader discussion. One must identify prevailing issues -> prioritize them -> think of solutions -> discuss with their leader -> execute. Take ownership, talk solutions!
8. Continuously Innovate
Multiple ‘high speed’ and ‘low cost’ experiments should be encouraged in the company. Only successful ones among them would be invested further.
“The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.” – John Powell
Make sure to learn from shortcomings in the previous experiment and make sure to notrepeat any mistake again. New mistakes are more welcome.
9. Work Smart and Work Hard
“Talent/smartness” or “hard work” individually can take you/company only to a certain level; where the majority of people/companies would already be. To break out of the crowd, one has to stand on both the legs i.e. Smart work + Hard work.
As per my experience, these principles take the execution to the next orbit of efficiency and excellence. Soon the leadership team’s job would transform from heavily pushing a high-friction machine to steering a well-oiled fast moving machine.