Preparing to Succeed

Two fatal management extremes:
“Analysis Paralysis” and “Just Do It”

Analysis Paralysis” – over-analyzing the situation resulting in no action – prevents progress when overly detailed plans are made. It can be caused by corporate culture (no action = no criticism of possible failure), budget restraints (study costs are minimal; action costs are major), and/or no confidence in the outcome.

Just Do It“, the other extreme, may be the response to a protracted case of analysis paralysis or “full speed ahead” management style. Regardless of the cause, proper preparation is often neglected especially when budget and/or time are constrained.

What is the proper balance between the two? How does one change default behavior?

Successful execution – efficiently and effectively doing the task at hand – is often discussed as key to business performance. It is a rare quarterly earning’s call that one doesn’t hear a discussion about execution from either the management or the analysts (if not both). Amazon lists 672 books addressing this topic. There is no question, doing it right and staying on plan takes a lot of hard work.

Commonly overlooked is the need and time to sufficiently plan and prepare especially when it is a first attempt or time is short — precisely the wrong time. Preparation is more than just tactical and detailed planning. It must include making sure that your primary resource – people – are ready, willing and able to execute. Does the team have the right skills or level of performance? Does everyone know their responsibilities? Have they full planned out their tasks and do they understand how they fit in to the master plan?

Preparation is also having the right tools and materials ready for use. Not only does the master cabinet maker measure twice, they make sure beforehand that their chisels are sharp by making test cuts on scrap material. Skilled cooks – both in restaurants and at home – practice Mise en place to efficiently prepare a meal.

Painters will tell you that preparation – gathering materials, cleaning surfaces, masking edges, etc. – take more time and skill than applying the paint. Avoiding “painting yourself in a corner” is an essential part of corporate planning. It includes risk management (including failure options or a “plan B”) and an analysis of competitors’ plans and reactions.

As with painting, the care in preparation directly translates to the quality of the finished job. Cut corners and you will learn that no execution will make up for improper or insufficient preparation. With proper planning the execution may proceed flawlessly and appear effortless. Modest additional “up front” planning may result in drastic reduction in execution time and/or resources required.

A tight schedule or limited resources are not excuses for failing to plan or skimping on preparation. Just as skilled craftsmen pay heed to preparation so must high technology companies. Startups – with the ever present pressure of the monthly cash burn and limited resources – often rush ahead without spending enough time planning. These are precisely the companies that have the greatest need to plan and prepare since they are developing new technologies or products with only one shot at getting things right.

Well managed startups minimize risk in all non-essential areas. They innovate in their area of differentiation and find experienced resources to handle the rest. Even if additional preparation or searching for the right resource results in schedule delays, it is far better to be late building something that works than being on time with a failure.

HOW TO PLAN TO SUCCEED? Realize that execution is only part of the plan and sufficient preparation is required. Create a team (employees plus contractors and consultants if necessary) with the motivation and skills needed for the project’s success. Then use their experience and perspective to determine the proper balance between planning and execution.

Have you really prepared for 2011? Or, are you just jumping in to the New Year? Sure, almost every company does a budget projection and has growth plans. The reality check for success is simple: make sure that your plans have a solid foundation (preparation, team, etc.) and are not just impulsive execution in reaction to perceived opportunities. At the same time realize that “opportunity may knock only once” and have a motivated and viable team ready to plan, prepare and execute.

2 Responses to Preparing to Succeed

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