Every organisation has strategies.

For most, the challenge is not in developing strategies but in executing them. It’s easy to underestimate the difficulty and duration of implementation.

This difficulty is made worse when two key planning steps are missed.

Before addressing the two missing steps, defining execution capability will help.

Execution Capability

Execution capability is “the underlying ability to execute a strategy”.

If an organisation does not have the underlying ability to execute a strategy, the strategy will fail. That’s just common sense.

Imagine two athletes preparing for the Olympics. They both hope to win.



The first athlete has worked hard to prepare. He’s worked on strength, speed, fitness and motivation. He has a strategy for the race, he is now ready. And he has execution capability for his race strategy.





The second athlete may have an excellent race strategy. He may have worked hard on preparation but he clearly does not have execution capability.

He cannot win the race.



In order for strategies to be successfully executed, the underlying execution capability must exist.

The First Gap in Planning

A typical planning process would look something like the following –

In order for strategies to succeed, execution capability must exist. But most planning processes do not include a formal evaluation of execution capability.

An evaluation of execution highlights gaps in execution capability. Sometimes these gaps prove larger than anyone expected. Identifying the gaps before launch allows corrective action to take place. Sometimes the gaps prove large enough that strategy must be revisited.

It’s always better to understand the gaps before strategy is launched.

A review of execution capability reduces risk when launching strategy.

Analysing execution capability before launching strategies or initiatives requires a new planning step. The new planning process would look something like the following –

A review of execution capability before strategies are launched plugs the first gap in strategy planning.

The Second Gap in Planning

You’ve determined your strategies and have now conducted an execution capability review. You know where the gaps lie. You feel confident the gaps can be addressed. The strategies should succeed.

Of course, the strategies must still be implemented. Now you need a detailed implementation plan.

And this is where the second gap appears.

The detailed planning usually occurs at department level.

Each department develops a plan for how they will implement their part of the strategy. Many separate plans result – one for each department. Then each department works to implement their separate plan. They all work on the strategy, but they do so separately.

The second planning gap lies in the separation of the department plans. They are not coordinated.

Why Coordination Is Important

Imagine building a house. The architect designs the house. The architect’s design is like a strategy for a house. It looks good on paper, now someone has to build it.

Normally, a builder would take over construction. The builder ensures coordination of detailed activities – when trades people are needed, when materials must arrive and the order in which things are done.

Imagine if the detailed coordination did not occur.

Concreters, carpenters, glaziers, electricians, plumbers and roofers would each develop their own plan for the house. They would each interpret the architect’s plans (the strategy) and decide what they needed to do to implement it. And then they would work independently.

The result – the carpenter might arrive to build the frame and find the concrete foundations, not in place. The glazier might arrive to fit windows and find the frame not finished. The electrician might arrive to find the walls already completed, with no access for wiring.

Chaos would reign. Delays would occur. Costs would blow out. The quality of the house would suffer.

Now consider strategy implementation. The overall strategy is developed like a house design. Executives are the architects. But detailed implementation planning is left to each department.

Who coordinates the detailed activities?

Some organisations have a project management office to coordinate activities across departments. Most don’t.

And the core executives don’t coordinate the detailed activity. They do not have the time.

What’s left? Just a hope the activities of each department will somehow coalesce into delivery of the strategy. But that’s like hoping the individual plans of each trades person will somehow result in a completed house. It might happen, but it will be pure luck.

What more commonly occurs is the same as the uncoordinated house. Delays occur, costs blow out and the quality of the implementation does not measure up.

The problems from uncoordinated activity grow as implementation challenges arise.

To illustrate

  • HR plans a great training course, but the new IT systems are delayed. HR doesn’t find out until too late, so the course goes ahead but is ineffective.
  • New processes are designed, but neither HR nor IT is properly briefed. Training and systems don’t support the new processes.
  • A great new IT system is implemented, but partners aren’t trained and so don’t use it.

Implementing a strategy is a complex project. It’s like building a house. Activities need coordination at the detailed level.


Two new steps in the planning process are needed.

First, a formal review of execution capability should take place after you determine strategies but before implementation begins.

Second, you need a single, coordinated plan covering processes, systems, people skills and partners. Representatives of HR, IT, process and partner managers, along with operations, must develop, adapt and drive this single coordinated plan over time.

Ensuring you have execution capability and coordinated implementation plan will reduce risk and increase.

Your Input

Do you have any examples of good strategy that failed due to a lack of execution capability or lack of coordination of the support departments?

To download this article, click here.


Paul Henderson


Author of –

‘The Chief Capability Officer – Delivering the Capability to Execute’

‘Generation 3 Engagement – Customer Success for IT Vendors and IT Departments’ – to be published late 2017.