Whilst we work with our clients on strategic planning and execution, we’ve found that some of the best lessons we’ve learnt have inevitably come from our experiences of implementing strategy for our own company.
In this article, I just wanted to share some recent experiences of deploying a key project in our company and some of the valuable lessons that we learnt from the process.
Strategy Execution: a big challenge
In a nutshell – our main takeaway was that planning and communication were very easy and fun, but execution was the challenge that really made us dig deep…
We are a small organisation; we select our projects carefully and each of them is key to our success. This particular project was launching the second version of our flagship product, Cascade. We decided to rewrite the entire code base to do so. We threw thousands of lines of code into the bin, along with a product that had reached a relative maturity after one year of development and use.
The key deliverables of the project were:
- A redesigned core product with a greater ability to scale
- All business features revisited and improved
- Faster development capability for new features
- A better user experience
In short, this second version would allow us to grow our business globally at a rapid pace as well as solving many of the issues identified by clients with the current version.
The risks of the project were evident from the very start. If you google “startup code rewrite“, the message is clear – suicide.
Luckily for us, we managed to avoid this fate. To better understand what we went through, let me describe the 3 most decisive actions from the project that all happened during execution:
1) Controlling the main threat
We quickly identified one threat which had the capability to instantly doom the project: the number of clients still signing on version 1 while we were developing version 2.
The process of migrating clients from version 1 to 2 was slow and difficult – with each passing day, our migration workload was increasing – which could have resulted in an almost endless stream of work. Each client still signing on our first version was not only demoralizing, but also provided another temptation to cancel the project.
We adopted a radical solution: signing every client on our new version, even though it was still in a beta stage. It was scary – and at times a little bit painful as they would hit bugs or other unfinished aspects – but the problem was contained. We had a legacy system, but its number of users stabilised at a manageable figure. We almost certainly missed out on some sales from clients that tried version 2 but found it too buggy at the time – but overall we think it was a price worth paying.
2) Sticking to the plan
Not surprisingly, the project took much longer than anticipated. In fact, twice as long. Because feature development was frozen on version 1, we were losing our competitiveness in the marketplace. Doubts began emerging; we already have a product with clients, why are we taking such a big risk?…
But this was certainly not the right time to challenge the initial plan. We had discussed and hesitated long enough to embark on this journey, and the benefits had been clearly defined for the long term. Questioning them was more about trying to find an excuse to abandon ship. Despite feeling conflicted , we sat on our losses and stuck to the plan. We’re glad that we did.
Execution cannot happen without the right people on board to steer the ship. People’s skills were key, and their tenacity kept the project moving forward. My own role was to constantly guide our boat towards its aim, as there were many diversions that could have capsized us.
Despite the countless worries and doubts in my mind – it was my role as the leader of the project to remain positive and firm in our direction. Anytime that I wavered, even for a moment, I could instantly see the cascading effect this had upon others in the team. Thankfully I was able for the most part to confine these moments of doubt to frank discussions with my fellow cofounder – rather than have them in front of the team.
Making intelligent plans is all well and good – but the true quality of a team will only ever shine through when it comes down to execution.
There is no such thing as a ‘perfect execution‘. The best and the brightest among us will only ever come close. If you reflect on your own personal experiences – who were considered the most valuable assets in your previous or current organisation? Not those who were the smartest, nor the most charismatic – but those who actually got things done.
Want to learn more about strategy execution? Read our strategy tips successfully execute a strategy: this article will teach you what the journey of a successful execution needs to look like to ensure the success of your strategy.