Skill 5. Execution (Production thinking).
The next great type of foresight thinking is concerned exclusively with production and action. As we’ve said, this skill shares the title with strategy as the central foresight skill, because without execution, strategy is lame, and without strategy, execution is blind.
We have assigned the Management & Leadership specialties to the execution skill, as we think all foresight students need to understand good practice in both of these, and use them in their work. But as we’ve said these two are also meta-specialties, like foresight itself, and we’ll address them as such through out the guide.
For organizations, a key execution specialties are Product, Service, and Project Management, a broad set of activities that can include operations, engineering, sourcing, logistics, IT platforms, knowledge management, and anything else necessary to production. A a great management professional association is the American Management Association (AMA), which addresses all of these subjects, and offers training and support in execution skills.
But there are also specialty practitioner communities for product, service and project management that a good foresight practitioner should be aware of and consider joining as appropriate. For Product Management, the Product Development and Management Association has 3,500 members and offers a very simple New Product Development Professional certification. For Service Management there are a few similar emerging professional associations. IBM has proposed a curriculum in IT-aided service science, management, and engineering (SSME), but the field barely exists today.
Project Management is by far the best developed of these three execution-oriented functions. A leading text is Harold Kerzner’s Project Management: A Systems Approach, 2013, now in its 11th edition. It is aligned with the Project Management Professional (PMP) Certification Exam, offered by the Project Management Institute. The institute also produces the Product Management Body of Knowledge, a dryer read than Kerzner’s text. The PMP exam costs $400 (paper version). Roughly 600,000 people have gained a PMP certification to date. Certification won’t necessarily improve your execution thinking and behaviors, but if its lessons are internalized it has a potential to do so. If it also raises your credibility in a monetizable way, and thus may be a good development strategy.
For foresight consultants, execution may revolve around production of specific foresight products or service (research, modeling, workshops, training, publications, etc.) for the client, or it may involve diagnosing and fixing execution problems with the client’s team. We’ve listed a number of good books on producing foresight work in Chapters 5 and 12 as well as in context throughout this Guide.
One final management specialty, workflow management is critical to both good foresight production on small teams, and for our clients, to empowering and motivating the team to get things done. Sutherland’s Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time (2014) is an excellent set of cyclic workflow management techniques for maximizing adaptive execution for small teams, each of which should be small enough (typically five to nine individuals) to engage in one or more daily fifteen minute “scrum” meetings. Scrum has a cyclic structure that fits elegantly with the Do loop, and we recommend that foresighters, managers, and leaders all use both systems as core practice skills with their teams and clients. We discuss scrum at several points in this Guide.
For execution in general, Stephen Covey’s First Things First (1996), is a great introduction to both strategic prioritization and to getting started with things, which for many is the hardest step with execution. It reminds us that doing more of the right things is just as important as doing the best we can. As Covey would say, our compass is as important as our clock. For prioritization and execution, recall also the journaling and task management habit mentioned in Chapter 4 (Personal Foresight). Bossidy and Charan’s Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done (2011), is another good resource for improving this core professional skill.
Endurance and focus are also key attributes of great executors. For endurance, we recommended Schwartz’s Be Excellent at Anything (2011). Cycling rapidly between execution and rest-recovery phases (high-intensity interval training) may be the very best way to build endurance for execution, both in physical exercise and mental work. For focus, we also recommend Goleman’s Focus (2013).
Another key to successful execution, covered in Bossidy and Charan’s work, is being able to reach out to experts when you run into trouble. There’s almost always someone with specialty talent who can help you when you get stuck. Finding such talent has never been easier with the modern web. Start improving your execution today, and be sure to record your best strategies in your journal, then make them a habit.