Skill 5. Execution (Production thinking).
The next great type of foresight thinking is concerned exclusively with production and action. This skill shares the title with strategy as the central foresight skill, as without execution, strategy is lame, and without strategy, execution is blind. Execution is focused on workflow and empowering and motivating the production 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 workflow management techniques for maximizing adaptive execution. We discuss scrum at several points in this Guide. Scrum’s cyclic structure works elegantly with the Do loop, and we recommend using and integrating both as core practice skills for effective managers. Bossidy and Charan’s Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done (2011), is another good resource for improving this core professional skill.
For organizations, a key execution function is Product/ Service/ 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 good management professional association, like the American Management Association, addresses all of these subjects, and offers training and support in execution skills. But there are also differences to Product, Service and Project management, and specialty training is available in each.
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.
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).
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.