All of business development and management theory is exactly that: Theory. Success is a result of execution; of doing work and trying things out in real life. So how do we actually get things done? Here are three factors critical to getting things moving from an idea to execution:
Piloting is an important an often under-utilized approach to getting things done. Pilots are essentially (and figuratively) the construction of a scale model of the desired result that allows you to work out and address challenges before they happen on a larger scale. A pilot program is typically a smaller scale version of a larger initiative designed to prove out all of the critical aspects of the larger project. This is especially effective when there are a number of significant unknown factors or variables in a project, or a high degree of risk.
Piloting a program or work initiative typically involves setting out a framework that will structure the effort in a way that ensures the right concerns are addressed, the correct metrics are being captured and monitored for success (or course correction), and the whole effort is representative of what is likely to occur when the larger initiative is undertaken. Mistakes, issues, challenges, unknowns, and risks are all at a smaller scale with a pilot and can be managed more directly and with less significant consequences.
Good examples of pilots include launching a new product in a limited market. This would give a company the opportunity to gain feedback from real customers, but manage negative feedback on a smaller scale and isolate those issues without impacting the whole brand all at once. Another would be unveiling a new web site design or functionality to a subset of users for a limited time to see what kind of reaction the changes elicit from customers – did the new design more deeply engage users as intended, or did it miss the mark? A pilot enables you to generate that critical real-world feedback without exposing your entire company to the risk of failure. As feedback comes in you can tweak your approach and roll out those changes to help improve the full program before it launches, thereby increasing the likelihood of success.
Most projects lend themselves to piloting—very few are “do or die”. Your work is more likely to get off the ground with a pilot for a number of helpful reasons:
- The effort involved is less than that of launching a full program or initiative.
- It is an opportunity to convert any naysayers to believers when you can demonstrate small scale success which helps to remove doubts for a larger scale roll-out.
- You can response more quickly to challenges, issues, mistakes, or anomalies and make those corrections at a small scale that will benefit the larger scale effort.
- You have more opportunity for real business learning as pilots typically are not mission critical efforts with the fate of the company riding on them. This opens people up to asking meaningful questions and being more willing to tinker with things to get them just right instead of being panicked that any failure could directly impact company performance.
Jumping off from the last point of pilots, it is also important to consistently rethink what you believe you know to be true in your business and business environment. As time passes, customers evolve, tastes change, and technology leap-frogs itself. We are doing business in a constant sea of change. This often causes us to retract and work with only the factors and variables we know and feel we can trust. But, they change. Right before our eyes, whether we think they do or not.
It is important to rethink what we think that we know. This is an effort of rejuvenation by purposefully paying attention to changes and constantly learning about our business. Done consistently this will help you to move from that realm of things being easier said than done. Doing things is never easy. But, unless we take action, we will become stagnant and eventually fall to the wayside. American business is littered with the remnants of has-beens, most of whom did not rethink their work, approach, expectations, insights, etc.
Rethinking stems from a sense curiosity and a constant restlessness with the status quo. It is the source of new products, new technologies, different ways of doing business, and discovering new markets. Rethinking casts aside talking about something and embraces doing things by jumping in and testing the waters.
If you were to divide up all of the different efforts, tools, and techniques needed to drive success into a simple pie chart, the wedge for “Hard Work” should take up about 90 percent of the pie. The phrase “easier said than done” implies inaction because doing is harder than talking about it. Doing certainly is harder than talking, but by utilizing the first two factors of pilots and rethinking, it must be followed up with real work.
Work is a real and focused effort applied to produce an outcome. We are surrounded by experts and highly capable people who make things look effortless. We tend to share successes only once we have achieved success. The work necessary to make something look easy or to succeed is often hidden from view. Every major success you can think of that has impressed you, whether in business or otherwise, required practice, pilot efforts, rethinking of what was thought to be known, and consistent hard work over time.
Products you know and love, movies that excited you, even concerts, amusement park rides, and your favorite dish at your favorite restaurant, all required a consistent and focused effort over time to achieve their success. We are in an era of ultra-instant gratification and we stigmatize practice as necessary only for those without talent. This has the effect of deluding people into thinking success can come as quickly and easily as a lucky free throw shot. And if you fail on your first try then you are a failure. The phrase has been corrupted into something more like: “It’s as easy to do as it is to say.”
None of this is accurate or true. Failure is a necessary part of success, however it can be planned for, controlled, and made to work in your favor. Piloting, rethinking, and working your way to success is a not a guaranteed formula for anything, but a structured approach that can encourage you to be more thoughtful and methodical in your work and enable you to make that leap from something being easier said than done, to being done more easily than not.