Forget Innovation, Just Execute Better

Have we reached the point where we should just focus on executing better with the systems and processes we have than chase the next technological or process innovation?

Translation: There’s still plenty of juice to squeeze in the fruit we currently have, so why go pick more fruit when our hands are already full?

This was one of the questions a longtime friend of mine (a Senior VP of Global Logistics) raised in a recent conversation. The benefits from better execution can be as large or larger than what “the next big thing” promises — and with less risk, and perhaps less time and effort too.

Imagine if…

…you eliminated “maverick spending” and followed the routing guide?

…your drivers obeyed the speed limit and didn’t keep their trucks idling during stops?

…your store associates replenished the shelves on time, returned misplaced items to their correct locations, and scanned each item at checkout?

…your trading partners sent you data on time, accurate and complete?

…the import and export information you file with customs was always accurate, complete, and on time?

…you properly trained new employees on your systems and processes?

And the list goes on.

As an industry analyst, my focus is generally on the road ahead, on the what’s next, on the greener grass beyond the fence. It’s “innovate or die,” right?

Well, not always.

Sometimes it’s “execute or die,” as we see all the time in sports and politics, and yes, in the business world too. Would JCPenney be in better shape today, for example, if it had executed better and innovated less?

Innovation is important, but it’s also over-hyped.

So forget about offering same-day delivery if your lead time variability is all over the place today.

Don’t think about implementing in-memory business intelligence if your data quality sucks.

And if your store inventory system says a product is in stock, but you can’t find it in the back room or on the shelf, forget about giving your store associates iPads to walk around with.

If you can’t execute, then what makes you think you can innovate?