Everyone pulling the cart in the same direction is more valuable than having the best product ideas

By Jim Grey (about)

I’m sure it’s happened to you, maybe even where you work now: you wonder why in the heck you’re building a particular feature. It seems to you, and maybe to others you work with, that the company’s time and money would more profitably be spent building a different feature.

You might be right. I hope your company gives good avenues for providing that kind of feedback. But if it doesn’t, or if it does but your appeals failed, then get on with making your assigned features real.

That’s where strong execution begins — when the dust settles, even if you don’t fully agree, you get busy working the plan.

It’s obviously best when your company has brilliant ideas that you then execute strongly. But if you bring strong execution to even mediocre ideas, success usually follows. It’s a great overlooked secret: there is no substitute for everyone pulling the cart hard in the same direction.

Horses and buggies

Companies with brilliant ideas but poor execution fail. Or so, at least, it has gone at the companies for which I have worked. I was once in a startup with an idea that I thought was brilliant. But there was so much infighting inside that company that neither sales nor engineering could build a strong execution rhythm. That company is still limping along but to my mind its product never reached its potential.

If your company uses agile processes, you’ve hopefully broken your work down into small enough chunks that even if you choose a wrong feature to build, you won’t pull the cart in the wrong direction for too long. You’ll deliver a little software, see how the market responds, adjust your direction as needed, and repeat (and repeat, and repeat). Ideally, this system self-corrects.

By all means, if you disagree with the features you’re assigned to build, provide that feedback using whatever mechanisms your company offers. But after the plan is set, execute it as strongly as you can.

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7 thoughts on “Everyone pulling the cart in the same direction is more valuable than having the best product ideas

  1. Indeed! I’ve seen a co-worker literally ruin a career many years ago by not following this advice and flat-out refusing to do what management had proposed.

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  2. I often find myself in this situation and have come up with a three-step plan that works every time:
    1) Raise your concerns.
    2) If your concerns go unheeded, remember who signs your paycheck and carry on.
    3) Repeat Step 1 as necessary.
    It means that sometimes I don’t fully believe in what I’m doing, but that’s OK. It’s good practice for when a really great project comes along.

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    1. There comes a point, after your concerns are unheeded often enough, where you need to decide whether your job is a fit for you. I think a company owes its employees an explanation of the decisions made, and a description of the wider business context in which they live. Fewer than half of the companies I’ve worked for ever did this.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Excellent point, Jim — it would be easier if companies (or bosses) could at least articulate the “why.” It’s a pity I must agree with you that this is the exception, rather than the rule. Sigh.

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