Project Management

Execution without vision is like pre-school soccer!

From the Easy in theory, difficult in practice Blog
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The quote attributed to Thomas Edison of “Vision without execution being hallucination” is one side of the coin. As Roger Martin wrote in a 2015 HBR article, execution without vision is mindless.

A good analogy I’ve used to express how tightly integrated the two need to be comes from organized sports.

Head coaches usually have the vision of taking their team to the playoffs or even winning the overall championship. The first failure occurs if that vision can’t be translated into strategies adopted by the management & coaching team including how they will get the right players, how those players will be forged into a cohesive, efficient team and which plays are likely to stymy their opponents. A subsequent failure may happen when they try to execute those initiatives. In either case, the head coach may end up looking for a new gig come the end of the season.

Pre-school soccer presents the opposite problem.

Small children have unlimited energy and lots of enthusiasm, and when they are able to make contact with the ball they can usually deliver a solid kick. Unfortunately, they possess limited attention spans, get easily distracted and require frequent gratification. Their rudimentary execution skills are good, but they are just as likely to kick the ball into their own net as they are to score on their opposition.

While most executives I know would not like the comparison to pre-schoolers, in the absence of an overall vision for a company or division, and without that vision being distilled into strategy, the compass guiding the decisions for those executives usually points to either their own ambitions or their assumptions on what is best for the organization.

Pet projects flourish within such environments.

Here are some of the warning signs which indicate your organization may be suffering from mindless execution.

  • Projects increase the level of risk to the organization without delivering commensurate value
  • Multiple projects whose goals conflict with one another
  • Decision making on transformational projects made by a single executive with little or no collaboration with other leaders
  • Significant shifts in scope driven from within, not without
  • Team members completing project work without understanding the expected benefits or desired outcomes for the project
  • Projects are never cancelled
  • The Abilene Paradox best defines your organization’s culture

My favorite expression from the Daleks of the popular television show Doctor Who, is what they’d say when their eye stalk was damaged: “My vision is impaired, I cannot see!“. This was usually followed by the Dalek in question being destroyed. If your company’s vision is impaired it might be your company that is Exterminate-d!

(Note: this article was envisioned and executed in March 2015 on my personal blog,

Posted on: September 19, 2018 06:59 AM | Permalink

Comments (14)

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Great insight Kiron! Project execution without vision will certainly create an environment of silos for which everyone seems to have their own pet projects. Thanks!

Kiron, excellent quote from Thomas Edison! I absolutely agree with you on "Execution without vision is like pre-school soccer!" Without a vision and planning, it is like shooting in the dark! Thanks for sharing!

Good insights, Kiron. Almost all of the warning signs that you've indicated here occur frequently.
Thanks for sharing.

Good points Kiron but at least in ore-school soccer kids are able to learn how to have a vision but when it comes to executing projects without vision, that might be tough to realign if someone at this level doesn’t have or create vision.

Good one, Kiron and thanks for sharing.

Thanks Brian, Pench, Girija & Anish! Agreed Rami - soccer kids can at least envision what winning through team organization might look like but getting some senior leaders to take the time to envision and articulate a compelling vision is a lot more challenging!

I agree, and maybe challenging is a lose meaning here, it is close to impossible sometimes with senior members.

Thanks Kiron. Quite thought provoking.

I'd not considered I might have been part of someone's hallucination! I guess when you're not able to influence to move back a the vision with appropriate strategy you need to consider your own (exit) strategy?

Also I hadn't come across the Abilene Paradox concept (but can think of a number of occasions where I've been in that situation). That certainly made me think about how to create a project environment where everyone is comfortable expressing alternatives or disagreeing with proposed options or directions.

Hmm, if everyone in an Abilene Paradox agrees to something as a group that no individual actually agrees with, how did they come up with the idea in the first place? ;-)

Sante, I think there's multiple reasons, but 3 that spring to mind:
- Wanting to be seen to be part of a solution
- Second guessing (incorrectly)
- Assuming people want some sort of change based on a perceived problem (incorrectly)

My take home is "don't suggest something you don't want, you might just get it" (similar to the common "be careful what you ask for, you might just get it")! :)

Good discussion on the Abilene Paradox. Three common causes I've run across are:

1. The group has made an assumption and doesn't take the time to validate it.
2. The idea or goal was originally a good idea which someone had championed, but it no longer is, and that person doesn't want to admit to that to save face, and no one else wants to challenge them to help them save face
3. The idea was never a good one to begin with but the person who proposed it is so severe and so unwilling to solicit or accept feedback that no one else decides to raise concerns


Valid points here Ashleigh and Kiron. The way I see it is if nobody in the group came up with the solution/choice that was ultimately agreed upon, then the solution/choice would not have been presented as an option to be agreed upon in the first place. Most of the other options for cases where one or few people came up with a solution/choice are so close to groupthink, that it's hard to tell the difference.

Nice pointers for us to take note and stay on track.
Thanks for sharing, Kiron.

Good & insightful article.
Thanks for sharing

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