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?


  1. Adrian,

    Your comments about ability to execute is like a breath of fresh air. We are all guilty of getting “stars in our eyes” often times when presented with the latest and greatest technology. However, real productivity and improvements are driven by execution. Keep up the great work!

    John Sidell

  2. You have to do both. Many of the items mentioned, were solved in the 80s and 90s, so focusing just on them now will clearly make you the best performing laggard in your market. Logistics is changing too rapidly to ignore new business models or technology. Everyone has limited resources, so the key is to strike a balance.

  3. I love the subject of your post. Short, sweet and to the point.

    Way too often in my warehouse visits I see teams that are looking for some ‘Silver Bullet” that will fix everything. RFID, Voice Picking, a new WMS, etc., etc.. Yes, new technology can help, sometimes. But sometimes it just lets us do the wrong thing faster. Innovation is great, but don’t get ahead of your ability to execute.

    As professionals we need to focus on understanding what our company and customers need, and how to meet those needs by doing our jobs better, TODAY.

  4. I believe that true innovation can never be overhyped, only the word as it has already happened to many words such as: unique, revolutionary, game changer. These words are not what they used to be any more although a product or service still can be “not usual” and “new” and change our life.

  5. Just because there’s less talk about the carrier pricing subject today—and just because there’s no ICC looking over the shoulders of carriers, 3PL’s and shippers as they discuss rates—don’t assume that knowledge of rates and a competency in rate management is no longer important. In fact, it’s as critical today as it ever was. Put another way, it’s the core competency of the modern logistics professional.

    Rate-comparison software and other routing and modeling programs available today sometimes make us lose sight of that maxim, it’s the basic blocking and tackling that gets the job done. The ability to understand, negotiate, and manage the rate process is about as fundamental as it gets. Logistics professionals who understand this and develop that capability as a core competency put themselves and their companies squarely on the road to success.

    The first rule of technology is to understand that it cannot fix broken processes but, rather, it should be applied to improve already good distribution operations. Don’t start with technology in your improvement project, but rather finish with it to optimize distribution performance. The already developed order, carrier selection, inventory and performance data will be used to assist in determining the right technology to deliver the desired results.

    There is no shortage of technology-related options for today’s logistics professional. Technology can be automation related, software related or a combination of both. When correctly applied and utilized, technology can deliver significant benefits with the understanding of the carriers cost to serve.

  6. I really enjoyed and totally agree with your viewpoint on “Forget Innovation, Just Execute Better.”

    Having best-in-class standardized work with predictable and repeatable results is key to customer satisfaction. Add to that a relentless focus on the elimination of waste and drive for continuous improvement.

    Together, these strategic initiatives will drive long term customer and share holder supply chain value.

    After all, execution is everything.

  7. I really like Hank’s comments. The only change I would make to the title of this topic is the word “Forget”.

    Innovation is a key role to long term success but properly develop standards and proper execution of those standards is required as a foundation build innovation on.

    Without proper execution you have no foundation to build on. Without innovation you will remain at the foundation level.

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