Based in Salt Lake city, Utah, JustStartGo is a blog by Drew Little. His posts explore business and productivity concepts that lead to a better, more balanced and profitable life. More about Drew.

Mastering the 3 Stages of Execution Will Take Your Big Idea to the Top

Mastering the 3 Stages of Execution Will Take Your Big Idea to the Top

Apply this specific process to get stuff done and watch your business boom.  

So, you’ve got a big idea -- something you’re certain will change the world and make you a lot of money. Well, so did Elizabeth Holmes at Theranos. Aside from having some serious psychological issues, Elizabeth lacked one essential element in running her business: execution. 

Getting stuff done is the key to success, not “big ideas.” Almost all company success stories are execution stories, not idea stories. Ideas are cheap and pervasive. Most people consider Apple an innovator or “idea” company -- that’s not exactly accurate. They surely innovate, but it's their incredibly high level of execution that has made them the most valuable company in the world.  

Apple and Tesla: Execution, not innovation, got them to the top.

Even before Apple shipped the first iPhone in 2007, a robust mobile market with dozens of great phones already existed. The iPhone might have been a marvel of technology, but its success had more to do with Apple’s great execution of design, quality manufacturing, and supply chain management. 

And how about electric cars? Telsa was not the first on the market. Robert Anderson designed the first electric car in 1832, and since then, many electric car companies have attempted to mainstream their success. But only Elon Musk and Telsa executed on the delivery of a mass-produced car that everyone wanted. Elon said recently in the launch of the Tesla Y: “It’s 100 times harder figuring out how to make 1,000’s of cars than inventing the car.”

Look for people who get stuff done effectively and often.

One of my best friends started and ran a billion-dollar private equity company that buys and sells companies. When I asked him how he chooses what companies to buy, he answered emphatically and simply, “I find companies with management teams that get s**t done.” I asked him about other characteristics, but he said, “Nope, that’s it, just whether they get s**t done.”

If an individual or a team consistently gets things done and overall has a high rate of productivity, you can assume they have a long list of traits required to pull it off. They must be hard working, good with people, innovative, bold, organized, and very focused. These are exactly the traits we all want in employees and co-workers.

The reality is, there is only a small group of people that really get things done in volume and efficiency. Find these people -- and much of the rest of the execution process works itself out.

The 3 stages of execution

The stages are progressively harder, and the number of people able and willing to do each phase decreases dramatically.  

  1. Brainstorming stage

  2. The 80% stage

  3. The finishing stage  

Success is only achieved when all three are done effectively, frequently and completely. But unfortunately, often times teams and individuals get stuck and spend too much time on the first two.

The brainstorming stage:  Everyone enjoys and is willing to participate in the brainstorming stage. It’s fun and creative but more importantly, doesn’t require accountability and hard work.  It’s mostly an off-the-cuff discussion between a group about a subject.  

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The 80% stage: During this stage, people are required to execute the plan and move toward finishing a project, product, or event. This stage is harder than stage one, requires daily work, some accountability for deadlines and delivery. It also requires a high level of team communication and focus.

The Finishing Stage:  Although phase one and phase two are important, the money is in completing and releasing the project or product. Think about the difference in the value of a product that is 80% done versus 100% done -- it’s not even close. Stage 3 is the most intense, has the strictest deadlines, requires the highest level of focus, requires deep compromise, and can literally make or end someone's career. Only the boldest, most decisive and risk-taking individuals can push this stage through. 

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How to use the 3 stages of execution to get more done

  • Limit the time and energy spent on stage 1 and 2. 

  • When in stage 3, be bold. It helps to outline the worst-case scenario for making decisions. This helps you realize that the possibilities are usually not as bad as you thought.

  • Create hiring practices that focus on vetting people with a focus on a history of execution. For example, ask: “Can you give me an example of how you got something done when the team was struggling and a deadline was looming?” 

  • When in stage 3, stick to deadlines, prepare for a higher level of intensity and, most importantly, compromise the original vision so only the most important features or things remain.

Just recognizing these three stages will help. Defining and communicating the stages of a project up front and tracking which phase you’re in will increase project completion effectiveness. The leaders and team members will know that nothing is done until phase 3 is completed by a deadline.  

Games are won in the last quarter, races in the last mile and wars in the final battles. These are the times to suck it up and give it your all. If you understand the three stages of execution and commit to completing Stage 3, you’ll join that small group of incredible individuals that turned their big ideas into extraordinarily successful companies and great wealth.

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