Book It and Ship It

Planning is essential but success comes from the implementation of your ideas. “Book It and Ship It.” Make a decision and manage the consequences.

One of the biggest challenges of leadership is moving ideas to action — implemen- tation. I saw this when I had the opportunity to serve on the Board of The Nature Conservancy (TNC). I saw that a disproportionate amount of time was spent strategizing and reorganizing. In the process, I became known for using the phrase “book it and ship it.”

Success is 90% Implementation

In the manufacturing business, “book it and ship it” means, “we’re finished building this. Let’s move on.” It’s a plea to get on to execution. I used it at TNC as a way of saying, “No more dithering. We’ve done our best here; now let’s put the decision in motion and see what happens.” If problems develop, you manage them. But kicking the can down the road over and over just saps energy. While time should be spent on organizing, strategizing, and planning, success comes from the implementation of ideas. Going from planning to doing requires courage and involves risk.

My experience is that you have to cultivate the habit of making timely decisions. You must conduct your due diligence and then trust your instincts. Making good decisions, timed right, is a significant challenge for any organization. Organizations in motion can alter course much faster than those that are stuck in one place. Decisions create momentum.

At Applied Materials, we used to envision ourselves standing on a cliff. One of three things could happen:

  1. You give a correct answer to the question, and you stay on the cliff.
  2. The wrong answer — you’re pushed off.
  3. No answer — you’re also pushed off !

This scenario helps sharpen the mind. Within someone’s area of responsibility, most people will give the right answer most of the time. They just need to decide. Then the team can move forward with whatever is necessary to do “the whole job” —complete the project, hire the person, or secure the donation.

Implementation is in part an attitude: Just do it. That perspective shows a bias toward action and thoughtful completion. Success is only 10 percent strategy. It’s 90 percent implementation.

The Cost of Perfect Information

Voltaire said, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” That’s sound advice. Time is wasted and opportunities are lost when people become fixated on having perfect information, rather than appreciating that there will never be enough information, nor will there be perfect decisions. That does not mean you agree to pursue long shots or ignore troubling data just to make sure you do something. You always want solid information, whether it’s about your client’s demographics, your program outputs and outcomes, or your nonprofit’s financial condition.

But often people neglect to establish benchmarks and contingency plans and to do an honest assessment of whether the plan is working as the organization reaches (or doesn’t reach) those key milestones. There will always be unexpected twists that can sabotage the best-laid plans, so having a Plan B at the ready is a sound practice. Once in motion, be prepared to adjust and recalibrate to ensure success.

At Applied Materials, we developed some ways of talking about this that empowered our people to keep moving forward at all times, even when it was difficult to predict what the competition would do, or where the economy might go, or whether we could meet an ambitious goal. Given the choice between waiting for complete information and riding momentum, I will take momentum every time.

Clear and proper communication by leadership is the first step in transitioning from decision-making to implementation. Make sure that people are clear on what the big decisions are and the rationale for them — even put them in writing to avoid misinterpretation. Be inclusive by disseminating them to the entire organization. The goal is to have your team gain a greater understanding of each decision, how it was made and by whom, thereby reducing your implementation risk.

Leading a nonprofit demands passion, perseverance, the ability to make decisions and communicate them, and to manage the consequences. When all is said and done, you don’t want to be on the side of more was said than done. “Book it and ship it!”

Conversation Starters

1. How much time do you spend focused on your team’s implementation work versus their strategy development? How do you promote the need to move ideas and action plans forward?

2. How comfortable are you with not having perfect information when making decisions? How does that impact your ability to take risks?

1. What slows down or blocks your ability to make decisions?

2. How do you manage the consequences of decisions that have been made, monitoring them once in action? How do you assess whether course corrections are needed?

1. What processes and systems are in place to monitor the implementation of the board’s earlier decisions and actions?

2. What is your tolerance for not having “perfect information” to inform the board’s decision-making?

1. How do you go about assessing whether a nonprofit is successfully implementing its strategic plan? What additional tools or information can you use?

2. What specific types of information do you value and reference when considering where to make a donation or to volunteer your time?

1. When considering grant requests, what emphasis do you put on a nonprofit’s projected plan versus its implementation of past plans?

2. How does the quest for perfect information impede your ability to work efficiently with grantees? How can you control risk without perfect information?

Cultivating Culture - bad new is good news - Develop Court Sense - Prioritize and Focus - Who Owns the Monkey

Chapter Toolkit

Book It and Ship It

Related Blog Posts

Tone at the Top

In this month’s newsletter I want to continue to share some of my thoughts about culture, and the importance of a strong organizational culture in difficult times, whether that organization is a nonprofit, a business or an entire nation. I generally prefer to steer away from politics in this newsletter, but I now find it

Read More »

Bad News is Good News

I planned that my first newsletter for 2021 would start on a strong positive note. But the events of the last few weeks, capped by the US Capitol incursion, make it challenging to put a bright face on the new year picture. But those who know me, and whom I’ve worked with over the years,

Read More »

Contact Us

Book It and Ship It

In the manufacturing business, “Book it and ship it” can simply mean, “We’ve finished building this. Let’s fill the orders and move on.”

But I’ve also used the expression more broadly as a way of saying, “No more dithering. We’ve done our best here; now let’s put the decision in motion and see what happens.” If problems develop, you manage them. But kicking the can down the road over and over just saps energy. Success comes from the implementation of ideas. Time must be spent on organizing, strategizing, and planning, but then you need to complete the project, release the product, hire the person, or get the donation.

Success is 10% planning, and 90% implementation.

The Cost of Perfect Information

Voltaire said, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” That’s sound advice. Time is wasted and opportunities are lost when people become fixated on having perfect information rather than trusting their instincts, making decisions, and then managing the consequences. Organizations in motion can alter course much faster than they can go from zero to 60. Decisions create momentum.

That does not mean you agree to pursue long shots or ignore troubling data just to make sure you do something. You always want good information. And you want extremely good information when you are calculating a moon shot or planning brain surgery. But the cost of perfect information is too high for most decisions. Too many people agonize for too long making decisions and then they don’t pay enough attention to managing the outcome. They neglect to establish contingency plans and milestones and then do an honest assessment of whether the plan is working as the organization reaches (or doesn’t reach) those milestones. Once in motion, they often neglect the course corrections necessary for success.

More complex decisions require a staged process. Gather a few people with the best perspective to frame the decision needed. Assign for appropriate analysis and recommendation. Get used to not having perfect information to make a decision. Of course the decision is important, but more important is how you manage next steps. Establish a written set of milestones to assess each decision and how you are managing the consequences of the decision over time.

Stay on the Cliff

At Applied Materials, we used to envision ourselves standing on a cliff. One of three things can happen:

1) You give a correct answer to the question and you stay on the cliff.

2) Wrong answer, you’re pushed off.

3) No answer, you’re also pushed off!

This scenario sharpens the mind. Within their area of responsibility, most people will give the right answer most of the time. You just need to decide to decide.

Making Decisions at The Nature Conservancy

We accomplished a lot during the time I served on the board of The Nature Conservancy (TNC). With a mission “to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends,” it’s the largest U.S. nonprofit focused on the environment. However, a disproportionate amount of time was spent reorganizing and strategizing. I became somewhat famous in TNC for using this phrase, “book it and ship it.”

Making good decisions, timed right, is a challenge for all groups. My experience says that you just have to cultivate the habit of making timely decisions and then effectively communicate them.

I often think of the quotation, “When all was said and done, more was said than done.” Enough discussion: let’s book it and ship it!

To your success,

Jim Morgan

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top
small_c_popup.png

Get Access

Learn how we help Nonprofit Leaders