What We Can Learn From the Thai Cave Rescue: Part 1 - How to Execute Strategy Successfully

As I started writing this post, finally putting a weeks' worth of thoughts on "paper", I realized there is no possible way that I adequately discuss all that was on my mind in just one post.

Part 1 of this 3-part series is focused more on the process and how the rescue team was able to execute strategy seemingly without flaw, rather than what you might expect to hear from me about - the leadership of the coach (not to worry, that part is coming).

As many of you know, my background is in project management, which is often misunderstood and the value is underestimated. So let's take a look at the rescue effort through the lens of a project.

I don't know about you, but when the boys were found on day 9 and day 11 came along with no rescue effort underway, my thoughts were , "JUST GET THEM OUT ALREADY!" It was so hard to understand how it could be taking so long to formulate this evacuation plan. However, as the evacuation unfolded, we started to see a small glimpse of the complexity of the effort, the obstacles that had to be overcome, and the massive risk that was involved.

Let's think about it. If the Prime Minister would have given the direction to get them out of the cave by day 11, it likely would not have been successful. If the Navy Seals had created the plan without including doctors, and many other subject matter experts, it likely would not have been successful. If a rope had not been planted along the 2.5 mile trek, with care and precision, it likely would not have been successful. If details, such as wearing multiple wet suits and keeping their eyes covered as they make the transition from dark to light, had not been considered, it likely would not have been successful. And there are probably a dozen more "ifs" that could be added to this list that we are completely unaware of.

Those "ifs" were planned for because a leader put the best interest of those boys first, engaged all of the right people, at the right time, urgently but carefully put a plan in place, considered and mitigated all risks, tested the plan, and executed flawlessly.

It was also wildly successful because a team of people came together, bonded by one common goal - to rescue the boys. I don't know for sure, but there was likely no promises of bonuses if they did the job well. There was likely no fear of losing their job if they didn't succeed. There were no silos, with the team of doctors working towards one goal and the Navy Seals working towards another.

Simon Sinek, in his book Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don't, that why he is referring to is trust. Not the trust that the person next to you is capable of doing their job, but that DEEP, emotional trust between people that makes us selflessly sacrifice for the good of others, because we know without a shadow of a doubt they would do the same for us. This team was not only bonded by one common goal, but also by deep trust for one another. A group of people that had to be 100% outwardly focused on others, eliminating any and all pride, ego, and self in order to be successful.

One of the most common questions or complaints about project management methodologies that I receive is this: Don't you spend more time planning than actually doing the work? Wouldn't it be more valuable to spend time and resources just doing it?

The answer to this is NO. When done properl