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 properly, the planning does exactly what it did in the case of the Thai cave rescue. It increases the chance of success and it decreases the risks that lead to failure. As a leader, you don't have to understand the intricacies of project management to understand the value that it can bring to your team and organization. It can be simply be viewed as a road map to a thought process that leads to more successful outcomes.

Now, many of us do not go to work everyday and have this significant level of risk at stake in the decisions that we make. But why would we treat it with any less care if it means it will add value and help our organization be successful?

In working with teams and organizations for over 20 years, I find consistent factors limiting success. I will elaborate on all of them in future emails, but this touches on one of those: inability to execute strategy effectively. Research tells us that over 50% of organizations fail to execute their planned strategy. So either the way we create the strategy is flawed, or the way we execute it is flawed.

Projects are the tactical method of executing strategy. Project management is an industry proven way to effectively manage those projects. It guides us through the thought process to determine who will be impacted by the project, what type of communication is necessary, how long is this going to take, how much will it cost, what are my risks, what can I do to mitigate those risks, how can I ensure what we are executing will ultimately meet the expected outcomes that will benefit the organization and align with the strategy....and asking all of these questions (and many more) ultimately increases your chances of successfully executing your strategy.

In my opinion, every company - from a solo-preneur to a large, complex organization - needs SOME form of project management. It doesn't have to be crazy formal, or add cost to your bottom line, but in order to move forward and stay ahead in the ever-changing business world - if you're not effectively executing on your planned strategy, then you aren't maximizing the results that your team, company, or organization is capable of achieving.

We could all take a lesson or two from the careful execution of the Thailand cave rescue mission...and lead our "missions" as if there were 13 lives at stake.

Stay tuned for Part 2: A lesson in leadership from the coach.

Until next time,


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