How Lack of Execution Capability Undermines Strategy

The vision compelled. The new company would become the world’s largest online retailer of sports apparel. The strategy shone. They would create a user experience unlike anything seen before. A virtual salesperson would help shoppers choose. The shoppers would drag and drop clothes onto virtual models to visualize the clothes. The investors flocked – putting up US$130 million. The market hungered – estimated at US$60 billion. 50,000 people visited their website on the first day. But as author Dave Chaffey (1) observed, in May 2000 Boo.com failed. Their systems could not deliver the user experience. It took too long to download and process. Shoppers gave up. Boo.com missed a key element – they did not ensure execution capability before launching their strategy.

Execution Capability

We define execution capability as “the underlying ability to execute a strategy”.

Imagine you’re a retailer. You have developed an amazing new product strategy. For the strategy to succeed, you need a global launch.



If your global reach resembles this organisation’s reach, you have an excellent chance of success. You clearly have execution capability.






If your global reach resembles this organisation’s reach, the strategy will fail. Execution capability for a global launch does not exist.



Same strategy, same product. The difference between success and failure – the degree to which execution capability exists.

When to Develop Execution Capability

For a strategy to succeed, you must have execution capability.

Execution capability development should occur after you set the strategy but before execution begins.


Imagine Olympic athletes.

Before the Olympics, the athletes develop a race strategy. They consider the start, the middle and the finish of the race. They know what they must do at each stage.

Before their race, they work on strength, fitness, technique and motivation.

They ensure they have execution capability for their race strategy before the race starts.




Developing the capability does not guarantee a win.

Not developing the capability guarantees a loss.





The same is true of organisations. The executive team develops a strategy.

Before launching the strategy, execution capability must be in place.





Developing the capability does not guarantee success.

Not developing execution capability guarantees failure.




Execution capability must exist before executing a strategy. Launching a strategy and hoping execution capability can be developed increases risk substantially. It’s like performing aircraft maintenance while in flight. In theory, it might be possible, but why would you take the risk?

The First Step is to Analyse Execution Capability

To launch a new strategy or initiative, the organisation needs new execution capability. While this may sound self-evident, it cannot be ignored.

You need an analysis to avoid the two most common challenges.

  1. Developing execution capability takes longer than expected. This challenge presents so often, it almost counts as business-as-usual. Projects always seem to take longer than expected.


An analysis will highlight gaps in current execution    capability for a strategy. You can assess the degree of difficulty in plugging the gaps.

You may not identify every potential obstacle, but you  will identify those you should have known about. And have a chance to do something about them.


2. Developing execution capability takes longer than expected. This challenge presents so often, it                         almost counts as business-as-usual. Projects always seem to take longer than expected.


An analysis will identify the gaps and their degree of difficulty. You can assess the likely implementation time for each gap.

Again, the analysis will help avoid delays you should have known about.

If you don’t analyse execution capability and implementation proves harder or takes longer than expected, a good strategy can fail or underperform.




Of course, strategies struggle all the time. But conducting an analysis reduces risk of a strategy struggling or failing.





Launching new strategies carries risk. Launching strategy without underlying execution capability causes risk to soar.

Conducting an execution capability review before launch minimises risk.

Execution Capability – a must for successful strategies.


Your Input

Do you have any examples of good strategy that failed due to a lack of execution capability?


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Paul Henderson

Coordinated Capability


Author of

‘The Chief Capability Officer – Delivering the Capability to Execute’

‘Outcome Your Customers’ to be published Sep 2017




  • Dave Chaffey – “Boo.com case study – a classic example of failed ecommerce strategy”

June 19, 2014; SmartInsights.com