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Executives today are enamored of innovation. Many believe that the only way to improve their company’s performance is by producing a steady stream of new products and services, identifying customers’ “pain points” and “jobs to be done” and then fulfilling unmet needs. Apple, with its iMac, iPod, iTunes, iPhone, and iPad, is the poster child for this approach done right. Innovation is clearly essential if companies are to prosper in the long run. But they must also perform day-to-day. And there, effective implementation is the name of the game. Companies have to be able to deliver on their promises.
Yet countless conversations with executives—as well as dozens of case studies author David Garvin has written on firms in industries as diverse as automobiles, electronics, health care, retailing, and software—lead to the same dispiriting conclusion: Many companies flounder when it comes to executing their plans. They are unable to meet financial and operational targets; unable to roll out carefully constructed marketing, manufacturing, and sales programs; and unable to launch IT systems in a timely, cost-effective manner. In short, they can’t get the job done.