Systematic Actions Sustained Over Time

13 June 2013

I have a recycling list for books — books with ideas worth re-reading and re-learning every so often. Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan’s Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done [1] has been on that list for about a decade. Recently, I read it for the third time. It just keeps getting better.

Bossidy and Charan remind us that execution (“zoomed-in” [2] management), rather than strategy (“zoomed-out” management), is the primary constraint to business success. They teach that business results follow from the “consistent practice of the discipline of execution: understanding how to link together people, strategy and operations, the three core processes of every business”.

“Consistent practice of the discipline of execution” reminds me of the military. It also reminds me of aviation. Businesses can learn from both.  …C.H.

Here is a post from last summer on the discipline of flying:


Flying Lessons

From: 9 August 2012

I’m told that Harrison Ford pilots his own airplane, and that he does so because he enjoys the discipline. I find this easy to believe.

Cessna - DreamstimeSome years ago, I was working in an area where it was useful to be able to fly in and out. Coincidentally and conveniently, I had access to small aircraft and to pilot training. So, I became a private pilot. In doing so, I came to enjoy the sense of freedom and exhilaration that is flying; and I learned to respect the flying community’s disciplined culture. That culture makes flying a practical reality. Here are some examples:

Flight preparations
: One does not hop into an airplane, turn the key and head out for the wild blue. Instead, routes are charted, weather reports checked, fuel requirements calculated and aircraft weight / balance confirmed. Then the pilot conducts a walk-around inspection of the aircraft, using a check list. The aircraft doesn’t fly until the check lists have been completed.

: Rigorous programmed maintenance is mandatory, even for small, private aircraft. Maintenance is performed by specially trained and certified mechanics. Maintenance logs are kept rigorously.


Being current: A pilot’s license to fly at any given time is subject to a number of requirements, including time since a medical examination (by an authorized flight surgeon), weather conditions, time since last flight, at least 24 hours since consumption of any alcohol, and so on.

The pay-off
: The disciplined approach works. Consider these U.S. statistics for 2010 [3]:

  • Commercial Airlines – zero fatalities, never mind flying six or seven miles above the ground at 500 miles an hour, 24 hours a day, in all but the worst weather.

  • General Aviation [4] – 453 fatalities.

  • Automobiles – 32,885 fatalities.

Lessons for Manufacturers

Sustainable manufacturers — those that seriously intend to thrive in perpetuity [5] — deliver the right products, on time, every time; while respecting the natural world, exploiting nobody and earning a profit by doing so. A culture of discipline — of Systematic Actions, Sustained Over Time — is an integral aspect of that.

Here are some useful take-aways from aviation:

Nested walk-arounds
: Check list walk-around inspections work in manufacturing, as well as in aviation. My personal favorite is nested walk-arounds, where operators inspect the equipment they use; supervisors inspect the equipment within their purview, while also talking with the operators within their area; superintendents walk the floor and confirm with supervisors and with operators; and so on up to and including the plant manager. Each with their own check list.

Programmed maintenance
: To beg the obvious, the condition of the equipment is essential to delivering the right products, on time, every time. Programmed maintenance works for aircraft, where in-flight equipment malfunctions can be quite inconvenient. It works in manufacturing, and it reduces costs by doing so. Incidentally, aircraft maintenance relies rather heavily on remanufactured components.

Continuous training
: In the continuing quest for innovation and competitive advantage, manufacturing equipment and manufacturing methods are in a state of almost constant flux. The people involved need the on-going training necessary to take advantage of advancing methods and increasingly sophisticated equipment. Constructing and executing effective training programs is not a simple matter — give training a lot of thought at the highest levels in the organization.

A disciplined approach works in aviation. A disciplined approach also works in hospital operating rooms and in the Navy’s nuclear submarine fleet. Systematic Actions, Sustained Over Time: It works.


Thoughtful comments and experience reports are always appreciated.

…  Chuck Harrington (

: Contact me when your organization is serious about pursuing Sustainability … CH

This blog and associated website
( are intended as a resource for smaller manufacturers in the pursuit of Sustainability. While editorial focus is on smaller manufacturers, all interested readers are welcome. New blog posts are published on Wednesday evenings.

Photo: Dreamstime,

Bossidy, L. and Charan, R. Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done, Crown Publishing, New York (2002)


[2] “Zooming in” and “zooming out” — focus and context — come up often in posts to this blog. For more on this, see:


[3] Official fatality statistics for 2010 are the latest I could find. I doubt that the 2011 figures are much different, since annual figures don’t usually change quickly, year to year.


[4] General aviation consists of two primary components: business aircraft and personal use aircraft. The business sector, generally speaking, employs professional pilots. Personal use means personal use.


[5] Werbach, Adam, Strategy for Sustainability, Harvard Business Press, Boston (2009), page 9