This week saw three large events that were important to their respective companies: IE9 started the release candidate cycle, HP announced its answer to the iPad and Apple started manufacturing its second-generation iPad. Apple is the company that can do no wrong at the moment and it consistently demonstrates a level of execution that other firms just don't seem to be able to understand. Case in point is the HP TouchPad that fell short of expectations. However, Microsoft, which has been under pressure for being unable to compete with the iPad or iPhone effectively, is firing on all cylinders with IE9. It shows that the company can still knock one out of the park.
Let's talk about the importance of execution.
The 90 Percent Effort
Often, particularly in large companies, you get the sense that executives are managing expectations more effectively than they are managing competition. For instance, HP has racked up a rather impressive list of failed products in the last decade, which includes several smartphone lines, PDAs, media servers, media centers, cameras, TVs, GPS systems and set top boxes. In fact, in consumer electronics, there are few companies that have a more impressive list of failures. That is, unless you think of Microsoft, which was part of the media center, media server, smartphone, GPS, and PDA failures that HP had, and also missed the mark on Origami, Plays for Sure, Zune, media extenders, portable media centers, tablet PCs and Windows Vista.
To me, this is like watching a race where many of the racers seem to think the finish line is where they want it to be rather than where it is and they stop running before the real finish line is crossed. I call it the "90 percent problem" because it feels like, for some reason, they think that doing 90 percent of the job is good enough, which it never is.
TouchPad a Case in Point
The bar for the HP TouchPad is high. It needed a number of things to avoid the fate of the Samsung Galaxy, which was the best tablet that wasn't an iPad last year. Unfortunately, second best was only worth about 250,000 units sold and the HP is trending for a similar fate.
The irony for me is that Palm, which was the basis for this product, was the only company with a product-Palm Pilot-similar to the iPod, iPhone and iPad. It was the only firm I'd seen do an Apple-like launch perfectly. Had it also had the Pre in the market after the launch it would have sold millions. But HP clearly didn't execute it well.
The TouchPad event was long-winded and seemed more about patting HP on the back than launching a product. The name of the product is a common name that will be hard to defend and easy to mix up, and the effort seems incomplete in a number of areas. There is no doubt in my mind that this will fail unless HP significantly improves its efforts.
HP's new executive management and board clearly have some work ahead of them at least with this effort.
IE9: Counter Point
On the other hand, the much smaller IE9 beta launch and RC announcement events were vastly better executed. The latest IE event was solidly focused on product and developers and, in my view, remains one of the best executed efforts this decade in line with Xbox Kinect, which easily trumped Sony and Nintendo in the gaming space.
IE9 is faster, more secure and more location-aware than any other browser currently in the market and it sports sharp improvements in usability. Individuals will love it for its convenience and blinding speed and IT will love it because it better addresses a number of security threats that are increasingly plaguing the Web.
But most of all, IE9 showcases a team that isn't managing expectations, it is playing to win and blowing away expectations. IE9 is execution at Apple's level and if the company can up its game to this level in other areas-and I think you could argue it did with Windows 7- it could do some amazing things.
Wrapping Up: Execution Rules
There is a sickness in most companies that I think is based on a practice of setting low expectations so that bonuses are achievable. That is the only way I can reconcile the lack of executive change in so many areas that have been generating failure after failure.
If you have a vendor that is constantly disappointing you or if you are in a company that constantly disappoints, you might want to focus on the goal and the incentive programs tied to them as the core of the problem. If you can't fix either, you may want to consider moving to a vendor or company that is better equipped to be successful. You'll be better off if you do.