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Execution is King

·4 mins·
Nuno Coração
Product Strategy Opinion innovation entrepreneurship
Nuno Coração
Principal Product Manager @ Docker
Table of Contents

“Having a plan, even a bad plan, is better than no plan at all.”

As a Product Manager, more often than not, I notice people mixing up ideas and execution in discussions. Both these concepts have entirely unique levels of fidelity to what the finished product will be. It’s important for Product Managers to know the difference between these two concepts, how to manage them, and what importance they should have at different stages of the product development cycle. Not understanding the differences between an idea and an execution isn’t just a minor inconvenience; it’s a significant obstacle to innovation and strategic execution for products and companies.


What is an Idea?

An idea is a concept or a vision. It’s the initial spark of creativity that suggests a new way of doing something, solving a user pain point, or addressing a need. Ideas are abundant and can range from the mundane to the revolutionary. However, ideas by themselves are intangible and hold potential rather than value. A well-defined idea should focus on describing what problem is being solved, who has it, and an initial vision for what the solution could look like.

What is Execution?

Execution is the process of taking an idea and turning it into reality. It involves planning, development, and implementation. Execution is where strategy, skill, and effort come into play to transform a concept into a product, service, or result. Unlike ideas, execution is tangible, measurable, and ultimately, what delivers value. A well-planned execution will break down the initial idea&vision into workable chunks that can be planned, tested, and measured for outcomes.


Usually, people tend to split the above in a very simplistic way: ideas are about what and why, while execution is about how and when. This view is part of the issue. Both concepts ultimately are about something that has different fidelity levels defining it across time. As a team progresses in working on an idea, the level of ambiguity decreases while the definition increases. E.g., an idea becomes a mockup, the mockup becomes a prototype, that prototype becomes a real app running on a device.

Secondly, people also make the mistake of thinking that one idea has one execution, and typically the right execution lives on their head. In fact, one idea can have multiple different executions (with multiple interesting ones), also the same execution can be achieved by multiple different ideas. Understanding this concept is key to navigate the development process and stakeholder management.

Finally, people often confuse excitement and enthusiasm for an idea with the practicalities and challenges of executing it. This confusion can lead to unrealistic expectations, misalignment of goals, and disappointment towards the end of a project. Stakeholders might fall in love with the idea without fully understanding the complexity of its execution. This discrepancy can lead to frustration when the reality of the time, cost, and effort required to realize the idea becomes apparent. At the same time, stakeholders might not want to invest in an idea because they cannot see the final execution.

Why does it matter?

While ideas are the seed, execution is the sunlight, water, and soil that allow the seed to grow. An average idea with excellent execution can outperform a brilliant idea with poor execution. Recognizing this balances the focus on the idea and how it will be brought to life, rather than just the idea itself.

Clear differentiation helps in managing the building process with stakeholders. It clarifies expectations, aligns efforts, and focuses on the practical steps needed to realize a vision. This approach fosters a culture of accountability and pragmatism. It also helps manage expectations of how shaped something should be at each level. Being able to understand how people react to these concepts can also help facilitate getting the buy in from stakeholders by understanding their PoV. Every so often they have an issue with the idea itself, the execution you are proposing, or the execution they are imagining (usually the most common one).


As we navigate the complex landscape of product development and innovation, distinguishing between ideas and their execution becomes not just beneficial, but essential. It informs our strategies, aligns our teams, and ultimately, determines our success in the market. By recognizing the value of execution and dedicating the necessary resources and effort to it, we can transform even the simplest ideas into remarkable realities. This mindset is what separates the dreamers from the doers, and in the world of business, it’s the doers who lead the way.


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