What Are IDEAs Made Of: Execution

Mike Rea

IDEA Pharma

Strategy is the discipline of making better decisions. There ‘strategy’ is an abstract noun. The strategy that results is a noun, it is something that can be poked, prodded and evaluated. The difference between the abstract noun and the noun is fundamental, and explains why so many get so wrapped up trying to define one when they mean the other.

There are only two ways to evaluate a strategy (the noun ‘strategy’). Measure it, or wait to see how it performs. Measurement of strategy is essential, to decide if it is the best of all possible strategies. Waiting to see how it performs involves an assumption that it will be executed flawlessly (and also it involves no comparator…). The only way to execute flawlessly is to have considered execution during the strategy development. Seems simple, but so often ignored.


“Measurement of strategy is essential, to decide if it is the best of all possible strategies.”


Sun Tzu never said “Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat” but I bet he wishes he did… It explains the violent pursuit of a tactical plan at all costs so often seen in the 3 in 4 launched drugs that never return their investment.

The linked part of the paragraph that he also didn’t write was “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory.” Implicit in that is that there will be a victory, which is, in reality, unlikely without implementation. However, the statement is self-evidently true.

Great strategy includes the seeds of its victory: it is the what and why that directs and selects the how, when, where, with whom, and how much. A strategy that considers those things as sequential, to be decided at some point later, is not a great strategy – as one shoe company says, “details aren’t details.”

In the how, great strategy includes a way to execute – game change, piggyback, new guideline, under-price, etc.

In the when, great strategy includes a timeline for what should happen before what else.

In the where, great strategy describes the environments and battlefields that contribute to winning overall.

In the with whom, great strategy describes the people and audiences that are part of the victory. 


“Sun Tzu never said “Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat” but I bet he wishes he did…”


Working through these components is an essential way of proving a strategy:  job descriptions for the implementation are established, and if those roles can’t be filled with realistic tactics, the strategy is holed below the water. As the old joke about clinical and commercial arguing about whose side of the boat has the hole goes, it really doesn’t matter – the strategy is about to sink.

Job descriptions for execution are called strategic imperatives and strategic actions. A Strategic Imperative is a have-to-have, without which the strategy would fail: that the world believes something is a real disease, that value can be proven to be higher than the competitor. A Strategic Action is something that delivers against the Imperative – get regulators to agree to classify the disease, conduct a Numbers Needed To Treat study – that forms a set of edges for tactics. It is at this point that briefs should be given to agencies – when Strategic Actions need to be turned into a tactical programme, one with specifics, journal titles, congress choices.

The discipline of making better decisions includes considerations about feasibility, cost, probability of success and many other parameters, all of which are dependent on great execution.

About the author:

Mike Rea is a Principal with IDEA Pharma, who enjoys taking a look outside the industry to learn how it can think differently. For direct enquiries he can be contacted on mike.rea@ideapharma.com and for more information on IDEA Pharma please see http://www.ideapharma.com/what/default.htm.

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