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Strategy: Choosing the Best Approach for Execution

By Rick Willis on February 6, 2012

On April 11, 1970, Apollo 13 was launched on its 200,000 mile journey to the moon. 56 hours into the trip, an oxygen tank exploded, crippling the service module upon which the command modulestrategy choosing the best approach for execution depended, forcing Lead Flight Director Gene Kranz to abort the mission. The new challenge was to get the three astronauts home safely. Kranz and his team needed a strategy, or approach that would achieve this goal.

Two main options were available. A direct abort would require the service module engine to fire and bring the men straight back. A second option, the free return trajectory, would require continuation around the moon to use its gravity to “slingshot” them home. This choice added 24 hours and presented other challenges that need to be addressed. Which was the right approach?

When developing strategy, leaders must make critical decisions with imperfect information and limited time. An approach must be chosen that will become the basis for plans and execution. For Apollo 13, Gene Kranz chose the free trajectory route. In his judgment, this strategy offered the best approach to achieve the desired outcome. Once set, it enabled his team to develop the plans that would make the strategy come to life. On April 17, Apollo 13 landed safely back on earth.

There are often many approaches to solving a problem. Your role as a leader is to choose an approach and set a strategy that you and your team can then build and execute upon. As you set strategy for your team, what steps do you take to ensure you are choosing the best approach?

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