This summer, I took an internship with LifeSpring Hospitals, a chain of maternity and child care hospitals serving low-income women in India. Because my background is in management consulting, doing mostly strategy work, I was incredibly excited about the prospect of having my hands in actual operational execution in LifeSpring’s Marketing Department.

What I found was that while developing a strategy is straightforward, successfully executing that strategy is something you can only learn by doing.

My project, roughly eight weeks long, was to recommend improvements to an existing marketing program (an “introduction to the hospital” for prospective customers) and then implement my recommendations in a pilot program. Falling into consultant-mode, I “‘baselined” the program, determined key pain points in the process, analyzed quantitative data to support or disprove my hypotheses and, in true consultant-fashion, thought about the ”big picture” by developing a framework which LifeSpring could use to evaluate future marketing programs.

The logic behind my recommendations was sound. All I had left to do, I thought, was put them into action (I’m guessing operations people are probably laughing at me here: “Another consultant who thinks that coming up with the strategy is the hard part!”)

One of my recommendations was that the hospital should be selective about who it invites to the program, reaching out to only those customers who are likely to need and select our services. I carefully developed a set of criteria based on the data, thinking it would be easy for the hospital representative to print them out and take them with her during her outreach efforts.

In practice, our outreach workers walk around low-income neighborhoods for a few hours each day. They knock on doors and introduce themselves and the hospital. And, as I learned, they already carry a stack of invitations, a notebook, plenty of water (it gets hot in India…) and their phones. Which means, of course, that it is not entirely reasonable for me to assume that they would want to carry yet another piece of paper with instructions on how to do their jobs. Also, it turned out that many of the criteria I developed were not based on information that our outreach workers could easily access (e.g., income level).

In the end, I ended up developing just a few easy-to-remember guidelines that these workers could use (rather than my original tome of a list).

This was just one example of the many ‘glitches’ that I faced during the journey from strategy to implementation. I probably could have saved myself a lot of time by thinking about the end-user from the beginning.

The transition between “thinking” and “doing” was not as natural as I would have hoped—and in reality required a lot more “thinking” than I had originally bargained for.

I’m definitely not discounting the value of a sound strategy; in fact, I think it may be more important to me than ever. I did not appreciate before just how challenging it can be to implement recommendations—but I never would have learned this without having to “do” the implementation myself.