Speed is the driver for athletes in both the marathon and the sprint. And we’ve seen speed become further pronounced as a driver in business.

The women’s marathon world record has dropped almost 20 minutes since 1977, now standing at 2:15:25. Usain Bolt’s 100m world record speed of 9.58 seconds marks the twelfth time during that same period, since 1977, that the record has improved. Firms are challenged to deliver when their customers want and, as a result, have to evolve and enhance their ability to achieve speed in both business operations and technology innovation.

Business Operations

Strategy is an essential element of business operations, as it defines both short- and long-term objectives. Strategy, however, needs to be acted upon (quickly) to bring success – the best strategies don’t serve customers, create culture, generate profits or fulfill employee needs from the PowerPoint slides they are printed on.

Spending inordinate time on strategy can be a drag on achieving speed. Suppose you are responsible for answering, “what’s our social media strategy?” Get back to me in six months and guess what’s happened in the meantime? Two new social media offerings have emerged and countless other new platforms have started to gain traction that you need to account for. Kathleen Murphy, the president of Personal Investing at Fidelity Investments, underscores this idea in her recent article, “Patience – A Waste of Time?

The point is that shortening the planning cycles and becoming more flexible with strategic planning endeavors makes sense. Consider allowing for strategy to evolve, if you’re not already doing so. Embracing principles and concepts that align with the right execution approach for your firm can help. And concepts such as failing fast and continually learning (from the Lean StartUp) can create an environment optimized to achieve the desired speed.

Technology Innovation

Some of the major business-based tech trends of the past several years – big data, agile development, and mobile technologies – can all draw direct lines to the need for speed:

Big Data provides scientific analysis to offer insights across the business spectrum – consumer habits, business operations and future market trends. The insight gained allows companies to serve customers more intelligently, optimize operations, and take advantage of opportunities quickly or in real-time.

Agile development continues to be embraced throughout the business world, even in large enterprise settings. What remains clear is that successful adoption and execution doesn’t mean that a firm will get an entire pre-envision product faster. Iterative development and testing, appropriate variation from the initial vision, and an approach to incorporate change allows a firm to get the right product faster.

Mobile has, by its very nature, created a hyper-connected environment.  The speed with which we can connect to content, people, or our work has been exponentially increased over the past decade+. And because mobile is ubiquitous in both personal and professional lives, businesses in all industries are held to the same standards (innovation from a player like Google is compared to financial services innovation at a large bank or brokerage when business cases are being drawn up). We are now right in the middle of the age where mobile is being optimized by every firm to take advantage of and maximize speed.

As you step into 2015, you may want to reflect and ask a couple of key questions:

  • Has your firm tapped into its true speed potential in business operations and technology?
  • Can you heighten the internal focus and push to find your firm’s right sustainable speed for the marathon efforts and your true top speed for your sprints?

Think about it, but don’t think too long, you need to start running because you don’t want to be left behind.