One area I find people (and consequently organisations) can get very confused over is Strategy.
People often talk about Strategy (and it’s always with a capital S) as if it’s something superior to Tactics (which never has a capital T), and indeed anything else. In reality Tactics and Strategy are very closely related, and I’ve not found any better analogy for the relationship between the two than sailing!
I should point out at this point, I am no sailor, so if there’s any inaccuracy it’s entirely mine and not the person who related the analogy to me in the first place.
As I understand it, from a sailors point of view, the strategy is simply where you want to end up. So, if you set off from Southampton your strategy is to get to New York. So far, so good. However, getting to New York in a straight line when your principal motive power is the wind is also impossible. That’s because if you should attempt it, you’ll soon hit what sailors call the dead zone.
The Dead Zone is the triangular area from a point in front of you to two points either side of New York. It’s called the Dead Zone because that’s where the wind will just disappear and leave you floundering. So, how do you get from Southampton to New York then? By a series of zig-zag actions known as tacking. You weave yourself left and right, searching out the wind whilst keeping an eye on your ultimate destination.
Now, it strikes me, that actually figuring out of the strategy is very important, but the real hard work is in the tactics. Strategy may change over time, a little or a lot, but your tactics will be refined on a pretty constant basis from beginning to end. I would even go so far as to say that if your strategy is changing a lot, then it really isn’t a strategy, and if your tactics don’t change fairly frequently, they aren’t tactics. This doesn’t mean that you change your tactics every time the wind changes, but it does mean you make a careful assessment of those changes and make an explicit decision on your response. Do nothing is a perfectly acceptable response.
In project/programme terms, and depending on the terminology of the particular project/programme method you are using, the strategy is linked to your Vision and the tactics are how you are going to deliver that Vision.
Don’t confuse tactics though with requirements – requirements are in part the vision defined in a much lower level of detail. Requirements do in the vast majority of cases need be have a minimal level of churn, especially in later phases – it’s not much good after you’ve transitioned 1000 staff from London to Singapore to then decide it really ought to be Australia after all. If nothing else, even if it’s possible to accommodate these late changes, the costs are always higher the later the change.
So, what can we take away from this sailing analogy? I think there are 4 key points:-
- Strategy, put simply, is where you want to end up
- Tactics are the method by which you deliver the strategy
- Tactics change as other factors blow you off course
- Tactics are not the same as requirements
Hopefully, this short article will also make you think whether you ought to have a separate team who are “responsible” for strategy or whether they ought to be part of a team also responsible for delivering on the strategy.