A Technologist Who Speaks Business


6 years ago
Tactical vs. Strategic: An Alternative Definition

When most people think of the difference between something Tactical and something Strategic, they often think along one of a few lines:
1) Tactical is short-term and Strategic is long-term, or…
2) Tactical is small and Strategic is big, or…
3) Tactical is kludgey and Strategic is high-quality

These definitions are generally useful and that’s why they persist. But I think they lose one useful quality that my alternative definition captures:
4) Tactical is something you’re willing to change to meet local conditions and Strategic is something you won’t change to meet local conditions

This definition gets to the heart of the problem and it implies all kinds of good things: suddenly, something Tactical can also be high-quality and something Strategic can take less than a day.

Let’s take web services as an example. As technologists, it’s really easy to get distracted by shiny things like Enterprise Service Buses and to get bogged down in arguments with each other about REST vs. SOAP. But then we’re burning lots of energy on Tactics, and losing sight of what was really the Strategy. The real Strategy is: connecting business processes together in a way that can be orchestrated, re-mixed, and reconfigured relatively cheaply. If sending SOAP payloads over an IBM Enterprise Service Bus with 128-bit encryption implements that Strategy best in your organization, then use it. If calling well-defined stored procedures on one humongous SQL Server database running under somebody’s desk implements that Strategy best in your organization, then do that. As long as you’re realizing the Strategy, then who cares what your Tactics are (as long as they’re legal and ethical, or course) as long as they work.

All too often, we find ourselves clinging too tightly to a failed Tactic instead of adapting to conditions as we find them on the ground. During such times, what we really need to do it step back, remind ourselves of what the original Strategy really was, and find a new Tactic (using what we learned from its failed predecessor)

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to make it happen. Just because your first Tactic failed doesn’t necessarily mean your Strategy is unsound, it just means you need to find a new Tactic.

But if you’re on your third or fourth failed Tactic for the same Strategy let’s just say that’s a whole other ballgame.

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