Sunday, February 17, 2013

Tactics v Strategy

Retreat hell! We're just advancing in a different direction
Major General Oliver Smith, US Marines
Battle of the Chosin Reservoir,
November 1950

You're the PM. You've set a strategy.  Fair enough.
And now you're faced with a situation that seems to require tactics at variance to the strategy. What to do?

A metaphor (less daunting than that faced by General Smith) is the sailing maneuver called tacking. Take a look at the picture below.

The lay line is the strategic direction. But sometimes the wind doesn't cooperate (if the wind is directly opposing the direction of the layline, you have to sail away from the layline to pick up some wind energy that's off the line).

It's necessary to tack across the line going way off the strategic course with a tactic nevertheless intended to make progress, albeit minimal, toward the strategic objective.

The 'input elements' are what you do tactically to make progress; the output is progress in the strategic direction. There's a lot more input than there is output, so this is a losing game re efficiency, but it will get you there... slowly.

How does this work in the project world?

Consider this:
  • Your strategy: you want to build an integrated system; you want it to interface to an existing system. (Maybe you're adding a room to your house)
  • Your issue: Doing everthing at once and delivering 'big bang' may be too disruptive and too risky to the customer base. (Your spouse)
  • Tactical response: You design and build "throw away" interfaces that allow a modular, temporary, build-out of capability.

Tactically, you're going way off the baseline, building stuff at extra cost, extra test and integration, extra training that you're only going to throw away and replace (later at some time) with a permanent interface that also has to be tested, integrated, and trained.

Is this an advance in a different direction? You betcha! In many situations, such a tactic -- at variance with the strategy -- is well worth it. Click here to see how it might be otherwise!