Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Balancing innovative change and ongoing reliable stability and consistency 2: tactical thinking, planning and execution 1

Posted in strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on December 7, 2016

This is my second installment to a series in which I explore tactical and strategic approaches to business management and leadership, and best practices approaches for coordinately pursuing both as context dictates. See Part 1: a basic dilemma.

I began this series with a briefly and selectively sketched out little case study that centered on a high-tech business that designs, manufactures and sells advanced technology products to a mix of private sector and government buyers. And I focused in that on the challenges created there, when the owners and executives of this business create discord and uncertainty and throughout their business from the way they have been making uncommunicated, and all too often strategically disconnected changes in what their business does, and in how and why it does that.

In a way I am writing this posting as a brief treatise on the difference between management and leadership, and certainly where the latter is conceived and carried out at a higher organizational level. But mostly, I offer this, and this series as a whole, as a thought piece on strategy and tactics and on the questions and issues of where each applies, at least in an effectively run business or organization.

I began offering a brief and factually accurate accounting of one side to the story of a real business in Part 1 of this narrative. And I continue that here with what I will assume to be a just-so story: an educational-purposes fabrication. I am fairly sure that the executives who run this business began in their field and their industry as hands-on product development and production engineers, and I assume that here. It is likely that they all had at least some lower level management experience, if not mid-level experience in that arena before advancing to senior executive positions. But I will, and strictly for the sake of this narrative, continue here as if assuming that they began managing in a very tactical, here and now manner – and that they have never really advanced beyond that as they have assumed higher level organizational positions. They have never moved past a more purely short-term, here and now tactical vision and understanding to see the wider reaching strategic possibilities and needs that their organization in fact faces, and every day. That assumed-here presumption encapsulates my just-so story for this posting, and I develop the rest of its narrative from that.

Let me begin addressing all of this with tactical thinking and decision making as a positive, and with consideration of where and how that positive arises. I will then turn to consider how decision making and its follow-through, break down when a more strictly tactical approach is applied without strategic consideration and outside of its natural settings. And that will bring me directly back to the issues of strategy and its effective contexts, and squarely back to the case study that I began this series with and that I have briefly continued developing here.

I offer that paragraph as a brief anticipatory note of what is to follow in this series, noting that I will discuss startups and the businesses that arise from them in the process, and particularly where their founders begin with more hands-on experience than they do with management experience – a common situation for high-tech startups and certainly when they are founded by tech-innovators with ideas and possibilities based on them, that they feel compelled to develop into marketable, realized offerings and that they have never been able to pursue because of narrowly channeling management decisions from when they have worked for others.

But as noted above, I begin all of this with tactics and with tactical thinking. And I begin this with the fundamentals:

• I am going to discuss strategy per se, after delving at least briefly into tactics and more tactical approaches, but I begin addressing that set of issues by stating that good, effective, long-term supportive tactics take place in overall strategic contexts.
• So for purposes of this line of thought, consider strategy as if a black box to use a relevant engineering term. And you can directly observe and study and know the input going into such a system, and you can directly observe and study and know its output – but anything and everything that takes place in-between: in that otherwise closed box itself, is hidden and for all details. (I will at least partly open this box when considering strategy per se, but for purposes of this posting at least, I focus entirely on its inputs and outputs where I refer to strategy at all.
• Tactics deals with the immediate here and now and with addressing currently faced needs and opportunities and of all sorts, where decisions and follow-through would be called for. Good tactics organize activities and resource use to achieve best possible outcomes, and as efficiently and at as low an overall risk and cost as possible.
• And when necessary, tactics organizes and leads Plan B initiatives, in recovery from at least emerging challenges, to achieve best possible realistically available results out of that.
• And past and immediately current tactically led activity and its outcomes, serve as input for the strategic black box that I just noted above. And at least when strategy and tactics in place are effectively, supportively aligned, the output of that black box serves as options orienting and prioritizing input for next round tactical planning and execution, setting basic parameters for what a tactician would choose from, in deciding their ongoing course of action.
• So strategy lays out the basic ground rules for what tactical approaches would consider and pursue, with tactics addressing the here and now details of how, in this case a business and its processes activity play out.

This all very critically depends on having a consistent strategic framework in place, for organizing and coordinating tactical decision making and its operational follow-through.

I have been writing here, in terms of individual tactical situations and their decision making and follow-through, and as if a business would only carry out one tactical decision-based process at a time. That is in fact not realistic and even for simply structured small businesses. Even the smallest scale single professional business practices have to manage and resolve multiple separate and distinct tasks and processes simultaneously – or at least according to overlapping schedules, and on an ongoing basis. So I will turn in my next series installment to consider tactical alignment and that will bring be directly to the issues of strategy, and to opening that black box.

Then after discussing this set of issues I will proceed to address the other points that I made note of above, for inclusion in this series. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 4, and also at Page 1, Page 2 and Page 3 of that directory.

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