What actually is “Strategy”?
This is a sadly overused word. Quite often it’s used when the speaker/author can’t think of the right word or they’re in over their head – I call these “crutch words”. Regardless it still has a place and it still can be used properly.
To define “strategy” let’s first find an authoritative source – trusty Miriam-Webster. Interestingly their definition is centered around the military. In fact you have to use their second definition, quite loosely, to find any relevance in the business world.
But this just further illustrates the elusive nature of pinning down “strategy”, and ambiguity provides opportunity! So I’m going to use that as an opportunity to define strategy…..with my own artistic license.
A Strategy is a clear vision, coupled with goals and supporting execution, devised to make multiple future positive outcomes available while minimizing future negative outcomes.
There’s a few key concepts here. Let’s step through them in sequence. First off is “vision”. The term vision is also a bit overused and elusive, but for the sake of this article I’m considering a vision to be the future direction in which a business or business-leader is steering their company or group. It’s concise, but not entirely measurable or SMART - and that’s okay because it provides flexibility at the lower-level to change tacticals but stay true to the overall vision. Next are “goals and execution” these are the tactics used to move toward realizing the overall vision. The vision won’t realize itself, it needs appropriate goals and execution. Additionally the tactics need to be continually reviewed and updated if appropriate – if a project goes off the rails fix it or kill it. Finally are “future outcome”. We can’t predict the future but we must be fully prepared for it when it arrives. A properly followed strategy will allow a company or business unit to bob and weave proactively, thereby making future opportunities available while also minimizing future risks.
Note however that the goals, plans, and tasks must be SMART or they’re doomed to go off the rails.
Strategy can be used at any level of an organization or by any business unit. Given my background I’ll illustrate an example in technology.
An example of a strategic vision is: More adeptly support the business with a flexible software architecture. The vision component (flexible software architecture) provides multiple future opportunities (more adeptly support the business). Examples of those future opportunities might be:
- Faster product improvements from concept to completion
- Lower cost technical implementations
- More responsive to customer feedback
The goals and execution need to be aligned and SMART. In this example a goal may be: Describe and implement clearly articulated interfaces between all modules of the User Management Component before August 1. One result of attaining this goal would be more easily roll out changes to the User Management component, say for example if the Product team decides they want to implement a Customer Administrator role.
All that’s left is the execution. The execution is defining the projects, teams, business units, and technologies required to achieve the goal. It’s not rocketsurgery but I’ll wave my hand over those details since the tacticals are completely dependent upon each unique environment
In a nutshell Strategy can be thought of like chess. You’re thinking long-term but implementing in the short-term. The trick is constantly double-checking the short term goals against the long-term vision. Doing so will make achieving those future opportunities a heck of a lot easier.
Interested in hearing more about applying Technical Strategy in your organization? Drop me a line and let’s chat!