Finding balance and strategic thinking
So that was an interesting 3 month gap in this stream of consciousness I call a blog. I really had nothing to talk about or say, nothing at all. Because for most of that 3 months I was completely focused on a work project that should have been easy, but instead was an impossible grind. I still have trouble comprehending how the project wasn’t stopped until the blockers were cleared? It’s so strange to me that a team pushed so hard on such an insignificant project using short cuts that were brute forced into working. Was there a strategic goal in such an effort? It’s hard to say as nothing clearly comes to mind. Blockers were found, but not cleared, how can that have strategic value? It could, I just lack the information and frame of reference to understand.
That’s the thing about strategic thinking, it’s often not clear when you are busy in the hands on work to determine what the bigger picture is. Recently I went down a detailed technical discussion with a peer unrelated to my work and at some point he questioned base assumptions that were clearly about implementation strategy and I couldn’t pull my mind out of the tactical details. At least not until after the conversation when I was reviewing it in my head.
And the difference between strategy and tactics is relative, there is a wide range of formulaic execution. Where one level might be strategic to the level beneath it, but there are further levels above that are more strategic. Understanding that any given plan or procedure is tactical allows for a framing of perspective, that is to say we all operate tactically. And conversely strategy happens at all levels as well, it is just the reference frame above whatever we are currently doing. If we were to drop down a level to more detailed work, the previous reference frame would be the strategy and the current work would become the tactics.
So everything is unavoidably tactical. Nothing you can do is strategic. At least, not initially right? You need more than one level of execution to delineate a difference between tactics and strategy, and their must be a clear hierarchy. Why must their be a hierarchy for tactics to change to strategy? Because tactical work can be different but occur at the same level. Sweeping dust and wiping windows are two different tactical things, but one is not necessarily the strategy to another. In our example of sweeping dust and wiping windows the strategy may be to clean the house. It is clearly a higher goal that encompasses both tactical actions. There may be a higher strategy to cleaning the house, of achieving a peaceful environment. To that we may see yet a higher strategy of living well. And so forth.
It is easy to get lost in the current actions of tactics and not even be aware of the strategy. It can take discipline and effort to pull oneself out of the moment and consider the strategy. But the effort and skill of stepping back and seeing the strategy is important. Tactical work, which is really all work, can change, as it must, to the environment it is enacted in. The change in tactics required to meet small goals may diverge from the alignment with the higher strategic goals. This divergence of focus can lead to successful tactical achievements but more difficult to achieve or even failed strategic achievements.
This segways into thinking about iterative engineering, that our reference frame should continually be re-evaluated. As small pieces of tactics are completed or if they start to draw out longer than expected, we should be stepping back from the local goals and evaluating what we are doing based on the strategic goals we have. This needs to be done with an understanding that our strategic goals are also tactical and subject to the same errors of alignment and execution. So that all levels of our forward progress should be flexible to adjust to the environment and our work within it. Constant realignment of all plans seems to be the only real way to ensure maximum effectiveness in execution, and it seems as if anything else is going to inefficient and even counter productive.