Strategic vs. Tactical Management Work

A twitter follower asked if I could provide a link to a “discussion of tactical vs strategic planning/projects?” Here you go:

Strategic work is a management role. It involves setting the direction for the organization (or group), deciding what to do and what not to do, who to hire and when. If it involves committing the organization to money in some way, that’s strategic work. Here are some examples (not an exhaustive list): managing the project portfolio, deciding on a product line, deciding when to hire which kinds of people, deciding on a software process initiative.

Project management is mostly tactical, the operational approach to the day-to-day decisions. The one exception is at the beginning of the project, when you decide on release criteria and a life cycle. When you decide on release criteria, you have defined the boundaries of this release, a strategic decision. When you decide on a life cycle, that’s a strategic approach to how you use the people. The rest of a project or a program is tactical. Looking for and managing risks? Tactical. Understanding how people are working together–or not? Tactical. Conducting a meeting? Tactical. Problem-solving? In the context of a project, tactical.

There’s also work that requires tactical time, and is strategic management work. For example: one-on-ones, feedback, coaching, career development/discussion, working across the organization to smooth the way for a project, solve other problems, or accomplish something that managers needs to do, such as collaborating on the project portfolio. This is the day-to-day work of a manager, which makes it tactical. It’s strategic in nature, because it builds culture, retains people, builds a trusting relationship with people across the organization, and implements the mission. I can never tell if this is strategic or tactical.

Strategic work is difficult. It requires thought and discussion. Tactical work is difficult in a different way. Tactical work often demands answers quickly. Strategic work, assuming you don’t postpone it and create management debt should take longer because reflection is a good thing for strategic work.

So when I said in Functional Managers Acting as Scrum Masters: Not a Good Idea that Scrum Masters will do the tactical work postpone the strategic work, I meant that the Scrum Master will conduct the stand-ups, will facilitate the demo, review, and retrospective (maybe not personally), and remove obstacles for the team. That mean no one is thinking about or performing the management work, such as managing the project portfolio or conducting one-on-ones, or solving problems in advance of the team, if the Scrum Master is also the manager.

Let me know if this is not helpful.

8 Replies to “Strategic vs. Tactical Management Work”

  1. Thanks, you defined strategic and tactical work nicely and you are correct that they often do overlap each other in management roles. I think that as a strategic planner, focusing on what creates value is the best approach.

  2. After studying and reading many concepts on different styles of management I now feel that all types are intertwined as to have a successful organisation.

  3. In war situations a great man once said:

    “STRATEGY WITHOUT TACTICS IS THE SLOWEST ROUTE TO VICTORY.

    TACTICS WITHOUT STRATEGY IS THENOISE BEFORE DEFEAT. ”

    (Sun Tzu)

    It seems that it is not only for WAR…!!!

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