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Strategy and Tactics – Know Your “What” From Your “How”


Hi and thanks for stopping by.

If you’ve followed along with my previous posts on Governance you know we’ve spent some time getting our terms straight. We’ve distinguished Governance from Management and Data from Information (and Knowledge, and Wisdom).

For me, one last piece of the “term puzzle” that is helpful to (finally?) begin to talk about Governance in a business enterprise is understanding the concepts of “Strategy” and “Tactic”. This is because Governance is often positioned as a “strategic initiative”, but often focuses upon “tactical” aspects when actually implemented. This leads to confusion, but more often, to not being able to attain the full value that a Governance Program can provide. So, in this post, I want to spend a little time discussing these two concepts and offer my view of how they are different but related.

Right up front, the easiest way to distinguish the two is to say Strategy focuses on the “What” whereas Tactics focus on the “How”. This sounds simple, and there are many examples I could throw out to demonstrate this, such as – in football the offensive strategy of a team may be to run the ball consistently to “loosen up” the defense and then use passes to take advantage of their adjustment to stop the run, where the tactics are the specific running and passing plays that are selected to execute this strategy. The reality is though that in a business being able to distinguish between a strategy and a tactic is oftentimes not so straightforward as in this example as they are often described using similar terminology and inter-mixed with each other.

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A good resource for interpreting (and ultimately applying) these concepts is the Business Motivation Model (BMM) from the Object Management Group.


This model focuses upon, as the name implies, what motivates a business and how the business will approach addressing those motivations. The BMM specifically addresses Strategy and Tactics as Means to the Ends (which are Goals and Objectives) and provides descriptions for all of these concepts. Here are direct quotes from the BMM:

8.3.4 Strategy A Strategy is one component of the plan for the Mission. A Strategy represents the essential Course of Action to achieve Ends (Goals in particular). A Strategy usually channels efforts towards those Goals. A Strategy is more than simply a resource, skill, or competency that the enterprise can call upon; rather, a Strategy is accepted by the enterprise as the right approach to achieve its Goals, given the environmental constraints and risks.

8.3.5 Tactic A Tactic is a Course of Action that represents part of the detailing of Strategies. A Tactic implements Strategies. … Tactics generally channel efforts towards Objectives.

Obviously, there is a lot more to the specification than these snippets, but this provides a pretty good basis for our purpose, that is, being able to distinguish the difference for the purpose of defining, and ultimately implementing, a Governance Program. To me, the key statement in all of this is that “a Tactic implements Strategies”, which, to my way of thinking, is why Strategy is the What and Tactics are the How.

So, if indeed Governance is a “Strategic Initiative” (as I believe it is), this implies that Governance should focus upon What an organization will do in regard to governing its Information and Data and Management will then focus on How the organization will carry out these strategies.

This seems to firmly place the concept of Governance into the Business (vs. the IT) realm of an enterprise, and therefore, needs to be described and ultimately implemented as a Business Capability. This will be the subject of my next post, that is, Governance as a Business Capability, which will use the Building Blocks of the concepts and terms we’ve discussed so far to describe the Program and its relationship to the Technology that supports it.

So, until next time, thanks for reading and please continue to share your thoughts and ideas!

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Mark Steinbacher

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