A battle-tested strategy

Military planning recognises three complementary disciplines: strategy, tactics and logistics. These are military concepts. Their business usage is metaphorical, not exact, even if we agree that business is war.

ManagementSpeak: It's a 50,000-foot view.

Translation: We're high enough that nobody can tell who's responsible for what.

-- IS Survivalist Bill Helgren took responsibility for translating this over-used euphemism.

What should you do yourself and what should you delegate?

A few weeks back, I disagreed in print with a fellow columnist, Chad Dickerson, about the importance of wireless standard 802.11. Finding something we disagreed about took quite a bit of work, too -- I hope you appreciate the effort.

We didn't, by the way, disagree about whether 802.11 works. (I'm using it right now as I write this column on my deck. It's downright nifty.) What we disagreed about is what's worthy of a CIO's or CTO's time and attention. 802.11 is infrastructure, and when you're leading IT, infrastructure is, in my view, something best delegated while you focus on strategic and tactical matters.

Chad didn't disagree with this point. He disagreed with my definitions, stating that "... anything that contributes to the profitability of an enterprise should be considered strategic".

Military planning recognises three complementary disciplines: strategy, tactics and logistics. To oversimplify a bit, strategy is about which battles to fight; tactics is about how to fight them; logistics covers procurement, maintenance and transportation. These are military concepts. Their business usage is metaphorical, not exact, even if we agree that business is war.

At least as I apply this vocabulary in business situations, strategy describes the broad principles through which a company defines its choices, usually in terms of how it must change to meet the demands of the future. Tactics has two meanings: the specific actions through which a company plans to achieve its strategy and its short-term plans for winning on today's business battlegrounds. They're complementary uses in that today's wins should be structured to move the company into the future, as well as helping it survive until the future arrives.

I personally prefer the term "infrastructure" to "logistics" when talking about business planning for a simple reason: in business terms, infrastructure seems to say it better.

So why, when you lead IT, should you delegate infrastructure? Let's go back to the military metaphor for guidance. As we all know, armies travel on their stomachs, so logistics is clearly important for winning wars. That doesn't mean the great generals focused their time and energy on the details of bringing in grub, tents and the other minutiae of logistics. From Khan and Napoleon to Rommel and Patton, winning military leaders left, and still leave, that to others.

Winning generals focus on which battles to fight, and how to fight them.

Don't pick a fight, but do send Lewis an email. Lewis is president of IT Catalysts, an independent US consultancy specialising in IT effectiveness and strategic alignment.

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