So what exactly is 'strategy' and does it differ from 'tactics' or 'operations'?

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There have been endless debates about the meanings of strategy, tactics, operations and related strategy-words. The fact that these debates are endless, and the fact that it is widely reported that less than 10% of strategies actually have any impact, suggests that more clarity is required.

I’ve read many of the arguments and definitions and then I’ve carefully observed real-world practice and have concluded that many definitions are relativistic – i.e. they depend on where the person creating the definition is standing.  I therefore offer the following perspective:

“Strategy is the planning that people above you in the hierarchy do and tactics is the planning that people below you in the hierarchy do.  This rule applies irrespective of where you are in the hierarchy”

So a strategy to improve a city’s bus system would be a tactic within a strategy to improve transport in a region.  But this strategy to improve transport in a region would be a tactic within a government’s national strategy to improve the wellbeing of its citizens. 

So in the real world, the strategy-tactics spectrum is an unbroken continuum. 


Phil Driver is the author of Validating Strategies: Linking Projects and Results to Uses and Benefits published by Gower.

APM members can claim exclusive discounts on Validating Strategies: Linking Projects and Results to Uses and Benefits and a range of Gower titles, click here for more details.

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Posted by Phil Driver on 6th Jun 2014

About the Author
Phil Driver is founder and CEO of OpenStrategies Ltd (Christchurch, NZ). His background in science and engineering management led to his involvement in large-scale industry-sector strategies. That in turn led to his developing an in-depth understanding of the challenges of even larger scale, public sector strategies. The OpenStrategies’ system then evolved through more than a decade of intense engagement with many public and private sector organisations. He is the author of Validating Strategies: Linking Projects and Results to Uses and Benefits published by Gower.

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