Tactics, Strategies, and Quality Words

John   Hall
John Hall Principal, Model Systems Read Author Bio || Read All Articles by John Hall

As David Hay reported in his last column, the Business Rules Group hasnít quite finalized the Motivation model.

The structure hasnít changed much over the past year. We changed the names of a couple of concepts ≠ Guidance Component and Approach Component became, respectively, Element of Guidance and Course of Action ≠ and added a couple of relationships.

Where we havenít reached final agreement is on fine tuning of the definitions behind the picture. Discussion is continuing via our email forum, and we plan to resolve the outstanding issues during our September meeting.

Much of the underlying concern in the discussion is about how to recognize real-world instances of the concepts modeled. Itís essential to be able to do this if you want to make practical use of the model.

In practice, you will be faced with hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of statements about an enterprise. And they wonít be neatly organized to reflect the concepts in our model. You will need to be able to pick out the ends and the means, the policies and the rules, and the influences. Until you have these things clearly stated, you canít reliably assess the impact of influences on policies, the success of tactics in meeting objectives, and so on.

Tactics and Strategies

One topic discussed was the difference between strategies and tactics. Proposals ranged from the teleological ("tactics support objectives, strategies support goals") to the pragmatic ("a tactic is something you can change under your own authority; to change a strategy you have to ask your boss").

It seems clear that there is a spectrum of Courses of Action ≠ from major strategies to minor tactics≠ and there isnít an absolute criterion for separating the "minor strategy" from the "major tactic." It will vary from organization to organization, and probably from person to person. This is not something we can change by saying by saying "it must be so" in our model (however much we might wish we could).

Of course, you might want to develop a methodology that incorporates our model, in which itís important to make the distinction; for example, strategies and tactics might be stored in different places in your rules repository.

You could make more-or-less arbitrary rules to separate them. This is fine, provided you remember that your rules are not the reality. They are your way of organizing statements about the reality. The people you work with also need to understand this. And you shouldnít get too upset if the rest of the world doesnít see it your way, every time.

Quality words

Another major topic of discussion was on not using "quality" words (like "fast", "low-cost", "best") in describing courses of action. The case was made that courses of action should be neutral statements, and that quality words should be used in defining the goals and objectives that the courses of action support

Iím one of the minority that thinks this is too extreme. An example from one of Ron Rossís emails illustrates why. Ronís example is the statement "We will brew beer 25% cheaper by end of the year." How does this break down into the concepts in our model? The current position of the group is that the Strategy (or maybe a Tactic - see discussion above) is the neutral "brew beer." The Goal is "low cost beer" and the Objective is "25% cheaper (than current cost) by end of the year."

This doesnít feel right.

Imagine a company reacting to competition. There are a number of things it might do ≠ brew beer at lower cost, brew beer at the same cost and absorb a price reduction out of profits, buy cheap beer from a third party, get out of the beer market, and so on. Its Strategy is to brew beer cheaper.

Strategy is always about choice, about selecting one course of action from a number of options. The essence of the strategy here is to brew beer at lower cost, not just to brew beer (which the company does already).

The implication of adopting this view would be that "quality" words would be appropriate in defining Courses of Action, and would be mandatory if they defined the essence of the strategic (or tactical) choice ≠ e.g. "cheaper" rather than "less profitable." "Quantity" words, like "25% cheaper by end of the year" would be continue to be restricted to Objectives.

I hope that by the time you see this column weíll have reached consensus. Visit our web site (www.BusinessRulesGroup.org) for the latest news.

Standard citation for this article:

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John Hall , "Tactics, Strategies, and Quality Words" Business Rules Journal Vol. 1, No. 8, (Aug. 2000)
URL: http://www.brcommunity.com/a2000/b026.html

About our Contributor:

John   Hall
John Hall Principal, Model Systems

John Hall serves as the Business Rule Community's own Technology Review Editor.  Mr. Hall is also a principal of Model Systems, a consulting company with offices in London, England and Seattle, WA.  He has more than 30 years' IS experience, predominantly in database systems, architecture and methodology, and, more recently, in Web applications and e-commerce.  He is currently dividing his time between a major credit card company and
a European airline.

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