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October 5, 2009

Strategy < tactics < execution

I read Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done several years ago, and much of this post is based on the information in that book. 

Because of a Series of Troublesome Committees, I find myself thinking about three big-picture concepts: strategy, tactics, and execution:

  • Strategy is the overall plan. For example, one strategy for getting new projects at Scriptorium is to establish ourselves as experts in our chosen field.
  • Tactics are specific actions to achieve the plan. Our tactics include writing articles and delivering conference presentations that buttress our claim of expertise.
  • Execution is what happens after you pick a strategy and develop some tactics. That’s when we write the articles and attend the conferences.

Each of these stages is a prerequisite for the other. That is, you start by developing a strategy and can then pick your tactics. Finally, you have to execute on the plan.

You can fail at every point in the process:

  • Choose the wrong strategy, and not much else matters. Great tactics and excellent execution will not rescue you if you have chosen the wrong approach.
  • If you have the right strategy, but the wrong tactics, you may have some limited success, but poor tactics will work against you.
  • Worst of all, though, is bad execution. You pick the right strategy and the right tactics, and then sabotage the whole thing with poor follow-through or lousy performance. For example, writing an article full of bad grammar or delivering a boring, technically inaccurate presentation would be bad execution for us.

At every stage, you face constraints. For instance, if your budget is limited, you might not be able to justify the most expensive tactic, even though it might have been the most effective. But once you work through your constraints and choose your tactics, there’s really no excuse for doing those activities badly.

Some things to keep in mind when working with technical communicators:

  • Forget the spin. Exorcising marketing and PR messages from technical content is a core job skill for many of us. Simple, honest, and straightforward messages are better. If you try to spin your message, expect a scornful response.
  • Language matters. Writers become writers because they care about language. If you want their respect, you need to show that you also care about language. At a minimum, grammar and mechanics need to be accurate. If you can go beyond the basics and demonstrate graceful writing, you will score bonus points.