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Tactical vs. strategic project planning: why both matter

PostsProject management
Georgina Guthrie

Georgina Guthrie

September 16, 2022

Every project’s success—whether winning a football game or rebranding a company — comes down to a blend of strategy and tactics. How well you do these things will determine how well your project goes. And that’s no overstatement: deploying tactics without strategy is like setting off on a journey without having a destination in mind. And strategy without tactics is like setting off toward a destination without a map.

Having a good understanding of both is essential to project planning. You might be able to rely on intuition when handling a small task — like making a sandwich. However, when it comes to something bigger with more moving parts, you need to plan more conscientiously.

But what’s the difference between strategy and tactics? And, most importantly, how do you use both as part of project planning? Allow us to explain.

Tactical vs. strategic: what’s the difference?

A football game is the perfect example of the difference between strategy and tactics.

The overall strategy is to score more points than the other team. This involves setting goals, choosing which players to use, and planning formations. The tactics for a football game are the individual moves players make during the game to score goals. These tactics might include running with the ball, passing it to another player, or kicking it into the goal.

  • Strategy is about deciding what you want to achieve and planning how you’ll do it.
  • Tactics are the specific actions you take to achieve your goals.
  • Strategy is tricky to change once you’ve begun.
  • Tactics are easy to adjust, depending on circumstances.
  • Strategy shapes tactics; tactics don’t shape strategy.
  • Without the right strategy in place, your tactics will be less effective.
  • Strategy is a big-picture view that helps guide you.

Here are some real-world examples of both in action to help you differentiate between tactical vs. strategic planning.

1. Example one: a product launch

  • The strategy for a product launch might involve planning the budget, researching the target market, and deciding on a promotional strategy.
  • The tactics for a product launch might involve designing the packaging, writing the copy for the website, and booking advertising space.

2. Example two: social media marketing

  • The strategy for social media marketing might involve deciding which platforms to use, what kinds of content to post, and how often to post it.
  • The tactics for social media marketing might involve creating graphics, writing blog posts, and scheduling tweets.

3. Example three: event planning

The strategy for event planning might involve choosing a date, finding a venue, and sending out invitations. The tactics for event planning might involve decorating the venue, organizing catering, and hiring entertainment.

What makes a good strategy?

Here are some pointers when it’s time to map out your strategy.

It’s focused

A good strategy should follow the SMART framework, which means it should be:

  • Specific – You need to know exactly what you want to achieve and plan how to do it.
  • Measurable – You need the ability to track your progress, gauge whether or not you can hit your goals, and adjust to get back on track.
  • Achievable – Your goals should be realistic and based on the time and resources you have available.
  • Relevant – Your strategy should align with your company’s mission statement and the goals you’ve set for your team.
  • Time-bound – You need to set a deadline for achieving your strategy.

It’s flexible

A good strategy should be relatively flexible. This doesn’t mean you should abandon your strategy altogether or keep chopping and changing, but it does mean you should be open to making adjustments based on new information or circumstances. And if it’s a longer-running strategy, you should be able to change it as your business grows and evolves. As your company changes, your needs and priorities will as well. Your strategy should reflect this.

It’s focused on the future

A good strategy focuses on the future and on what you want to achieve. In other words, you should consider where your business will be in five years and the steps you need to take to get there.

It’s based on data

A good strategy is also based on data, helping you make informed, concrete decisions. This data can come from a variety of sources, including market research, customer surveys, and financial reports, to name a few.

It contains a contingency plan

A contingency plan provides backup steps when something goes wrong or the route you’ve taken just isn’t working. With this plan in place, you’ll be prepared for any unforeseen obstacles, and you’ll know exactly what to do if things go sideways.

A step-by-step guide to developing a strategy

To develop an effective strategy, here are a few key steps you should take.

Step 1: Define your goals

The first step is to come up with clearly defined strategic goals. As we mentioned before, these should be SMART goals — specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. They should also match your organization’s mission statement and, generally, make sense for your business and the direction you’d like to take it in.

Step 2: Research your competition

We all know the saying, ‘keep your friends close and your enemies closer.’ Well, the same concept works in business. Get acquainted with what your business rivals are up to, including what they’re doing well and not so well. Then, do your research to find out if there’s a market gap you can serve.

Step 3: Identify your audience (and get to know them)

There’s no point in doing…well…anything if it doesn’t speak to your audience. Your customers are your reason for existing. The better you can answer their needs, the happier (and more loyal) they’ll be. To create your strategy, ensure you understand your audience, what they want, and how you can reach them. Once you understand these details well, you’ll be able to develop strategies tailored to your customers.

Step 4: Create a plan

It’s time to get that strategy down on (digital) paper! Plan to include a project timeline, assigned tasks, and milestones. A plan will help keep you on track and ensure you execute your strategy effectively.

Step 5: Implement your strategy

Finally, it’s time for project kick-off! Now is the moment to take those first steps and ensure you complete tasks on time as the project rolls along. It’s worth monitoring your progress via cloud-based project management software so everyone, from team members to stakeholders, can follow tasks and milestones. Above all, you can get a bird’s-eye view of the proceedings and make any necessary adjustments along the way.

What makes a good tactic?

Now, let’s take a closer look at the tactical side of things.

It’s focused

A good tactic is specific and focused on a single goal. Have clarity about what you want to achieve, how you’ll do it, and when you’ll have it done. A good tactic is flexible, allowing you to make changes as needed. Again, using the SMART methodology is a must.

It’s adaptable

Unlike strategic planning, tactics can change with the wind. A good tactic should be adaptable so that you can roll with the punches when faced with the ups and downs of workplace life. That’s not to say you should treat your deadlines and resources like they don’t matter; they do. Just be sure to have a contingency plan in case things change (i.e., a colleague is off sick or a delivery gets delayed).

It’s linked to your strategy

A good tactic is clearly linked to your strategy, so it’s clear how it’s contributing to your overall goals. This link should be apparent from both the tactic itself and the way it’s implemented.

For example, if your strategy is to grow your business, a tactic might be to hire five new team members. You might implement this by posting job ads on a local job site. All these actions relate to the overarching strategy.

How do you track strategy and tactics?

Tactics and strategy should work in harmony. And if you want to make sure they’re cohesive, you need to measure both.

How to measure strategy

KPIs, or Key Performance Indicators, can help you to measure whether or not your strategy is working. They’re measurable, directly linked to your strategy, and target-based.

Some examples of KPIs for strategy might include the following:

  • The number of new customers acquired
  • The amount of revenue generated
  • The number of products sold
  • The number of social media followers
  • The number of website visitors

How to measure tactics

On their own, tactics aren’t a measurement of success. Your overall strategy defines that. However, tactics are a vital part of the process, and you should measure them.

Similar to strategic planning, you can use KPIs to do this. But you’ll focus more on milestones, start and end dates, and budget. Because tactics are more specific than strategy, the tactical KPIs will be more specific, too.

For example, if your strategy is to increase social media engagement by 50% in 6 months, then a corresponding KPI might be the number of social media posts per week.

Getting sign-off

Once you develop your strategy and tactics, relevant stakeholders will need sign off.

This is important for two reasons:

1. To make sure everyone’s on the same page and understands what they need to do
2. To give you the official green light to start work

The best way to get sign-off is to present your strategy and tactics clearly and concisely. Also, you should be prepared to answer any questions stakeholders might have.

When you’re presenting your proposal, it’s important to remember that not everyone will be as familiar with the topic as you are. So, explain things in simple terms, and don’t use complicated jargon. Once you have sign-off, you can start putting your plan into action!

How to use project management software to manage strategy and tactics

Project management software is a great way to keep your team organized and on track. These platforms make it easy to create and assign tasks, set deadlines, track progress, and communicate with team members, all in real time. You can also use them to store files and documents, ensuring everyone can access the latest versions with no mix-ups.

Backlog, our project management tool, makes strategic and tactical planning a breeze. Simply create a project, and add the relevant tasks, subtasks, deadlines, and assignees. After that, you can make a Gantt chart with the click of a button, and voila, your strategy and its associated tasks are mapped out in front of you in a clear, interactive diagram you can share with the team.



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