Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Tech Planning Smack Down! Tactical vs. Strategic vs. Missional

I am preparing for a session I will be presenting at the 2014 Nonprofit Technology Conference.  I have been having an internal battle for 15 years on the topic of Strategic Technology Planning.  I have read books, blog posts, case studies and articles proclaiming the best practices of a Strategic Technology Plan. But as I often repeat, “Best for you, isn’t best for me. Let’s talk about Model Practices.”

This leads me to a topic I have seen bounding around recently. Maybe we don’t all need a strategic technology plan. At first, you have to focus on a stable infrastructure.

As a terrific example, Idealware has created their Tactical Technology Training, which I LOVE!

But we all know a strategic plan is needed for deeper impact of our technology. Which I would recommend the Tech Leadership Academy from NTEN.

However, the contender I want to bring to the ring is MISSION.

Sure our Strategic Technology Plan is tied to mission via a close tie to the organization’s overall Strategic Plan. But what about stepping back to find ways for technology to directly impact the mission, not to support the org in meeting the mission. Do you see the distinction?

Here are a couple slides to illustrate this, but I would love for a few people to watch the video embedded below and give me some real feedback.  I will be refining the concept, slides and presentation between now and March 2014.  This is just a sampling of what will be discussed there, but I could really use your feedback!


Peter Campbell said...

Steve, I think that your premise here is based on a false dichotomy. Saying that you should choose between having a tactical or strategic technology plan, to me, is kind of like saying that you should choose between having a road or having a road with signs telling you which exits are coming up and how many miles it is to the next major city. Why wouldn't you include the parts that tell you where you're going?

Simply put, a strategic technology plan encompasses the tactical, because it simply isn't strategic to build your goals on a network that isn't functional. But a tactical plan is not inclusive of the long-term goals. I always write strategic technology plans, and they include an assessment of the current platform and the steps, if required, to stabilize it. In many cases, those steps will be the primary focus of the plan, at least in the early years. But those steps are taken in context of where we are trying to go, and, that's important. A tactical plan might install a local Exchange server or move the org to Office365 or Google Apps. A strategic plan will factor in the pros and cons of on premises vs cloud and justify the decision in light of other organizational objectives.

Every org -- even a three person one -- should have a strategic vision or how their technology is going to support their vision, as well as a business plan and budget that keeps the lights on so that they can see their way to their objectives. Presenting strategy vs tactical as an either/or choice only holds an organization back.

Steve Heye said...

Peter, you are correct. This is a false dichotomy. You caught me. You can't choose between strategic and tactical for your technology plan. You need both and you can add in mission elements as your strategy matures.

Yet, at the same time, reality does not always cooperate. When no technology plan exists, a tactical approach is a good start to bring order to chaos. It is nearly impossible to think strategically when nothing is working. Yes, acting tactically without a strategy could lead to some mistakes, causing some work to be repeated. But expecting an organization to jump from nothing to a full strategic plan is like asking them to build highways and signs with broken tools and no drivers license during a flood (while still trying to run their org).

Every org should have a strategic vision, but it might have to come in steps.

But my bigger point with drawing a distinction between tactical, strategic and missional is to bring attention to the need for all three.

Your feedback is great though, because I should shorten this video to allow time to make the final point about needing all three. (which is what I had planned to do at the 14ntc session)

Brylie Oxley said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts Steve :-)

I am working on some data sharing/community building projects and would like to apply your systems thinking approach.

What are some suggestions for building a culture of sharing, such as data sharing (with privacy in mind)?

Steve Heye said...

Hi Brylie, Applying these thoughts to data makes great sense! You could easily think through which data needs to be tracked tactically: data required by funder, needed by staff or needed for reporting. Then look at your org's strategic plan, identify the desired outcomes and create a data framework to illustrate impact in those outcomes. As far as mission and data goes, look toward big data. Big data to me in this scenario would go beyond your org, look for data from your local government to inform where your mission would focus or data from other communities to compare. I do think there is a direct way to translate this to data approaches.

Just take simple steps: tactical=determine needed data, strategic=data informed decisions and measure impact and missional=use data to show impact outside of your org, data to show the problem, big data. Here is a great article to get started: http://www.nten.org/articles/2013/do-it-yourself-getting-started-with-data-analysis-0

I would also suggest reading some of Beth Kanter's thoughts on Data and Measurement: http://www.bethkanter.org/data-informed/

0s0-Pa said...
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