What is strategy and the importance of strategic thinking

Strategy is a word I come across a lot at work.

I often hear people say “what’s the [digital/programme/project] strategy?” or “we need a better strategy for this [place/ service/ organisation/ business/ product]”.

What is strategy?

Strategy originates from a military term, coming from the Greek words “stratos” (army or resources) and “ago” (leading). Quite literally to lead an army.

At FutureGov we’re not in the business of mobilising armed forces, but we do have to make sure we help to set the direction for building a service or an organisation.

Vision, strategy, and tactics

Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. 
Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.
- Sun Tzu

Thinking about what makes a good strategy, this should be supported by a strong vision or sense of direction, and also a set of tactics that set out how the change will be delivered.

Vision — Strategy — Tactics
  1. Vision — starts with a why question. It describes an ideal future state for a situation, organisation, or service. A useful and usable vision should be simple to understand, motivational and inspirational. For example, Cancer Research UK’s vision is to bring forward the day when all cancers are cured.
  2. Strategy — answers the what questions. Strategy is the plan before the battle. It plans out what need to happen in order to deliver the vision within a set of constraints. To deliver Cancer Research UK’s vision, their strategy is to focus efforts in four key areas — working to help prevent cancer, diagnose it earlier, develop new treatments and optimise current treatments by personalising them and making them even more effective.
  3. Tactics — answers the how questions. Strategy is often turned into reality through tactics. It is the alignment of resources, phasing of activities and the crucial day-to-day execution towards key milestones. A good leader should leave it up to her/his teams to decide the right tactics and how to execute them. For Cancer Research UK, that will be reflected in the way how their resources are assembled based on challenges — their people, process, product, money, etc.

The importance of strategic thinking

Developing and implementing a strategy is an important part of digital and design leadership.

In a climate of financial and political uncertainty and increasing expectations and demands for better services, it’s crucial that leaders can think holistically, linking together vision, strategy and implementation.

This isn’t always easy, but it’s important for organisations working to meet user needs with limited resources. This means they’re having to make hard decisions about future priorities while looking to make positive change happen.

The impact of strategic thinking should be that organisations and teams spend valuable resources on doing the right things. They’re able to link a strategy to a future vision for a place, organisation or service, asking: are we doing the right things to make this a reality?

This is especially important with public services where organisations need more strategic thinking so that they can maximise the impact they make with limited resources.