Tech Talk: Techies vs. strategists, Just run the program

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Lately I’ve been involved in strategy sessions that extend beyond technology into a more holistic business purview. And I have to say there’s a fundamental difference in approach between a strategist with a technical background versus a more analog background.

But rather than bore you with a whole list of differences, I’ve boiled it down to just one fundamental variance: Techies will usually opt to Run The Program.

Run the program?

In technical development, the best way to find and resolve problems is to run the program again and again, fixing issues as they arise during the course of unpredicted variables affecting the software.

So, to extrapolate that into business, the approach is to build a strategic plan and then run the plan. During execution of the plan, make changes as needed based on metrics and unpredicted variables affecting the plan, adjusting it constantly toward a better outcome.

But maybe that’s too linear.

It turns out that a “run the program” approach makes analog partners very nervous. Rather than forging ahead with an agreed-upon plan, the focus instead is on examining the plan and extrapolating it in detail to illuminate flaws in the plan via a series of imaginary scenarios.

During this process, decisions are unmade and remade based on variables within these scenarios. Some of these variables are likely to occur, but probably not all of them. I call this approach “Thinking is Working.”

Getting it right

I see a lot of value in the Thinking is Working approach, primarily in a scenario where there is no good way to make repairs to the plan once it is executed.

I believe the Thinking is Working approach was used to land the first man on the moon. It’s also used to elect presidents, and to develop the procedures for open-heart surgery. Without this approach we wouldn’t have hit many of the most incredible milestones in human history.

But let’s keep some perspective. Is your 2013 marketing strategy really at the same critical level as these milestones?

The right balance

Because of my background, I tend to run the program. I know that repairs are sometimes more successful than a seamless deployment, and that the most critical learning takes place during sub-optimal use scenarios. I also know that some of the most brilliant executions are the results of corrections along the way in response to unplanned circumstances.

So where’s the middle ground?

Perhaps it starts with building a plan for building your plan. If the whole team decides ahead of time that there will be three discussions prior to building the plan, and one round of revision to the plan after it’s developed (for example), perhaps both approaches can be used to improve the execution of the plan.

Also, if the plan is reviewed on a quarterly basis to see if it’s performing according to the metrics established for it, then I think everyone wins.

Let’s pair thinkers with runners in 2013, and get ready for something spectacular.

In a successful pairing, it will come faster than you thought it would.

Marci De Vries is president of MDV Interactive, a web consulting firm in Baltimore. Reach her at