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In their influential team leadership book, "Peopleware", DeMarco and Lister suggest that managers should provide "strategic but not tactical direction" for their IT teams.

This is intriguing, but they don't go on to explain exactly what they mean! Any thoughts on what this intriguing idea looks like in practice? Is it a good or bad practice?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 7 down vote accepted

It means that people know how to do their jobs. They don't need to be micromanaged.

The role of a manager, generally speaking, is to tell people what to do, not how to do it.

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With an example,

When you take your car to the shop, you probably don’t say “Please replace the alternator” you say “When I turn the key, the engine won’t turn over”. Maybe you do need a new alternator, or maybe it’s the battery, generator, solenoid, etc. If the mechanic follows your directions, you’ll get a new alternator but your car still may not start!

So, you might ask what’s the difference, how do I communicate strategically as opposed to tactically? In a nutshell, it’s talking about your objectives and challenges rather than providing potential solutions. For example, you might say “I want users to notice products that are on special at my Web site” rather than “Make the store button bigger and red”. Maybe adding a featured product to the home page would serve that purpose better. You could be missing out on the best solutions, even with the best intentions.

May be the Managers let the team to find out the best solution rather than giving a solution.

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The strategic direction is the long (>= 3 years in my opinion) term goal.

What do you want to achieve with your team/department/organization some years from now?

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