Operational Planning vs Strategic Planning: Who does what?

April 19, 2022

A common question we encounter here at CTO Academy …  

‘What are the duties and responsibilities of a tech leader or manager?’

With many companies, particularly some of the early stage companies we work with, roles and responsibilities can become quite blurred and suffer from considerable overlap.

Are tech leaders responsible for taking care of operational planning or is it their job to get involved in strategic planning? How do you define a tech leader’s roles and responsibilities?

What should be the % breakdown of time between strategy and operations for the CTO and/or senior tech leader in the company?

One of the many mistakes new businesses make in particular is not clarifying about the specific responsibilities that come with certain job roles – there is often an expectation that it’s “all hands to the pump”. 

We’ve also worked with tech leaders seen clients who have been in their industry for years and are still struggling to figure out why their employees aren’t delivering the impact expected, when they don’t recognise that the team might be struggling because of a lack of process and specificity about their duties and responsibilities. Firefighting takes all the energy out of focus.

Maybe it’s because the senior tech leader just won’t let go and delegate. Sound familiar?

If your employees aren’t sure about what they should be doing at work or are confused about the work that comes their way – especially when it has little to do with their job description – don’t be surprised when you encounter high rates of turnover and burnout.

From our experience, part of the confusion stems from a misunderstanding about the difference between strategic and operational planning.

What is strategic planning?

A strategic plan comprises the organization’s process of making timely and calculated decisions to allocate company resources in a way that meets accepted objectives and goals. Simply put, it’s the mission or plan that plots the path towards greater, growth, revenue and overall success.

Strategic planning deals with the whole business as opposed to an isolated unit of a company. It can be boiled down to three simple questions:

●       What do we do?

●       For whom do we do it?

●       How to execute?

If you’re the CTO and/or senior tech leader, you should be elevating yourself above the operational fray and focusing your time and energy on strategy. You need to step away from the keyboard and become the company futurologist, turning your energies and capabilities towards mapping out the future road map.

What is operational planning?

Operational planning is the process of linking strategic goals to tactical goals to achieve an organisation’s vision and mission. Operational planning predetermines the milestones, conditions, and day-to-day activities of a chosen part of the strategic plan, during a given operational period.

Specifically, operational planning provides answers to the following questions:

●   Where are we now?

●   Where do we want to go?

●   How do we get there?

●   How do we measure our progress?

This is where your next layer of management should be delivering, the engineering manager, head of

development, architects etc.

Who is an effective technical manager?

The definition of tech manager is very broad, but let’s assume it’s someone who is in the layer of management below the CTO.

A technical manager is someone who requires sufficient managerial skills as well as technical skills. They can be in charge of developing, implementing, and troubleshooting entire systems, top to bottom. They are the ones who should be taking charge of operational planning.

They oversee and provide guidance to members of the tech team team members when it comes to designing, implementing, and updating company resources, both in terms of hardware and software. They are responsible for evaluating company platforms and networks to fix any faults and improving them for greater efficiency.

Tech managers need to document all procedures that take place for future reference and train all team members to handle any situation. They are also responsible for building the communication bridge between clients and the top management of the company.

Good ones are hard to find and easy to lose. 

How to spot the good ones? 

An exceptional  technical manager brings  in specialised skills and knowledge to the table. They are responsible for leading the technical and developmental activities in a company and become crucial cogs in the tech team. .

You shouldn’t expect them to sit down and write code or build hardware, they do need to have the ability to lead a team of IT experts in development, creation and innovation.

If you’re already in the CTO role and/or experienced in how high impact teams work, you will understand that the operational tech managers are often the oil that keeps the engine running. Without them, that car won’t be going anywhere soon.

You see, they might not be the executive level dreamers who visualize the future – but they are the realists who help create it.

When you find a good one, give them clarity, autonomy and treat them well.

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