Strategy and/or Operations?

It is not uncommon to come across the constant debate within organizations on which is more important; Strategy or Operations?

As a person who is more naturally inclined towards strategy you would expect me to provide a rationale on how strategy is more important. But for this post I shall take a slightly objective approach.

If one tracks the economy over any period in time for any duration it will be clear that the overall business cycles are at play. During some phases of the cycle you hear a strong collective voice that convinces the ecosystem to believe that strategic thinking, planning, big picture thinking etc is the reason for organizational existence and success. All the above and numerous synonyms of theirs can be dubbed as strategy.

During certain other phases of the cycle especially when the trend is downwards one hears strong opinions on why operations management is the only saviour in the long run.  One hears a variety of approaches to enhance operational effectiveness such as Six Sigma, Total Quality Management (TQM), Lean, Supply Chain Management (SCM), Just In Time (JIT) etc. All these again can be dubbed under the single term operations.

In hindsight any rational viewer of economic history would be able to understand the futility of justifying the greater importance of either side. The strategists always treat their operations colleagues’ one step below; while the operations team often believe the other camp requires a reality check.

Even on looking back and seeing the futility it is surprising to watch arguments that are still being posed by two warring camps.  In reality strategy and operations are almost inseparable. They have to exist on a continuum.

A good strategy should help define effective operations.  And good operations should influence and refine strategy making.  It is important that professionals choose their place in the continuum based on their natural strengths – rather than what is the winning side currently. Every professional should only bother about his contribution whichever side he belongs. Efforts should not be wasted in trying to decide which is bigger or more important. 

Though it may seem cliché to state that strategy and operations are but two sides of the same coin, it is the reality.  Hence greater focus should be put on trying to increase the usage of ‘and’ more than ‘or’ between the two phrases strategy and operations.