A summary of Strategy & Tactics Trees

Entering the corporate world, we’re often introduced to the concept of strategy, something we are told we should be doing. Yet, for all its ubiquity, a clear definition and actionable guidance often remain elusive, leading many to wonder: what exactly is strategy? My take: strategy is a process for advancing towards important objectives by weaving objectives and tactics. It’s not a static and comprehensive plan but an evolving process. As one objective is met, strategy is reassessed, refined, and realigned to address the next goal.

Understanding the how can be even more intricate, given that strategy unfolds over time and often involves layers within an organization…

Two of my favorite books on strategy are Good Strategy Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why It Matters by Richard Rumelt and Winners: And How They Succeed by Alastair Campbell. But neither defines strategy, jumping straight into ways of doing it well or poorly.

Even strategy expert Michael Porter’s What Is Strategy? in the On Strategy HBR collection jumps straight into what strategy isn’t (Operational Effectiveness Is Not Strategy) and the How of strategy (creation of a unique and valuable position, choose what not to do, creating fit).

An unpublished, paper by Goldratt, Strategy And Tactics (S&T) takes a different approach defining what a strategy is, how it’s different from tactics and explains how they should be applied together, as a connected tree of objectives. It’s a dense paper and rather in need of edits for typos and clarity. While I keep referencing it, many people I point at the article find it dense and hard to follow, so this post is my alternative, hopefully easier to summary of Strategy And Tactics. Do read the paper, because it’s full of gems that will help you better iterate towards your own objectives.

What is Strategy?

Strategy sets the stage for your overarching goal—your destination. While tactics represent the concrete actions—like paths or roads—you’ll take to get there. Why does strategy matter? Without a defined strategy, efforts become scattered and misaligned, causing unnecessary detours in your journey. A clear strategy provides direction, ensuring every step you take moves you closer to your destination.

Strategy and Tactics

A strategy without tactics is just a dream, and tactics without strategy is just busy work. The S&T Trees framework embraces this mindset wherein startegy and tactics go hand in hand. The two are inseparable, and you need both.

  • Strategy answers the “What?” and “Why?”, laying out the goal and its rationale.
  • Tactics focus on the “How?”, detailing the specific actions to reach the strategic objectives. Every tactic must align with a strategic objective, and conversely, every strategic objective should have associated tactical actions.
  • Strategy and Tactics Trees For all realistically involved objectives, a single level of strategy and tactic isn’t going to be enough. Instead, we’ll have a Strategy and Tactics Tree, with a hierarchy of What and How that get you to the tasks you care about. Strategy and Tactics Trees:
    • Offer a structure to navigate the hierarchical nature of objectives and the actions needed to reach them.
    • Every tier in the tree details a strategic goal alongside its corresponding tactic. Subsequent layers then further break down these goals and tactics.

Justifications in S&T Trees

Goldratt then spends a fair bit of the paper explaining various supplements needed as you define the tree of strategy and tactics. It’s important to understand that justifications aren’t just ancillary details; they are thinking tools for thinking through your S&T Tree. Without them, your strategy might change not for good reasons (you learned new things, or discovered new capabilities) but because you forgot or didn’t explain to others the decision making process that got you where it did.

  • Necessity Statements: These explain why a particular tactic is vital for a higher-level strategic objective. In essence, they answer the question, “Why is this step indispensable?”
  • Sufficiency Statements: These ensure that a collective set of tactics (when viewed together) sufficiently address the strategy above them. They help to confirm that you’ve done enough, and you’re not missing critical steps.
  • Tactic Justification: This discusses why a particular tactic is an optimal choice for its corresponding strategic objective. It ensures that the tactic isn’t just suitable, but it’s a good course of action given the current scenario and objectives. Note that this is called the Parallel Assumption in the paper.

Defining a ‘Step’: The Heart of the S&T Framework

Goldratt’s S&T framework emphasizes the foundational unit called a “step.” At its core, each step is a cohesive module that integrates strategy, tactics, and their corresponding justifications. Let’s unpack this:

  • The Pairing: A step comprises a strategic objective (S) paired uniquely with a corresponding tactic (T). This mandatory pairing ensures that for every high-level goal (strategy), there’s a tangible action plan (tactic) to achieve it.
  • Inclusivity of Justifications: Beyond the strategy and tactic, a step includes essential justifications that validate its existence and choice. These are:
    • Necessity Statement: Explains the indispensability of the tactic for its strategy.
    • Sufficiency Statement: Validates that the grouped tactics collectively address their higher-level strategy.
    • Tactic Justification (or Parallel Assumption): Affirms why the chosen tactic is optimal for its strategy.
  • Modularity and Interdependence: Recognizing each S&T pairing as a step provides modularity, allowing strategies to be broken down into manageable, actionable units. Yet, these steps don’t operate in isolation. They interrelate, ensuring that the entire tree remains interconnected and aligned towards the overarching objectives.

Crafting S&T Trees


An S&T Tree is a hierarchy of steps. Each step contains a pairing of a strategy and a tactic, accompanied by their respective justifications. Here’s how to construct your tree:

  1. Set the Foundation with Your High-Level Objective: Begin with the endpoint in mind. What overarching achievement are you aiming for? This primary objective will crown your tree, providing direction for every subsequent step.
  2. Construct Steps with Tactics: For every objective, determine the specific actions (tactics) that will drive you closer to realization. Each of these becomes a unique step, branching out from its related objective.
  3. Fortify Your Steps with Justifications: Every step requires validation. For each tactic and corresponding objective in a step, ensure you can answer:

    • “Why is this action indispensable?” (Necessity Statement)
    • “Have I covered all that’s essential for this goal?” (Sufficiency Statement)
    • “Is this action the best choice for this specific goal?” (Tactic Justification or “Parallel Assumption”)

An Example

Each set of Objective (Strategy), Tactic, and their accompanying Justifications constitutes a “step” in our Strategy and Tactics Tree.

Step 1:

Objective (Strategy): Expand the market reach of a newly launched product.

  • Tactic: Increase online advertising efforts.
    • Necessity: To reach a broader online audience.
    • Sufficiency: Ensuring a strong online presence can significantly boost product visibility.
    • Tactic Justification: The online space is where a majority of our target audience spends their time.

Step 1.1 (Nested within Step 1):

  • Sub-objective (Nested Strategy): Target advertisements on social media platforms.
    • Tactic 1: Launch a campaign on Instagram.
      • Necessity: Instagram has a high engagement rate among our target demographic.
      • Tactic Justification: Visual appeal of the product can be best showcased through Instagram’s photo-centric platform.
    • Tactic 2: Start a promotional event on Facebook.
      • Necessity: Facebook allows for more detailed product discussions.
      • Tactic Justification: Leveraging Facebook’s event features can drive real-time engagement and discussions.
    • Sufficiency for the Sub-objective: By targeting both Instagram and Facebook, we effectively cover platforms that have high visual engagement and platforms that allow detailed product discussions.

Step 2:

Objective (Strategy): Expand the market reach of a newly launched product.

  • Tactic: Collaborate with influencers in the industry.
    • Necessity: Influencers have established audiences that trust their recommendations.
    • Sufficiency: Partnering with the right influencers can provide significant product exposure.
    • Tactic Justification: The product aligns with the content of several key influencers in our market, making collaborations genuine and impactful.

Note: This tree serves as an illustrative example. In real-world applications of S&T, the tree would likely require further expansion to include more objectives, tactics, and justifications.

Note: This tree is an example, and should be further expanded to include more objectives, tactics, and justifications if this was a real world application of S&T.


Strategy isn’t just a buzzword: it’s about forging a path towards meaningful goals. The S&T Trees framework offers a tangible blueprint for mapping and evaluating your strategic journey. Beyond providing a structure, it allows for delegation across branches, fostering autonomy while ensuring alignment towards the broader objectives.

While S&T Trees lay a foundation for meeting objectives, remember that planning is more important than plans. Overloading your S&T tree with details from the beginning is not necessary. Instead, prioritize the most important branches, work through them and, as those mature, progressively flesh out and tackle other branches.

This post is licensed under CC BY 4.0 by the author.

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