The Information Age well supports strategic planning if based on principles. But things are moving so fast that it's becoming more and more difficult for businesses to do detailed (read, tactical) planning. Circumstances can rapidly change, blindsiding carefully laid out plans. So what to do? The answer may lie in human/machine interaction.
If indeed the Industrial Age was rules-based leading to procedures and the Information Age is based on principles leading to creativity and innovation, this calls into question the whole concept of strategic and tactical planning. Because things were much more predictable in the Industrial Age, it was much easier to set up and attain tactical objectives based upon their associated strategic goals. But nowadays, with information showing itself as being the fastest of commodities in history to move through an economy, we are often forced to ask if one can even do tactical planning of time. It is a thought-provoking issue that is often demonstrated by project schedules gone awry.
For instance, when was the last time that you saw a project finish on time based upon its original schedule? So it has to be admitted that it is virtually impossible for projects to meet such precision - even without scope creep - if the end product (read, commodity) is basically information itself. The same goes for tactical planning of resources. Again, when was the last time that you saw a project not have scope creep? So what to do? Can only strategic (without tactical) planning be done for information-based work? Or dare we ask, is tactical planning even necessary?
As the 19th century mathematician Poincaré stated, “It is the analogy with what is simple that enables us to understand what is complex.” So what simple analogy can we use to understand better what is obviously a complex problem (tactical planning in the Information Age)? Perhaps we can use the analogy of a football team. First, the team is continually trained by their coach with the goal of winning the game (strategic planning). This coach will no doubt discuss various plays in the team’s locker room before the game so as to familiarize the team on what is the desired style (strategic planning) that the coach wants for how the team plays the game. So that really isn’t tactical planning since the end goal (no pun intended) is in how the team should react in different circumstances. Likewise on the field, the coach does not dictate every move that each player will make (tactical planning), even in a huddle which is really strategic in nature (check Wikipedia’s definition). Why? Because it cannot be predicted exactly what the other team will do or what will even happen. The decision-making has to happen on the ground in live time (dynamic). And what enhances the team players to reach their strategic goal (of winning the game)? Bodily training and lots of equipment. But the guiding force for tactical decision-making resides in the players’ brains.
Let’s now use our football team analogy to address this tactical planning issue for the Information Age. Say we have workers in a company that are continually trained (via the use of corporate resources) to prepare them for addressing those problems that will come up dynamically in their job in order that the company can reach its strategic goals. Such workers would be coached by being given examples of the desired style (or culture) that the company wants for its workforce. On the actual job, each worker will not be dictated as to what their tasks are and how to do them, even in “huddles” (team meetings) since the focus will be strategic in nature. Whenever an issue comes up, the worker or group of workers involved would simply follow the flow of information that relates to the issue until a workable resolution is attained.
Now to enhance that process, lots of “equipment” would be used, namely, the technologies that enhance the work of the human brain. This blend is called intelligence amplification (IA) which, in a way, is artificial intelligence (AI) with a twist. Sometimes called augmented intelligence, it is AI on steroids because the machine part can be made to appear that it is extremely intelligent but only because it is being directed by human brains. So instead of tactical planning, which tends to be reactive and static, we would have tactical projection, which would be proactive, dynamic, and anticipatory. In essence, the machine part of the equation would handle all the procedure-based decision-making (e.g. if a procedure can be written down, it can be automated), leaving the human brain to do all the creativity-based decision-making which in turn would fit very well with the very nature of the Information Age. And the machine part could also provide appropriate feedback in real time in order for the human brain to process such decisions.
So to our question of whether tactical planning is needed in the Information Age, we can answer Yes and No. No, in the sense of Industrial Age methods of tactical planning, and yes, in the sense of there being the need for real-time, dynamic, spontaneous, even instantaneous, tactical planning, to the point where it really becomes tactical projection.
We can demonstrate such an approach by doing a walkthrough for a typical telephone call involving a customer service agent and the customer that would be calling in. In the first part of the conversation, say the caller is explaining that they have a problem with accessing the company's web site. Since such conversations are often recorded, we can take it a step further and have the IA system also "listen" in on the conversation. While IVR (interactive voice response) technology can easily leave the caller frustrated when the system doesn't "understand" what exactly the caller wants, we resolve this issue by having human-to-human contact. But even better, such setup would be amplified due to the IA system responding proactively based on the direction that the conversation takes. With a robust IA architecture, this would also help resolve the common problem that often occurs where the human has to spend so much time waiting for the machine. This is because the machine is now anticipatory (vs. reactive) and laser-focused on the conversation.
So in our example (the customer's issue of not being able to access the company's web site), the IA system is triggered to instantaneously provide all the troubleshooting logic for that issue. Then the customer service agent, working in tandem with the IA system, proceeds to help the customer resolve their access problem. The human brain is in charge, guiding the machine where necessary. The machine on the other hand greatly enhances the ability of the human brain to handle information because it is provided in a very meaningful way. So there is a certain symbiosis between human and machine where they function in a mutually complementary setting. Anticipated problems and proposed solutions can thus be projected in real-time. With such a tactical projection (vs. tactical planning), the strategic goal (e.g. taking good care of the customer) can be continually fulfilled. Thus, any MBO (management by objectives) gives way to simply delighting the customer in a smarter way. As with our football team analogy, simply winning the game is exhilaration enough.
Since the IA system would be augmenting the intelligence of the human brain, the worker can then focus more on creativity and innovation in problem solving (nonlinear), since such an invaluable resource (the brain) is being freed up due to the machine handling as much of the procedural work as possible (linear). So the traditional approach to tactical planning does not become an issue because the front-line worker is being empowered for immediate decision-making based upon the principles outlined in the company's strategic planning. "Best practices" give way to a "best for the situation at hand" approach which directly addresses the long tails of economic opportunities without needing an accompanying bureaucracy to try and track everything (rather, get the machines to handle any necessary metrics). In essence, the worker's work flows naturally with the information flow, keeping in lockstep with the opportunities as they present themselves. Thus, the customer is not irritated (such as when a company is trying to push its products) because the augmented intelligence is responding to what the customer actually wants – something no IVR system can do better than when an actual human is at the helm.
Since the IA system would have to be sophisticated enough to be able to be leveraged and scalable across the board, it is vital that the software design be of the highest quality, with a true respect for the nature of information. For instance, the user interface (UI) for the software has to be very carefully designed to be simple and yet highly scalable and modular because of the very close human/machine interaction involved. As well, the SME (subject matter expertise) of the human users of the IA system has to be taken seriously because these users are the ones being empowered for the decision-making.
As with anything new, starting out with something very simple is the best approach. Avoid adding too much complexity in the prototyping. Stick to the underlying principle(s) of what you're trying to augment with an IA system for the "guinea pig" process you've selected. Don't be afraid of trying massive iterations of trial and error. It's like the difference between a Pulitzer prize-winning photographer (taking 100 pictures of a subject) and a good photographer (that may take just 10 pictures).