Making vision and strategy practical

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Avoid using Vision and Strategy as an Executive Peace Out

Here is something from an article I’m reviewing for a co-worker:

It’s vital for any digital transformation to have a clear vision, purpose and a set of expected business outcomes. It lets everyone know what is changing, why it’s changing, and how it will positively impact the organization. All too often though, that simple message becomes bloated or lost entirely as the project moves forward.

This is true! Also, strategy needs to be practical, which means those who make up the strategy need to have some idea of how it would actually be done.

I like to suggest that vision and strategy should always be accompanied by principles: guidelines and constraints to use to determine what to do. And these should as specific as possible.

Instead of “we strive to listen to our customer” (which, first, is there a business that would ever say the opposite, out-loud at least?), you would say “we will follow product management principles to constantly learn what helps our customers and adjust our products and services accordingly.” Even that’s vague. If you know the actual industry and “medium” you’re operating in, that should be encoded in there. For example, are you doing this with software? Grocery stores? Sawmills?

Too many people treat vision and strategy as descriptions of the desired end-state (or, like, virtue-signaling bullshit - see “listen to our customers” above) rather than how the company will get there.

“Inspiration” and “leadership” are great and much needed. But they’ve been too interwoven with “vision” and sometimes strategy. At one point, maybe vision was a useful tool, but now I feel like every time I see that word I think “this is what the organization unconsciously thinks is its biggest flaw” or, at best, I just tune out.

And, again, a good test of the bullshit level of vision is to ask “would anyone ever have the opposite of that as its vision?”

I suppose you could have a vision somewhere in-between that test. For example, you might be in AI and automation and have a vision of “to eliminate the need for people to work five days a week.” Applying my opposite test, it’s not so much that any company would have the vision “to shift the work week to six days.”

A vision like that is what I like to call a “pony vision.” We all would like a pony for Christmas. The question is not even so much how we would get it (pay a lot of money and have it dropped off at your door around 5am on Christmas morning [and wake up around 4:30am to have that big cup of coffee before all this], trot it into the living room and put a big bow on it, picking and poop or pee until the kids wake up), it’s what we do to take care of it for the rest of its life. And how do we get the money to buy the pony. And then figure out how you buy the pony.

And, sure, there’s a fine line to walk between tops-down micromanaging and passing on responsibility for how strategy is implemented. No one likes to be micromanaged - that’s why we call it micromanaging instead of managing. As I like to say “bad things are bad, and good things are good.” However, management can’t just toss down some un-executable strategy. Strategy is just the first step, execution can’t just be delegating to some other group to “figure it out.”

What this means in practice is that management (and their corporate strategy group) should be able to answer the question “how were you envisioning we’d get this done? Like, week to week, day to day.”


  • There’s a certain, vaguely dangerous feeling to writing a conference talk or webinar abstract that describes the talk you wish you could give instead of the one you (currently) can give.

  • When listen to Rick Ruben interview people, I realize about myself: to evolve my podcasting skills I need to be happy and at peace with myself. Then I could ask the questions I’m curious about instead of trying to be smart, or, at best, helpful and educational.

  • There must be a moment when you’re a young kid and an adult explains chewing gum to you, and you’re like “wait, you chew, it tastes good, like candy even, but it’s not food that you swallow. This is some fucked up, big people shit!”

  • I’ll never be a always make your bed person, but I might could pull off being a always scoot your chair back under the table person.

  • A feeling is just a thing that a stranger delivers to you. You can decide to do something with it, or just ignore it. Also, excellent live streaming skills/production here.

  • There was a strange time, when I was a teenager, when people wore pleated khakis that are well ironed, dry-cleaned even.

  • “The sun still hot but the glare from the Mediterranean no longer angry, the Promenade des Anglais given over to people perambulating rather than exercising, remembering that their bodies are primarily sites of pleasure, not denial.” Here.

My Content

First, if you’re the kind of person that reads this newsletter (and are in tech), you should check out this interview with Mike from Jaguar Land Rover. It’s very rare to get stories from real world, large organizations getting better at software, doing the cloud native, etc. Here’s one! (Also available in podcast form, if you prefer.)

We had Brian on this week as a guest on Software Defined Talk. He’s great, and it was a fun show: “This week, Brandon and Coté are joined by a special guest host, Brian Gracely. We discuss HashiCorp's transition to BSL and break down the recent interview with AWS CEO Adam Selipsky. Plus, some thoughts on the use of the word ‘orthogonal.’” Take a listen, or watch the video of the unedited episode.

Relative to your interests

There’s a lot to catch-up on.

  • 80% of execs regret calling employees back to the office - Hmm. It seems really hard to tell what the effects of remote working and in-person working are. People just have to make shut up.

  • Banks fined $549 million for hiding messages in iMessage and Signal - One of those things that makes boring, old enterprises so different than consumer tech companies, regulations. // ‘"Both the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) fined banks for being unable to produce discussions going back to at least 2019. The regulators say employees used their personal devices to discuss official company business via apps like iMessage, WhatsApp, or Signal and that those “off-channel communications” weren’t “maintained or preserved.”’

  • As HashiCorp adopts the BSL, an era of open-source software might be ending - Is it too soon to say that open source businesses no longer work? (Unless you’re a bit public cloud or you do open core?)

  • How to Set Up a Platform That Effectively Supports Your Development Teams - This seems like the kind of thing I should read…

  • It’s Time To Tell The Healthcare CX Story In Terms Of ROI - The focus is healthcare, here, but this applies to all industries: “Meeting with C-suiters and boards of directors, the disconnect is pretty clear. While CX pros (in many industries, not just healthcare) tend to talk about customer experience improvements in terms of better, CX-specific metrics, they fail to connect those changes to things that matter to the decision-makers and budget-holders. On the other hand, when we talk about the impact that better CX can have on key business goals — increased revenue, lower cost, and improved resilience — I see those business leaders lean in and say ‘Tell me more.’” // I’m befuddled as to why this is still a problem after decades. Is this not institutionalized thinking in IT? That is, each generation has to rediscover this.

  • Bike maker VanMoof also files for bankruptcy in Germany - I had no idea that this luxury bike company was in such bad shape. Their bikes sure seem awesome, but are hella expensive compared to the €80 beaters you can get that, you know, do the job just fine.

  • The next generation of developer productivity - As ever nowadays, developer productivity is the top problem. Also, full CI/CD (or just good pipeline automation) is still hovering around 50% as it has been for a decade or more: “Over half of the respondents (51%) said that their organizations are using self-service deployment pipelines to increase productivity. Another 13% said that while they’re using self-service pipelines, they haven’t seen an increase in productivity. So almost two-thirds of the respondents are using self-service pipelines for deployment, and for most of them, the pipelines are working—reducing the overhead required to put new projects into production.” // I’m a little leery of survey like this because these the conclusions you’d make from there results seem to always be the case. But also, I didn’t read it in detail.

  • PayPal Makes Strategic Moves With Expansion Of Venmo Offerings - Update on Venmo, especially the teen bank account features. A great example of creating new markets and features in retail banking. Also, some buy now, pay later (BNPL) stuff: maybe as great of a business now (having been sold off to PE)? // I always forget that PayPal owns Venmo: “What started as a bill-splitting, emoji-sharing social payments app has become a secure business transaction tool with increasing utility while remaining cool with the hard-to-please generations. No wonder Wall Street is impressed.”

  • Checking In On ChatGPT - Text-centric AI best used for text-centric toil: “The most common uses cited in the survey were for creating first drafts of text, personalizing marketing materials, identifying trends or communicating with customers with chatbots. AI isn’t quite doing iRobot stuff yet, but taking the sting out of some of the more “boring” corporate tasks will always have its place.”

  • Cloud-native approaches are now default software development practices - Highlights from a recent 451 survey. “Many organizations using cloud native expect their adoption of these technologies and architectures to become more ubiquitous over time. Among companies using cloud-native resources, approximately 60% say more than half of their applications are currently architected using cloud native, rising to 77% when organizations project two years into the future.” // “Homegrown cloud-native software development is strong. Looking specifically at how organizations are building and buying these services, 65% of organizations say at least 50% of their cloud-native software is internally developed.” // “Improvements to IT operations efficiency is accelerating as cloud native’s biggest benefit. Efficiency improvements continue to be the top benefit seen by organizations using cloud native (66% in 2023 versus 61% in 2022), while the role of cloud native in delivering sustainability is now moving front and center alongside security (respectively 45% and 44%). Improvements to developer speed and productivity (43%), cost reduction (40%), and improved time to market (40%) are other key benefits.” // “Fielded from May 4 through June 29, 2023, with a panel of IT decision-makers, 330 of whom were actively using or currently implementing cloud-native technologies and methodologies.”

  • Helen Garner on happiness: ‘It’s taken me 80 years to figure out it’s not a tranquil, sunlit realm’ - Project versus product for happiness. Also, living life by waste book/commonplace book - something I certainly can appreciate. (Bit it a ringer it being Helen Garner, but don’t let that stop you.)

  • Necronomicon all’italiana - Fantastic stuff.

  • How Barbie Went Viral - “by creating meme-able content, centering your audience instead of yourself, inviting connection, and building in the right incentives, you can increase the odds of a lightning strike” // Yes, and…it is so exhausting to have to be your own marketing and social-media agency.

  • Creating an integrated business and technology strategy - Use business strategy to drive tech activities. This series seems good.

  • Non-knowing growing - “…non-knowing, growing. It’s what babies do when they learn to walk. They get up, they fall over, they get up, they fall over, and they gradually figure out what walking is. They don’t know how to walk.” // If you’re open enough to the universe, you make sure that doesn’t ever stop.

  • Culture vultures - “Traditional word-based culture—and, sure, I’ll stick Twitter into that category—is now a feeding ground for vultures.”

  • MacWhisper is a tool I both do not use enough, and that you should use more.

d20 alone

I’ve played two, Dungeons and Dragons “solo” adventures, see afore mentioned American-vacation status. This format has a lot of potential. If you ever played the Lone Wolf books back in….uh…long ago…they are kind of like that. (Obviously, yes, they’re like the old choose your own adventure books, but much more intense with the rules and such.)

First, it was The Executioner’s Daughter. Then, the much praised The Death Knight’s Squire. They’re fun! The second is a classic, map driven “dungeon [and forrest] crawl.” The first managed actually do the type of adventure I liked to DM more: a story, without so much dungeon.

The encounter tool at D&D Beyond is super helpful for playing these. Otherwise tracking your character, an NPC, and four blood hawks would be tedious. That tool could be better, but it’s better than nothing. (I’m sure there’s all sorts of tools, I haven’t taken the time to look. I haven’t yet figured out the D&D online community, so I don’t know how to filter the crap from the good stuff yet.)

There’s a lot you could do with this solo adventure format. Maybe one day I’ll try. And I suspect there’s a good market it in. There must be millions of people like me who want to play but lack the social group to find friendly people to play with. I mean: I’m not going just go play with strangers online!

I’ve been tracking some narrative-tool ideas and “rules” of the format.

  • I think the first one is: you can’t kill the player. I mean, come one, at a business-level, you can’t kill your customer. That’ll shit the bed on churn, account expansion, and TCV. The Executioner’s Daughter is good on this, the other, not so much. Otherwise, the player will cheat! (I mean, I’m not saying I did…just that…uh…it seems like some people would…). There should be a ground rule that you won’t kill the player (unless they want that) - bad things might happen, so the player should just keep going, but you need some kind of safety gap. The point is for them to have fun, after all!

  • If it’s all digital (PDFs), you should take advantage of the infinite nature of digital stuff, as The Death Knight’s Squire does. And, also, in PDFs you can have links that follow the old “if you choose to eat the chicken leg, go to page 45” format. I almost think that you need to keep each scene as its own page in a PDF, not run together with the other scenes. So what if you PDF is 600 pages long? You have infinite space!

  • You should include some brief instructions on how monsters will attack, tactics they’ll use. Will a dragon blow fire at you, or attack with claws? If a pack of four goblins gets down to one, will it retreat?

  • Along those lines, you should prompt players to do some prep work and planning. Will they need torches?

  • You should remind players to do things like eat, take rests, etc. The Death Knight’s Squire is pretty good at this, even building little loops in about finding a camp sight.

  • I think there’s the potential to take, like, the wonderfully endless random encounter things Chris Tamm does and come up with some one page side venture and even role-playing scenarios. My favorite part of DM’ing and playing was always improvised, made up stuff between adventures…I mean, at some point, that’s what the adventures became. Again - you have infinite space, so you could just pack in 300 pages of this extra stuff and be like “go to page 243 and roll some dice.”

  • If you were really ambitious, you could write some good prompts for ChatGPT, even putting them up as URLs so that the player asks ChatGPT to fetch the contents of URL (meaning the player can’t read it), and then ChatGPT walks you through a tiny side-story. Hmmmmmmm….. Maybe people do!

  • The key to authoring these (as with all things) would be to streamline it as much as possible. Your customers would want it to never end, to keep going.

Anyhow. It’d be fun to make some.

(Or, you know, I should just find people to play with.)


Talks I’ll be giving, places I’ll be, things I’ll be doing, etc.

Sep 6th O’Reilly Infrastructure & Ops Superstream: Kubernetes, online, speaking. Sep 6th to 7th DevOpsDays Des Moines, speaking. Sep 13th, stackconf, Berlin. Sep 14th to 15th SREday, London, speaking (get 50% of registration with the code 50-SRE-DAY) Sep 18th to 19th SHIFT in Zadar, speaking. Oct 3rd Enterprise DevOps Techron, Utrecht, speaking. Oct 5th & 6th Monktoberfest, Portland, ME, attending. Nov 6th to 9thVMware Explore in Barcelona, speaking.


I’ve been off the publishing grid for a while, even off the consuming the Internet grid. This is a mix of partial vacation (you European would call this “an American vacation” - why don’t I just fully commit to taking a days off? I have so many of them available. But, nope.), taking care of some family things, a renewed obsession with D&D, and the first crack in my workaholic nature for…20…even 30 years?

It is time for a few new habits, rather than bobbing along the waves of the old ones.

Return to the officeless-office

The most counter-whatyoudthink is probably to start going into the office more. My work has an OK-good office in upper west Amsterdam. It is a 40 minute bike ride, each way. That amount of biking a day would both give me more exercise than I’ve ever had in my life and also more lazy-mindfulness time than the same.

(By far, the thing I like about living in Amsterdam the most is biking. I don’t do it enough.)

But, the office lacks, well, offices, which is the huge problem with the anti-WFH people.

I have a whole desk-studio setup for all the videos and podcasts I do. Lights, camera, mic, and shit. There is no place for that at a regular white-collar office.

I bet if there were actually close-the-door offices at work, people would want to return more. But open plan offices are shit. Everyone knows this; you don’t need to go selective-bias find some HBR article or some McKinsey study.

Nonetheless, working from home with all of the distractions is too difficult. Plus, that bike ride…


The second change: when I say I’ve been “doing nothing,” what I mean is that I have not been publishing my own work. I have been doing plenty of work on other things: spending a lot of time editing others, writing an MC script, the grind of conference season scheduling, content prep, and planning for the future.

The general “helping others” is what I should get more comfortable with as real work.

I’m pretty sure I’m very good at editing and general content-creation, uh, “pedantry.” I am not good at spelling and typo-prevention - I am not a copyeditor. As a consequence, I value and respect copyeditors a huge amount. I am also wordy, etc. But this is a thing about editing: whether or not you can edit yourself has little to do with your skill at editing others.

There’s something in the weird mix of my skills at writing, narrative, speaking/podcasting, having gazed at my rhetoric-navel for 30+ years, my total unwillingness to be confrontational about anything, and then my taste that makes for comfortable, welcoming, but effective editing and content-creation shepherding. I don’t know. I should edit more people’s stuff.

After all, the Rhetoricians were my favorite. While Socrates and his crew were talking about some mystical, Truth bullshit, the Rhetoricians were getting shit done with words.

I’ve almost done enough of nothing to be ready to get back to doing more of something.,, @cote,,