Strategy as learning to discover the way forward

Advances in Project Management


By Prof Darren Dalcher, PhD

Director, National Centre for Project Management
University of Hertfordshire

United Kingdom


The term strategy appears to be amongst the 1,000 most commonly used words in the English language (EF, 2017), particularly in a business context; yet it can still have a multitude of alterative meanings. The Oxford English Dictionary defines strategy as: ‘a plan of action designed to achieve a long-term or overall aim’; whilst also offering an alternative definition as ‘the art of planning and directing overall military operations and movements in a war or battle’. The Cambridge English Dictionary meanwhile offers a single, more all-encompassing definition in the form of  ‘a detailed plan for achieving success in situations such as war, politics, business, industry, or sport, or the skill of planning for such situations.

The most common definitions of strategy found in the literature include the following:

The determination of the basic long-term goals and objectives of an enterprise, and the adoption of courses of action and the allocation of resources necessary for those goals.’ (Chandler, 1962; p. 13)

Essentially, developing a competitive strategy is developing a broad formula for how a business is going to compete, what its goals should be, and what policies will be needed to carry out those goals.’ (Porter, 1980; p. xvi)

The definitions above, while emerging almost two decades apart, point to a few essential themes:

  • Strategies focus on the (long term) future and the goals that can be reached as part of that future
  • Strategies determine the goals and objectives that will be pursued
  • The key concern is around the achievement of these goals
  • Resources are therefore allocated, and actions carried out, specifically in order to enable the actions required to facilitate the goals
  • Business environments are competitive, implying that some organisations will fare better while others may not succeed
  • Consequently, given the focus, long term impact and competitiveness, determining the strategies is a critically important and defining function of top management

The term strategy has been in use for centuries. Bracker (1980; p. 219) identifies the etymological origin of the word, from the Greek Strategos, “a general”, which in turn, comes from roots meaning “army” and “lead”, as befitting the second definition offered by the Oxford Dictionary.

The Greek verb stratego means to “plan the destruction of one’s enemies through effective use of resources”. The concept of strategy in a military or political context has remained prominent throughout history, and has been discussed by such major writers as Shakespeare, Montesquieu, Kant, Mill, Hegel, Calusewitz, Liddell Hart and Tolstoy.’ (ibid.)

Carter, Clegg and Kornberger (2010; p. 2) observe that the idea of strategy can be traced back to the early writings on military strategy by Sun Tzu, whose work, The art of war, is often said to mark the birth of the discipline. Other military tacticians expanded on the idea of the strategy of war.

Strategy is the employment of the battle to gain the end of the War; it must therefore give an aim to the whole military action; in other words, Strategy forms the plan of the War, and to this end it links together the series of acts which are to lead to the final decision, that, is to say, it makes the plans for the separate campaigns and regulates the combats to be fought in each.’ (Von Clausewitz, 1940; p. 79)

Given the competitive nature of the business environment and the need to succeed in the long term, business schools appear to have extended the war analogy and adopted the notion of competitive strategy, replacing the adversarial enemy, with the seemingly less sinister, yet equally cunning, cold and calculating entity known as business competition.


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Editor’s note: The PMWJ Advances in Project Management series includes articles by authors of program and project management books published by Gower and other publishers in the Routledge family.  Each month an introduction to the current article is provided by series editor Prof Darren Dalcher, who is also the editor of the Gower/Routledge Advances in Project Management series of books on new and emerging concepts in PM.  Prof Dalcher’s article is an introduction to the invited paper this month in the PMWJ. 

About the Author

Darren Dalcher, PhD

Series Editor
Director, National Centre for Project Management
University of Hertfordshire, UK



Darren Dalcher, Ph.D. HonFAPM, FRSA, FBCS, CITP, FCMI, SMIEEE, SFHEA is Professor of Project Management at the University of Hertfordshire, and founder and Director of the National Centre for Project Management (NCPM) in the UK.  He has been named by the Association for Project Management (APM) as one of the top 10 “movers and shapers” in project management in 2008 and was voted Project Magazine’s “Academic of the Year” for his contribution in “integrating and weaving academic work with practice”. In October 2011 he was awarded a prestigious lifetime Honorary Fellowship from the Association for Project Management for outstanding contribution to the discipline of project management. Following industrial and consultancy experience in managing IT projects, Professor Dalcher gained his PhD in Software Engineering from King’s College, University of London.

Professor Dalcher has delivered lectures and courses in many leading institutions worldwide, and has won multiple awards and prizes. He has written over 200 papers and book chapters on project management and software engineering and published over 30 books. He is Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Software: Evolution and Process published by John Wiley. He is the editor of the book series, Advances in Project Management, published by Routledge and of the companion series, Fundamentals of Project Management. Heavily involved in a variety of research projects and subjects, Professor Dalcher has built a reputation as leader and innovator in the areas of practice-based education and reflection in project management. He works with many major industrial and commercial organisations and government bodies in the UK and beyond.

Darren is an Honorary Fellow of the APM, a Chartered Fellow of the British Computer Society, a Fellow of the Chartered Management Institute, and the Royal Society of Arts, a Senior Member of the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers, a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and a Member of the Project Management Institute (PMI), the Academy of Management, and the British Academy of Management. He is a Chartered IT Practitioner. He is a Member of the PMI Advisory Board responsible for the prestigious David I. Cleland project management award and of the APM Professional Development Board.  Prof Dalcher is an academic advisor for the PM World Journal.  He can be contacted at [email protected].

To see other works by Prof Darren Dalcher, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at http://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/darren-dalcher/.