Target operating model

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Target operating model /ˈtɑːɡɪt ˈɒpəreɪtŋ ˈmɒd(ə)l/ (n.)
(Also a “TOM)
A “blueprint of a firm’s business vision that aligns operating capacities and strategic objectives and provides an overview of the core business capabilities, internal factors, and external drivers, strategic and operational levers, organizational and functional structure, technology, and information resources of a company. In today’s digital and cognitive world, it has become a strategic imperative to redefine what’s next and then realize the target state with a sound target operating model”.[1]

If you were still reading after “aligns” you are of stouter stuff than me. But you will see this is how the management layer like to see things from their rarefied position: everything running smoothly, like some German-engineered V-8 engine thundering down the autobahn towards Karslbad. “Desired”, “wished-for”, in a perfect world.

Desired by whom?

Subject matter experts don’t usually have the time to contemplate the eternal verities, much less the inclination to. If they even have a desired state — beyond “being on the train home” — it would be a workplace absent any middle managers banging on about target operating models.

Thus, a target operating model is only the aspiration of she whose role in the organisation is to wish for perfect things: middle managers. Therefore, a TOM trucks in terms of unicorns, rainbows, and popular delusions of the management mob. There is no space in it for human foible, unexpected contingency, nuance, shade of meaning or obstinacy. A target operating model will look awesome on a Powerpoint deck. It will swoon the steerco. But it will bear no resemblance to anything the organisation actually does.

On Plato and perfect worlds

A target operating model is thereby a kind of Platonic ideal. While it is hard to persuade a chief operating officer of this, the fact remains that we subject matter experts do not inhabit an abstract realm of essential beauty.[2]

No. We inhabit a grubby, tedious cave, in which we are shackled together and forced to look at the same craggy walls. We have no ideal forms; we see only their shadows, thrown by guttering candles against those misshapen walls. The ideals are perverted. Disfigured. Monstrous. The world we know is of the shadows: It is intractable, messy, irritating and prone to outbreaks of Sod’s law.

Life in it is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short, and made immeasurably worse by these fellows with yard-sticks and protractors, getting under your feet and jabbing at you with their target operating model, while all you want to do — and it’s not too much to ask, is it? — is just to get on with breaking your rocks.

See also


  1. — “Business Architecture and Capability Mapping Made Easy”. Hopefully you will have picked up that it is “strategic”. They only said it three times.
  2. Well, I certainly don’t.