As a senior Operations professional, you are an irreplaceable piece in your company’s puzzle. You know your teams, their strengths and weaknesses and how to get the best out of them.
Business Insider lists operation managers as their second most in-demand professional field by 2024—undoubtedly a role that will keep evolving as it becomes more necessary across industries.
However, keeping tabs on a range of processes that vary in complexity, scope, and length can become quite the challenge. While you deal with one challenge, two new ones come up, and you can never afford lose track of what needs to get done for the business to keep growing.
For this guide, we’ve spoken to a range of senior operations professionals and they've shared their insights and learnings on their challenges, technology solutions, and big-picture priorities.
The loop of operational challenges
If there was one way to sum up the overarching daily occurrence for you as a senior operations person, "staying on top of things" is probably the way to phrase it.
“With a geographically distributed workforce and multiple projects going on at the same time, it is a constant struggle to make sure that we're all on the same page, working on the right projects, and making meaningful progress towards our goals,” says Drew Shannon, the Senior VP of Operations at CreateTribe. “Tasks as simple as recurring Project Check-Ins & Status Updates end up taking up a significant amount of time and energy.”
That’s not to say that the challenges won’t change and evolve throughout your time running company’s operations.
Elizabeth McNeese, Operational Consultant and former Operations Lead at OneKreate, shared that early stages typically involve the challenge of defining processes and identifying the tools required, including people and technology. Later on, it’s more about fine-tuning everything as processes evolve. “If you aren’t constantly analyzing and improving your processes, your operation will stagnate and eventually die,” she added.
Finally, keeping plans and processes on track makes up a large part of the battle, too. No matter which part of the organization you’re the most focused on at any given time, scheduling and setting up meetings is a task that never truly goes away. “Whether I’m onboarding new hires or running strategic planning sessions, I send out tons of calendar invites with lots of information included,” says Kathryn O’Day, COO at Rigor.
Technology makes operations better… On one condition
The key problem with jumping to technology solutions and a range of tools is that we often rely on them to determine or fix our processes instead of going the other way around.
The one condition? Make sure your processes are defined before you look for a tech solution for any of them!
“There are three main components to operational success—people, process, and technology. You can’t have one without the other. The problem is that technology is the low-hanging fruit and it’s easier to invest in compared to people and processes. It’s ‘safe’ because it’s pretty defined: you spend X amount and get Y outcome,” says Elizabeth McNeese.
Instead of doing that, work on identifying and prioritizing goals so that you can be realistic with implementation and outcome. “Once you have the process in place, you look at your people and identify gaps or overlaps in staffing. Only after that, you research the technology that will make sense for your processes and goals and help you scale it,” she adds.
When you give priority to technology over processes and people, you’re only creating a temporary solution. Here are some examples:
- Implementing a cloud solution like Google Drive to store work-in-progress documents and enable collaboration, even though most teams use paper and whiteboards to take notes while collaborating
- Enforcing a project management solution like Asana while 80% of the teams rely on spreadsheets and calendar reminders to stay on track
- Introducing a contract management solution when the stages of your contract lifecycle are unclear and key people in the process haven’t been identified
Having the right processes and people in place will drive the most efficient technology solutions to get each job done—otherwise, you’re wasting time and money.
The art of selecting the right tools
Since no operations team and manager are the same as the other, there is no one tool that can centralize all your processes. This is another reason why processes and people should come before technology—it helps you avoid overlaps in your tech solutions where multiple teams use different tools for the same purpose.
Once you’re ready to select a tool (or try a few before you make a final decision), take your time to get to know its qualities and benefits that will impact your workload and the wellbeing of the entire organization.
Core tools most frequently mentioned and loved by operations executives fall into these categories:
- Communication: Slack and Hangouts
- Project management: Asana, Wrike, Monday.com
- Collaboration: G Suite For Business
Make sure the tools you’re taking on board actually help you organize, systemize and delegate. A badly implemented tool might add more to your workload as opposed to making it easier and more streamlined.
When these core tools are implemented and your resources fully audited, you can look into more advanced tools that will help you run operations as a whole and positively affect teams across the entire organization.
This includes areas that deeply impact the growth, stability, and culture of a company, and can be categorized into:
- Customer relationship management (CRM)
- Contract and supplier management
- Employee onboarding
- Employee engagement
These categories matter because they cover three crucial elements of an organization: sales and customer growth, supplier reliability, and internal health of the company.
Here are tools that help with these processes:
CRM: Salesforce. Salesforce is a hyper-popular CRM solutions with operations executives because it provides robust solutions across customer relationship management, from sales and marketing to community and analytics. It serves over 100,000 customers thanks to its wide range of services for enterprise and small business solutions.
Contract and supplier management: Gatekeeper. Gatekeeper centralizes all of your contracts and information about your vendors. It reduces costs by surfacing opportunities for consolidation and automates your internal contract processes, freeing up crucial time and resource.
It also mitigates contract risk by monitoring your obligations, recording compliance and setting reminders and alerts. With an accurate and auditable record of all contract activity, your business is primed for growth.
Employee onboarding: Zenefits. Zenefits makes bringing new hires on board easy, along with ensuring effortless and accurate payroll, employee benefits self-service, employee documentation, requesting and tracking time off, and more. On top of that, they provide you with tools to make all these processes accessible on mobile, too.
Employee engagement: 15Five. 15Five is a continuous performance management solution that helps employees grow and develop through a lightweight weekly check-in. With a solution like 15Five, you can keep your finger on the company culture pulse and track feedback, objectives, recognition, 1-on-1s, and reviews.
Over to you
So what will it take you to run operations smoothly without being overwhelmed or too deep into every single process in your organization?
“It's vital that we have a solid set of tools to help us define the work that needs to be done. The more ambiguity and decision-making we can remove from ‘the work about the work’, the better,” adds Drew Shannon.
Ultimately, the most important approach is to understand what tools work for your organization, communication, and projects.
And as the key operations person, using these tools will help you keep track of what is currently happening, what’s coming next, and how these activities impact the employees and the business as a whole in the long game.