Operations management is the application of organizational processes to generate a high level of efficiency within a line of business. It’s based on transforming information, labor, and material into products and services with as little waste as possible to return the most value. The operations department in a business is often vague and confusing because of its multidisciplinary attributes. But, you don’t have to get an MBA or capture a black belt in some certification to utilize the principles of operations management.
For over a decade, I’ve been fortunate enough to implement operations strategy for a variety of industries, including manufacturing, financial risk security, and influencer marketing. With each opportunity, I’ve practiced operations concepts to improve the processes, products, and services offered. And the best news is, each of the following 6 techniques can be leveraged in any industry, business, campaign, or project.
1. Identify Project Requirements With a Systematic Approach
Let’s bake a cake. We don’t start right at the batter, right? First, we need to figure out what the cake is for. Is it a cake to have around the house to help you with the occasional sugar fix, or is it a birthday cake earmarked for tomorrow night? What flavor is it going to be? What type of icing should we use? Do we have all the ingredients? You get it. You can’t just jump into the middle of making a cake. You can’t shuffle steps and skip ingredients or you’ll get something inedible. The same goes for a project: a process needs to be followed and information needs to be gathered before we can start.
Information gathering is the formal process of using interviews, questionnaires, research, sampling, prototyping, and other techniques to collect information about preferences and requirements. These first-hand looks can help you grasp opportunities and diagnose problems. Ultimately, it is the project team’s duty to get the stakeholder and users of the finished project to divulge the project requirements.
For example, when devising a new marketing campaign, gather as much information about your target market as possible. Observe them on social media, blogs, forums — wherever they live to learn about the information they’re seeking, the questions they’re asking, and where you can start to fill a gap for them with your brand and information.
2. Implement Projects With Buy-in At All Levels
Have you ever tried to get a kid to eat a meal? Letting your little one have some say in what they eat, which utensils they can use, and where they sit will increase the chances of food going in the belly rather than on the ceiling.
Project adoption is basically the same. Getting other people involved in your plans not only helps create a 360-degree view of the plan or project, it also increases the adoption. If you have the opportunity to create a project team, choose people who are not like you. Involve upper management, middle management, the people who actually perform the value-added work, and someone from a department that has nothing to do with the project at all. Creating the project team with different people from different skill levels and departments will help the project gain traction because it will be built by a cross section of the company together, instead of one isolated part.
3. Utilize Numbers in Decision-making
Is the idea of detangling tons and tons of rows and columns of numbers stretched across spreadsheets giving you anxiety? As they say, the truth is in the details. To be successful at operations, making sense of numbers doesn’t have to excite you, but you need to understand their power and purpose. The different ways numbers can be combined and dissected along with some unbiased common sense can help you arrive at the right key performance indicators (KPIs) for your organization or project. Measuring these KPIs and building in early warning signals, like monitoring outbound email activity to ensure a healthy sales or marketing pipeline, is an essential attribute for the operations role. Understanding your numbers and the distinct levers that can be applied to them gives you more control over things that were previously unpredictable.
4. Have a Passion for Solving Puzzles, Problems, and Opportunities
In a nutshell, the operations business unit provides intelligent and creative recommendations for processes around an organization. Operations employees are the detectives of the workforce.
Turn your next project into a riddle and lay out the different paths to success. Classify the problems, dig for knowledge in the monumental amounts of available data and then evaluate it to arrive at the areas of focus. This requires an inquisitive mind, a persistent approach, and deduction skills; everyone is born with a little bit of this. In fact, our children are better detectives than we give them credit for. Next time you hear a kid ask “why?” over and over again, don’t get frustrated. Instead, learn some root cause analysis from them. Jog your memories back in time by finishing a puzzle or playing Sudoku.
5. Have Well-defined Roles and Responsibilities With Your Team
Role ambiguity is one of the most stressful things that can happen to employees and it’s more common than anyone thinks. Without role clarity, waste reigns supreme as many tasks are overly repeated while other activities do not get accomplished. Some individuals will skate by while others carry the load. Emotions can then start playing a role and general team spirit breaks down.
Role clarity is not exactly your job description. It is an iterative process championed by the team leaders that removes the barriers to team effectiveness. The processes created to achieve documented roles and responsibilities takes commitment and it requires regular discussion between the team and team leader.
When embarking on a new marketing campaign, the team leader should ensure that each team member understands their role and the role of everyone else on the team. For example, when a brilliant idea is proposed at a meeting, the team leader will solicit volunteers or delegate responsibility for the implementation of the idea by assigning tasks, setting deadlines, and following up with all involved. Teams with role clarity are substantially more successful than those without.
6. Continuously Improve Each Process
Improve everything you touch. This is easy to say but difficult to do mainly because it’s impossible to improve unless you have a standard process to begin with. Once a process is standardized and documented, you can measure improvements against it. While the philosophy of continuous improvement can help achieve breakthrough advancements, its use in helping to achieve incremental improvements is easiest to deploy. Each process can have its own feedback loop to determine how healthy it is. Rewarding employees for identifying wastes such as waiting time, bottlenecks, unnecessary steps, poor sequencing, etc., will help create a culture of continuous improvement. Working to constantly improve can help your team or organization reduce operating overhead while also upping employee morale by utilizing the talents and ideas of the workforce.
Operations insights are about working smarter, not harder. If you’ve ever been hard at work and said, “there has to be a better way,” you are already thinking like someone with an operations background. No matter if it is business or at home, a large project or small task, with a team or individual contribution, challenge yourself to problem solve in a systematic way utilizing an array of data-based ideas that can grow efficiently. Operations management principles may be the missing link for you.