Wednesday, 2 September 2015

A Business Operations Manager is ...

My role in the company is called Operations Manager, or more formally, Business Operations Manager. It's not a role that translates very well to other organisations, encompassing aspects of General Management and Resource Management. This is an internal blog post in which I attempted to characterise the role. Especially useful if you've been baffled by my "poetry" on the same subject.

... the ​conductor of a symphony orchestra

Barbara Hannigan's description of her own job as "a humbling realisation that the conductor is part servant, part leader and, most of the time, just trying to stay out the way" sounds suspiciously like Operations Management. It's the engineers and the consultants and even the salespeople that have the individual skills to make the business work harmoniously. Without the Operations team, though, they might as well all be playing their own tunes.


... but not a fighter pilot

Commonly, multi-tasking is considered to be a valuable and transferable business skill. It really isn't - unless, that is, you're the pilot of a fast jet. Because, really, very few professions actually require a single person to be performing multiple skilled roles at the same time.

What's really valuable is the ability to rapidly assess problems and tasks, and deal with them in a sensible order. Often I find I start an important email first thing in the morning and it's still half-drafted at home time, because less important but more urgent things have occurred in the meantime. Finishing the email without repeating points I've already made, and making the whole message flow, is a bit of an art in itself. When somebody calls and says that they're following up on the IM conversation from earlier - it's not always trivial to slip back into that conversation without further context. In each case, I'm not multi-tasking, but context-shifting: picking things up; putting them back down; responding to calls and instant messages and emails in something like a managed order rather than complete chaos. And that leads nicely on to ...

... a first responder

I'm not a Helpdesk. I don't get assigned tickets in a predetermined order. I get contacted by people who are more or less unhappy about something and who need something done to resolve the problem. Some of those problems are inherently deeply personal. Some affect entire teams. Some will have a serious impact on the performance of the whole business.

There are established tools and techniques for medical triage. Sometimes, it would be nice if the same techniques could be applied to business problems. Tie a green tag to the Finance Manager who needs to know if some hours can be moved. A yellow tag for the member of staff who's told his line manager he's not happy in role. Ah, but it's financial month end: now the Finance Manager's problem has deteriorated and warrants a red tag. And that unhappy member of staff has found a new job and quit. Black tag: pain relief only now until the inevitable end.

But caution all the while on communicating your intentions. No patient wants to wake up and discover a black tag tied to themselves.

... but not a surgeon

A Delivery Manager might well get the chance to spend an hour - or a whole day - picking apart the issues facing a single project team. The Operations Manager will probably never have that chance. The Operations Manager will always need the broad view of the problems. That, sadly, will always come at the expense of the deep view.

We're working on "professionalising" our Operations team, but the reality is that Ops touches many different functions within the company, all of which are demanding and dynamic. It's exceptionally rare that we'll get the chance to sit in a quiet place and just work on one single problem at a time.

... a gardener

The adage says that a weed is simply a plant growing in the wrong place. Surely, then, this makes the Operations Manager a gardener: moving plants to their best location; allowing them access to the light; letting them flourish.

Furthermore, it's been said that gardening is never really about putting plants in the ground; nature can do that perfectly well without any help. It's much more about clearing space, removing obstacles, and letting growth happen naturally.

... and a master LEGO builder

The central job of an Operations Manager or a Resourcing Manager is to take the available resources and make them fit the work available. However, there's not a single right answer to any resourcing problem. It's a bit like taking the pieces from one Lego set and the instructions from a different set. At the same time, the Operations Manager needs to constantly guess which Lego sets will need to be built next, and next year.

In the meantime, there will be a steady supply of new Lego pieces arriving that are almost certainly the wrong shape, but which perfectly fit the instructions from six months ago.