NOTE: please see an updated article, “What do operations people do,” outlining differences between business, technology, people, sales, and marketing operations.
I have been in the craft of operations for two decades already. I have run ops in SaaS companies, digital agencies, custom software development companies, talent agencies, e-commerce companies, and professional services firms. What operations people do is often consistent industry to industry. Hence I find it very important that those in other functional areas have a correct understanding of what we do to work better together. In this post, I am going to focus more on misconceptions more common in tech. If I am talking to an engineer, software developer, or other techies, they automatically assume operations are purely a systems management role. The role in question is sysops or devops responsible for managing technical systems and deployment of software. In the “old days,” we used to call the role systems administrator or network admin. Unless one specifies they are referring to technology operations, people should always assume they are talking about business operations.
So what do the business or just operations people do? The head of operations (be it COO, VP, or Director of Operations) is usually responsible for coordinating and managing the vision’s execution and the roadmap developed with the CEO and the board. What does that entail? Most heads of operations will oversee everything from talent management (HR) to finance, forecasting to infrastructure, technology operations (unless there is a CTO in place), to customer service. Depending on the operations leader’s company and capabilities, other functional areas may report directly to them. Lately, COO and CFO roles have become interchangeable, but that is the subject of another post. As operations professionals, we pride ourselves on our ability to conduct this orchestra, serving every functional area, protect the organization and the resources available, solve problems before anyone catches wind of them.
In business operations, our prime KPI is the success of all functional areas.
Photo credit: Leo Reynolds