How to move away from firefighting mode in operations
Do you still remember that lucky day when you could put aside your regular schedule for an entire day to think about strategic topics such as new projects, structural changes or future plans? Many operations executives and operations managers do not recall either. In fact, most professionals working in operations spend majority of their time in firefighting mode, meaning they react to acute problems or customer complaints, trying to keep the operations at least running. This is not visible usually (in a lucky case) to the outside world, often not even to other functions within the same company, but can be nerve-racking and stressful to people working in it.
I'm starting this newsletter, Flawless Operations, in order to share learnings, best practices and inspirations in the field of operations management with the hope that I can help operations professionals move away from the constant firefighting mode and free up time for either more strategic projects or simply for their personal life. I believe that operational excellence is achievable even for operationally complex, fast growing businesses, in case they use the right ingredients. Of course I won't be the only one sharing my thoughts, I'll also invite guest writers & from time to time conduct interviews with other operations executives. This newsletter is especially relevant for operations heavy technology companies (e.g., in the delivery, micromobility, logistics industries) or digitally advanced operations companies (e.g., in logistics, travel or telecommunications sectors). But do not be afraid if your company is not there yet. Hopefully all operations professionals can get inspirations from the articles, even if the level of digitalisation is not there yet.
In this first article I wanted to provide a teaser, or in other terms a high level overview of the most important ingredients that I reckon can help businesses move from reactive to proactive, or from firefighting mode to stable way of operations.
Everything starts with understanding your business. What are the main business metrics that your operations team have impact on? At the end of the day, all operations team have an influence on the profitability of the business, both the revenue & the cost side (yes, revenues, too). But you should understand why and how. I think that building a KPI tree is a "must have" exercise to understand that. I'll share in a separate post how to build that and how to prioritise the KPIs to focus on accordingly.
Another baseline exercise should be mapping your current operations. Unfortunately this step is already overlooked by the majority of operations teams, as they often do not find important enough to allocate time for it in the middle of the firefighting mode. However, it's very difficult to figure out what to standardise, automate or monitor if you don't have a clarity on this. Imagine a Tesla autopilot system trying to drive without having access to data.
Once teams have the baseline understanding, they can start standardising & automating. Standardisation can start with as simple steps as creating playbooks for repeating processes. Even better if teams can automate some of the repeating tasks with robotic process automation (RPA), with custom developments or with different no-code tools. The speed of innovation is spectacular in this space, so operations teams better closely follow the trends. I'll try to help with that.
In order to initiate a standardised or automated process, there needs to be a trigger. Thus operations teams need to monitor the events that trigger the standardised or automated processes and set up alerts for them. This is not as straightforward as it sounds. The most simple solution is creating dashboards that operations managers regularly monitor, but with that teams still remains reactive and dependent on analysts identifying the events. A more advanced way to do this is to collaborate with the Data / BI teams to set up custom monitors that automatically trigger alerts. However, as I will argue in my later articles, the best way to do this is via no-code tools in order to empower operations teams to set up and modify monitors & alerts themselves.
Last but not least, all the previous steps shall be constantly reviewed & iterated based on learnings. It's almost impossible to get everything right at the first time, not to mention the constantly changing market environment, tool landscape or company priorities. That is one of the main reasons why I argue that operations teams shall be empowered to do all the 5 steps themselves, without minimal or no support from other functions (especially engineering or data teams). Agility shall be the core of operations, as in all the other functions of the company.
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