Establishing a robust, enduring, and efficient system sounds simple. So why don’t most companies have smoothly running systems?
Design and implementation are hard.
Achieving operational success isn’t a quick fix, it takes commitment from the organization. On top of that, many key stakeholders don’t see the value or prioritize operations design.
The Spur Group defines business operations systems as a collection of processes, tools, templates, timelines, and rhythms of business. This is the third in a 5-part blog series defining The Spur Group’s unique perspective on the often overlooked, but incredibly valuable world of business operations.
Even the smallest change in operations can have a ripple effect on multiple systems, making the chance of unintended consequences much greater. People also tend to be hesitant to change their behaviors, adding to the challenge of introducing new business operation systems. However, if done correctly, a well-designed operations system enables visibility across teams, reduces work efforts, and easily supports collaborations within and outside your organization. An organization can run like a well-oiled machine.
There are serious risks to not investing adequate time, energy, and budget to business operations design. You and your team risk using your time inefficiently, being ill-equipped for common or repetitive tasks, confusion, and burnout. You also risk information going to people who shouldn’t receive.
Exerting the effort to build a great business operations system will free up time to focus on what really matters, meet deadlines, and leave by 5pm.
Ultimately, your internal and external customers will benefit, and your bottom line will rise.
As you look to design or update your own business operations system, we believe there are 3 key steps for success:
For operations to be successful, you need to be clear on how the operations fit into the larger context of your organizations system. Designing operations and systems without considering internal and external impacts may create confusion, inconsistencies, and inefficiencies.
As you establish your new rhythm, use the existing frameworks as a baseline.
For instance, your design should ensure your teams have access to the latest data and reporting before key milestones or reviews with company leadership. We recommend creating a comprehensive timeline of the overall work required by your teams. This will help you develop more effective operations and systems.
Drive line of sight between strategy, initiatives, and metrics
Your operations design should always tie back to your strategic plan to sustain progress and ensure you are achieving the right goals. Without driving and maintaining that line of sight, success becomes less and less attainable because information is inconsistent, and the team is misaligned.
We often see organizations separate operations design from their strategy, seeing them as two isolated pieces of the business. This results in strategic objectives that are unable to be met because operations weren’t designed to meet them.
Each step of strategic execution should be enabled by your operations design.
2. Design effective systems
Design for everyone
Any system design is only as good as the participation in it.
Make sure all teams and relevant stakeholders are able and willing to execute the processes, use the tools, and adhere to the rhythms you establish. One of the more common mistakes we see is a business operations system designed exclusively for a single person: the leader of the organization. While this may sound logical at a macro level, it often results in a system that is burdensome to the rest of the team. It takes their focus away from important work or causes a general lack of adherence.
As you design your business operations system, be sure to consider the extended team, management structure, stakeholders, and anyone who will be affected or required to participate. But always in addition to leadership.
It is also important to understand where your outputs will be fed to others, what dependencies you have, and the upstream ROB impact.
Streamline and automate
One of the easiest ways to drive adoption of a newly introduced business operations system is to reduce everyone’s workload.
We commonly see organizations make the mistake of designing a system to produce a specific outcome without taking the amount of work needed to run it into consideration. As you design your organizations business operations system, inventory which steps are necessary, which can be removed, the effort required to complete each step, and the return you expect to get from each.
Start with the most critical processes and evaluate them for improvement – determine which steps are adding value and which are not. Be sure to investigate which tools or processes make life easier and where there are potential breakage points so you can innovate around those areas. For example, implementing a simple portal with the agenda for this month’s business review can save hours in email conversations.
The idea is to reduce effort and think through the long-term impact.
An extra half an hour a week of entering semi-important data may not seem significant, but at the end of the year, that semi-important task will have taken more than 24 hours.
Any time you find yourself saying “well, this is how we’ve always done it”, stop and re-evaluate; chances are it can be improved. And if something isn’t working, don’t wait to fix it!
Ensure discoverability of content and information
A well-run team is a well-informed team. People will only spend their excess time to search for something themselves, and if they can’t find what they are looking for in that time, they are likely to abandon their search all together. Whether it’s an answer to a quick question, or an important document, the more easily accessible it is, the more people can self-serve.
If your systems and tools don’t allow your executive or your team to find what they need, they will disengage (and ask you to help).
Keep information accessible and organize things in themes that are logical to your end users. As an example, design tools and processes that leverage a consistent set of colors or icons to make things easy to identify throughout the system.
3. Keep systems running
A business operations system most often fails due to inadequate follow through and support. This is usually attributed to a lack of training, muddled communication, and improper expectation-setting from leadership.
Effective training helps your system operate correctly. Without proper training, you are gambling on word-of-mouth and hope (and as we like to say…hope is not strategy).
Approach training proactively. Some people need support around tools, others around how to present to executives. It’s important to arm your team with the training needed to be successful at all levels.
Don’t expect that your stakeholders will figure it out on their own.
Eventually they may, but it will be inconsistent across the organization and at the expense of other key initiatives. Offer support early and often.
Just like with training, when implementing any business operations system, it is important to communicate changes early and often. If you have late communications or your communication is unclear, you risk losing trust or participation in the system.
It is much harder to get buy-in when there is confusion or doubt about your approach. Build a consistent feedback loop and implement changes as appropriate (or explain why it wasn’t implemented). Be sure to continue communications throughout the change to speed adoption and signal the importance of the effort.
Any effective change in a business operations system requires that the business lead set proper expectations. Confusion around expectations can be a huge cause of stress in the workplace.
It should be very clear from the beginning that the team needs to adopt and adhere to the business operations system, along with key milestones and timing. It is also important for the team to understand that suggestions and modifications are always welcome, but participation is a requirement.
Expectations on how individual team members contribute to the system should be clearly articulated and progress and status regularly reported. Make sure that the timeline and meeting cadence is clear and aligned with the overarching business rhythms.
Designing effective business operations eliminates the reasons things “can’t” be done, saves time and money, and increases productivity. When you have strong operations design, you streamline your team’s workload. This allows them to focus on more important things – like driving strategy and executing on initiatives.
Dan leads The Spur Group’s channel management, sales transformation and business operations practices with over 11 years of industry experience. Dan has led countless projects and strategic initiatives across channel management and channel incentives programs within technology companies such as Microsoft, Cisco and...