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May 16, 2020

3 Steps To Better Operations Design

The Spur Group defines good business operations systems as a collection of processes, tools, templates, timelines, and rhythms of a business that are interconnected and work together.

Establishing a robust, enduring, and efficient system sounds simple. So why don’t most companies have smoothly running business operations?

Because design and implementation are hard and often neglected. And often companies make the mistake of moving directly from strategy into execution without understanding whether they have a system that supports the effort.

Achieving operational success is not a quick fix. It takes commitment from the organization. On top of that, many key stakeholders either do not see the operational design’s value or don’t prioritize it.

There are serious risks to not investing adequate time, energy, and budget into good business operations design. You and your team risk wasting time, being ill-equipped for common or repetitive tasks, and getting confused or burned out. Additionally, without a well-designed system, the best strategies and the best execution can fail. Even the smallest change in operations can have a ripple effect on multiple systems, making the chance of unintended consequences much greater.

Graphic of the four steps of business operations: strategic planning, operations, design, initiative execution and business intelligence, with an emphasis on operations design

However, if done correctly, a well-designed operations system enables transparency across teams, reduces the time needed to complete tasks, and easily supports collaboration within and outside your organization.

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An organization with effective business operations runs like a well-oiled machine, which benefits your customers, employee satisfaction, and bottom line. We recommend these 3 key steps for success in operations design:

  1. Set non-negotiable system objectives
  2. Design effective systems
  3. Keep systems running

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. 

Part 1: Overall business operations
Part 2: Strategic planning
Part 3: This blog focuses on operations design
Part 4: Initiative execution
Part 5: Business intelligence

1. Set non-negotiable system objectives

Align to corporate timing and standards

For operations to be successful, you need clarity on how they fit into the larger context of your organizational system. Designing operations and systems without considering internal and external impacts may create confusion, inconsistencies, and inefficiencies. A business operations system that you create should align to, support, and balance existing corporate systems.

As you establish your new rhythm, use the existing frameworks as a baseline. For instance, your design should ensure teams have access to the latest data and reporting before key milestones or reviews with company leadership. Additionally, you should work to leverage content that is prepared for one use in others — thus reducing the amount of internal churn.

Because there can be multitudes of information to gather, organize, and consider, we recommend creating a comprehensive timeline of the overall work required by your teams. And while timelines are often deployed and leveraged at an initiative level, they are often overlooked as a tool for the broader organization. With context and relevant timelines, you will develop more effective operations and systems.

Create transparency among strategy, initiatives, and metrics

Your operations design should always tie back to your strategic plan, which will sustain progress and ensure you achieve the right goals. Without creating and maintaining transparency among teams, information is inconsistent, and success becomes less attainable.

We often see organizations separate operations design from their strategy, viewing them as two isolated pieces of the business. However, those teams often fail to meet strategic objectives.

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. A common mistake we see is a business operations system designed exclusively for the organization’s leader. While this may sound logical at a macro level, it often results in a system that is burdensome to the rest of the team by removing focus on important work.

As you design your business operations system, consider the extended team, management structure, stakeholders, and anyone who will be affected by the system. Also consider where your outputs go, your dependencies, and the upstream rhythm of business impact. 

Streamline and automate

One of the easiest ways to drive the 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 considering the amount work needed to run it. As you design your organization’s 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. Remember, if a system is overly complicated, adoption will be slow and thereby stall progress against key tactics and strategies.

First, 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. You should also identify the potential breakage points, which are potential innovation areas. For example, implementing a simple portal with the agenda for this month’s business review can save hours in email conversations.

As you evaluate each process, focus on reducing effort, particularly in the long term. An extra 30 minutes per week of entering semi-important data may not seem significant; but at the end of the year, that task adds up to more than 24 hours.

Any time you find yourself saying, “Well, this is how we’ve always done it,” stop and re-evaluate. It can most likely be improved. If something isn’t working, don’t wait to fix it. If this happens, we suggest you look to automate and innovate. Traditionally low value, tedious tasks can be automated in a way that allows the user to focus time on insights and other higher-value activities. This shift has been aided by the emergence and general acceptability of RPA (Robot Process Automation) and other related solutions.

In addition, new processes often take slightly longer in the beginning, as teams and individuals build understanding and knowledge about the new system. If a new process seems to be moving slowly at first, no need to assume it’s a bad process.

Instead, think of the time as a ramp-up period as people adjust to a new way of working.

Ensure discoverability of content and information

A well-run team is a well-informed team. If your systems and tools don’t allow your executive or team to find what they need, they will disengage or spend time asking you for help.

Keep information accessible and organize resources in logical categories. 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.

gtm assessment_image cta

3. Keep systems running

Training

Effective training helps your system operate correctly. Without proper training, you are gambling on word-of-mouth and hope (as we like to say, ‘hope’ is not strategy).

Approach training proactively. Some people need support for software, while others might need communication skills.

Don’t expect your stakeholders to 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.

Communication

Communicating any updates or changes to a business operations system is crucial. If your communication is late or unclear, you risk losing trust and participation in the system.

Buy-in is much tougher to achieve when employees are confused or doubt your approach. Build a consistent feedback loop and implement changes as appropriate (or explain why it wasn’t implemented). Be sure to continue communication throughout the change to increase the rate of adoption and signal the effort’s priority.

Expectations

Effective business operations system changes require that the business lead set proper expectations. Confusion about expectations can be a huge cause of stress in the workplace. You’ll want to set clear expectations on how individual team members contribute to the system and report on the status regularly. Ensure the timeline and meeting cadence is clear.

The team needs to adhere to the business operations system and meet key milestones. Team members should also understand suggestions and modifications are always welcome, but participation is a requirement.

Operations design: set non-negotiable system objectives, design effective systems, keep systems running

 

Check out our other blogs in the series: 

Part 1: Overall business operations
Part 2: Strategic planning
Part 4: Initiative execution
Part 5: Business intelligence

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Dan Overgaag

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...