How to Win the Operations Game

The operations game is surprisingly tricky. Growing up, Operation was the classic board game that was probably stacked under a pile of others like Monopoly and Don’t Break the Ice in your hall closet. Almost everyone has played Operation once. It was thrilling to try to remove the tiny pieces from the electrically charged board.

With a steady hand, any child could perform open heart surgery on a patient (remember Cavity Sam?) who wasn’t sedated. Poor Sam! Business operations teams can also achieve success when considering difficult systems implementations, but it's a much trickier path.

Heed the warning signs

Cavity Sam is rigged to buzz when something’s not right, loud enough to give an unsuspecting child a jolt. His nose even lights up, like Rudolph. It’s impossible to miss if you mess up the surgery.

For the other kind of operations, for COO’s and their teams, the warning signs usually aren’t as evident. When choosing new systems or processes that could improve innovation for your business, is your choice helping or hurting the company? When a new system hurts a company, the warning signs might not be as obvious as they are in the board game.

Warning signs might include a steady decline in employee satisfaction, morale, or productivity. If the new system is supposed to improve communications, and employees aren’t used to it, many projects can get slowed down, or worse lost altogether.

Let’s look at some rules of this kind of operations game.

Rule 1: Innovation drives operational success

As described in part one of this series, Innovation is Meaningless (And Why Companies Don’t Do It), if your company has lost the drive to innovate, start by optimizing internal processes. This carries low risk and high ROI.

Part two of our series, Why Your Company isn’t Being Efficient, covered that companies need to make collaboration a priority. In a culture that thrives on immediacy through social media, news, and microwaveable dinners, organizations need to accept evolution and change with their employees.

Rule 2: Change management is amazing. Yes, this is a rule.

Not having change management during a rollout is like not having a surgeon in an operating room. Sure, maybe someone else could do the job, but the potential risks are too high for most patients.

To plan for a massive rollout like switching systems across an entire company, you need a strategy that provides for professional help during all aspects of the project, which calls for adequate change management and training. This will ease the present and future burden on both IT and operations teams. A planned rollout should also fit naturally into employees’ flow of work, helping to simplify and reduce any cumbersome tasks. A Forbes post reminds us to listen to the voice of the employee, especially when we introduce new systems.

Rule 3: Don’t fall into common traps

Falling into the same old operational traps (remember the wrenched ankle on the board?) can frustrate even senior management, who need to be big supporters of large-scale projects. Do your homework; there are lots of resources and VARs who can assist when you’re ready to roll out new systems.

Keep an eye on finances (remember that pesky bread slice?) System upgrades might require additional spend to start things off right, but there’s a good chance you will actually reduce overall spending by implementing the collaboration-empowering systems that will reduce IT calls and increase employee output. Be sure to ask VARs to help you scope not just the cost but the ROI for big systems projects.

Maybe it’s time to take the old Operation game out of the hall closet, find a 9volt battery, and have another go at old Sam.