As Lofty's Director of Operations I'm responsible for regularly assembling sales forecasts and cash flow projections, working with department heads on matters of budget, and managing the company’s relationships with outside vendors. I also spend much of my time thinking about process and the way we work.
Process is not the product of high-brow strategic formulation. It is, for us, the highly practical art of identifying a handful of activities which we think can have an outsized impact on a given project, or our business at large.
This theme can be found in Peter F. Drucker’s 1967 classic (and a personal favorite of mine), “The Effective Executive.”
Drucker says, “It’s not good enough to get things done. You must also get the right things done. By looking at the needs of the business, you have to determine where your contributions will make the largest impact, and then execute, delivering for the business what needed to be delivered.”
But what’s next? What happens after I’ve selected those high-priority items? Here are a few thoughts I would share with someone hoping to develop an operations mindset in their organization:
A task (or activity, if it is ongoing) is only on your shortlist because it is expected to generate outsized return on the effort, budget, and time required. The only way to know whether it should remain a priority is to measure and assess this return regularly. And, if the return isn’t there, the company with an operations mindset looks for opportunities to reallocate those resources.
Assessment doesn’t necessarily mean ruthless assessment. When a task makes it onto the shortlist, it is important to set expectations for what the timeline of its return will be. You can lose ten pounds running a mile every morning, but it may not happen by the end of the first week. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the return isn’t greater than the required effort.
Tasks and activities whose return is realized (or more fully realized) further down the line are at risk of premature discontinuation. It is the objective of the company with an operations mindset to ensure that this does not happen. If management believes that the expectation of return is valid, this expectation must be clearly communicated to the company's stakeholders.
In some cases, the value of an activity to a project or a business has been proven. Its results have been measured regularly, and it is doubtless something that should remain a priority. The individual responsible for that work, however, is splitting time and attention between too many areas of focus. If the activity in question is generating appropriate return, it may be more a job than an activity.
This is the path that led to the hiring of Lofty’s first Client Services Manager in October of last year. Casey had been juggling engineering leadership, sales, and client services roles, as well as a hefty chunk of time writing code. There was no question that client services was vital to our work and business, so we found someone who could give it the time and attention it needed.
An operations mindset is crucial for any small company (where resources are limited), but it is especially useful in consulting. Our consultants work with clients every day to determine where our team’s time and effort, and the client’s budget, can be best applied. This involves identifying key tasks and activities, regularly assessing the value of their return, and developing clear expectations of when the return will be realized.
When we focus not just on getting things done, but getting the right things done, our clients succeed and we build a stronger business.
Lofty Labs provides training to software teams.