What the Heck is an Operations Manager Anyway?

By Sharon Morgan | October 2008

During the 80’s, I became enthralled with computers and what they could do.  And it wasn’t just about how cool it was to play Space Invaders. After getting a business degree, I wanted to work in the software industry so I found a job doing technical support and technical writing for a small five-person company.  As my career progressed, I managed a 10-person support department where I needed to know how to do everyone’s job – from managing networks to repairing databases to finding lost data. And while this position was challenging and constantly changing, I was only aware of one segment of my company’s overall business. 

As with many folks who work for small software companies, I have an entrepreneurial spirit and I wanted to be in charge. An operations manager position provides me with control over how the business is run. I oversee all the day-to-day operations of the company, including customer service, shipping, and customer support. I make sure we don’t run out of stock; that we get the best price to ship our products while our employees have the resources they need to be successful. By executing my job effectively, the CEO can focus on the future growth of the company without worrying about the running of the office.

Because my current company is fairly small, 15 employees, I also handle human resource duties, inventory management and pay the bills. I make sure the employees are trained and happy; I even throw company lunches and the occasional party to keep up morale. I make sure customers are satisfied with our products and implement any steps necessary to help improve customer relations.  I actively encourage feedback from employees in each area, to see if improvements can be made.

For example, customer service folks mentioned they were receiving a lot of calls about our software working in conjunction with another popular product. I then worked with the web development and marketing staff to clarify the messaging on our web site so customers can identify product compatibility. That meant the customer service folks had more time available and our customers were able to get questions answered immediately on the web site, rather than making a call.

My background in software support has helped me since I know what it’s like to do the jobs I am in charge of. I know when someone needs help, and when they aren’t living up to their potential. But the biggest skill that’s needed for my job is attention to detail. I am always in the middle of 20 different tasks and it is critical that keep track of each task and its status. When a new software product is released, all employees need to accomplish their piece of the rollout process to make sure the product is tested and ready to ship by the release date. It’s important to be highly organized to making sure company goals are met. If you aren’t naturally organized, then a great software task manager is essential. 

Negotiation skills are important, since I regularly work with vendors to get the best possible price for our supplies. People skills also are essential, since I interact with many people throughout my company on a regular basis. And because I spend a lot of time communicating via email, grammar skills are very important. I also spend time each month reviewing the company financial reports, seeing where money is being spent and determining if there are areas where we can make cost savings. 

If you’re looking to move into operations, I recommend you demonstrate your ability to handle tasks related to the operations of the company by asking for responsibility in this area. Speak to a senior executive and let them know what your goal is, and ask to take on something in which they need help. For example, ask if you can work on lowering the company’s shipping rates. Then meet with your shipping vendor (as well as the competitors) and have them evaluate your pricing and see if there are any special promotions they have that you can take advantage of. I saved more than 50 percent shipping to Western Europe with a phone call. Once the task has been completed, make sure to report back the results of your work. Tackling expenses is always a good way to get noticed and it can give you a good way to prove your worth as an operations manager.   

What I love the most about working in operations is that the job is different every day. I hate monotony, and I love that each day brings new challenges. I provide valuable feedback to the CEO regarding the effectiveness of company strategy. I know that I’m making a difference in the success of the company.