The Case for Operations: Skeleton Theory Part I

I am a visual person, so it’s easier for me to learn and understand things that I can see. I like to come up with diagrams or analogies to help visualize concepts, and these visual representations help me explain them to other people. So imagine my delight when a spontaneous discussion with a friend gave way to an excellent analogy that allows me to both illustrate the role of the operations infrastructure in any workplace and make the case for why investing time, thought, and resources into operations is critical!

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Consider this: the operations infrastructure of a company is like the skeletal system in a body (let’s image a human skeletal system for now). The bones that make up a skeleton are the infrastructure components in the body, and without the bones maintaining the basic shape, the other body parts – legs, arms, torso, head – can’t move. The same is true in a company: without the proper “skeleton” of basic organization units in place, like the structure of departments or function areas, the rest of the organization can’t move or function properly.  Without a proper, well-organized skeleton, no one would know where they fit in, what they were supposed to do, or how to do it.

Now here is where my analogy goes deeper: the skeletal system is made up of more than just bones, and it does more than just serve as the body’s inner scaffolding. The bones are surrounded by a network of ligaments, cartilage, and tendons that connect the bones to each other and make up the joints. The joints enable the skeletal system to move each body part, either individually or in coordination with other body parts, which allows the body to work as a unit and carry out all the activities we do.

In my analogy, this elaborate system of joints is made up of the plans and processes for how each unit of the company operates. They address critical operational functions such as office supply purchasing requests, professional development and training, phone and communication technologies, file sharing and knowledge management, templates and tools for routine services and deliverables, project management, and internal databases. These plans and processes not only enable each unit to work independently, but also facilitate the units working together to execute the mission and purpose of the company as a whole. The operations system establishes the relationships between units, making it possible for them to support and communicate with one another. This makes the operations system a critical characteristic for successful workplaces.

As anyone who’s had a hip replaced or torn a rotator cuff can attest, a breakdown of the joints is debilitating for the whole body. In order to prevent joint strain, people adopt protective and preventative habits such as exercise, stretching, eating certain foods, wearing supportive bandages or braces, and getting massages in order to keep the joints strong, flexible, and intact. The same type of deliberate attention should be paid to the operational plans and processes in a company.

I encourage you to set some time aside and think about the structure of your company -- specifically about what role each unit plays in supporting the overall mission and purpose of the organization. Then think about both the supports needed by each unit and the processes necessary to coordinate across units in order for your company to function how you want it to. You may notice some gaps between the plans and processes that you need and those that you currently have in place.

As any athlete knows, to reach peak performance, you have to maintain a healthy body, from the bones to the joints and beyond.  Likewise, a healthy company requires a healthy infrastructure, coupled with well thought out processes and procedures to ensure ease of production and collaboration.  It’s not easy – but if you feel overwhelmed by the process, AIS Collaborations can help.   

Stay tuned for the next blog post, which will take the skeletal system analogy to another level!