Explaining the role of operations

by Barry on April 7, 2010

Image from PicApp

One question I hear often is “what is operations and what do you do?” While there are many definitions regarding operations, my view is that the operations group in an advertising agency is responsible for running the day-to-day business of the organization, maintaining profitability targets, ensuring consistency, and being a key part of the senior management team. In short, operations is responsible for getting things done. For the execution of all things.

The operations group is typically led by a COO, who partners extensively with the CEO providing leadership and direction for all business activities. The COO also works very closely with the other department leads including client services, strategy/planning, creative, technology, media, production, HR, finance and IT. One frequent question is how does operations differ from project managers.  The main difference is that project managers are focused on the success of their projects while the operations group focuses on the success of the office. Obviously there is much overlap and in a typical agency environment, the project management group reports to the COO.

Note that the actual titles vary depending on the organization. For example, instead of a COO, there may be a SVP/VP/Director of Operations, Delivery Manager or General Manager. The CEO title represents the leader of the organization and may have a President or Managing Director title.

The primary responsibilities of the operations group include:

Operational: The operations group drives flawless execution across all engagements. They are responsible for allocating resources, managing and securing freelancers, working with HR and recruiters to bring on new employees, engaging third party vendors and partners, analyzing and recommending acquisitions, developing operating policies and processes, fostering teamwork, overseeing office management, establishing and measuring KPIs, resolving issues between departments, and taking charge in crisis situations. Simply, they are responsible for driving operational excellence across the organization.

Change agent: The operations group is responsible for developing a framework for cultural change, enabling the organization to do the best that it possibly can.  They work under the auspicious to challenge everything as they work to change the status quo. As the king of efficiency, they are constantly looking for better ways to get things done.  This is one of the most important aspects of the COO and the operations group.

Budgetary: The operations group is responsible for planning, overseeing, directing and evaluating the office’s fiscal function and performance.  Working with the finance group, they develop the budget to support the strategic business goals, manage operations to meet the budget goals, review revenue forecasts and monthly P&Ls, taking action as needed, review profitability across client engagements and the office, and review and approve all hiring and salary adjustments.

People: The COO and the operations group ensures that the staff is properly aligned to the work. They resolve some questions such as: Do we have the right people in place? Do we have a pool of freelancers or recruiters that we can pull from as needed? How is staff assigned to projects?

The COO works with the department leads to ensure that every person’s roles and responsibilities are clear so that everyone knows what is expected of them. They identify and track the rising stars and drive out the bottom feeders.  Working with Human Resources, they develop a program to build organizational capabilities, ensuring that core competencies and organizational values are instilled.

Leadership: The COO is a key component of the senior management team. They advise the team on strategic business development and key corporate planning issues and make recommendations on major business decisions. They shape and develop department strategy and organization and help identify opportunities and potential threats.

The COO encourages department leads to evaluate and take actions that are consistent with organization’s overall strategy which will lead to high performance. The challenge basic assumptions underlying each department’s operations.

One of my favorite books on the art of execution is Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done. I recommend picking this up if you want to learn more about what execution really means.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Alexus September 4, 2019 at 3:58 am



Amos December 3, 2018 at 10:15 am

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Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg April 9, 2010 at 11:56 am

Great blog, Barry, and this piece is excellent and also the one on entrepreneuer spirit. Thanks for doing this!


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