Running an operations function within a startup

It is difficult for startup leaders to deliver major projects without neglecting their business-as-usual responsibilities. An operations team can solve this problem for startups by helping leaders with projects.

For example, a customer service team needs to keep on top of inbound support tickets and calls, which can be a demanding responsibility. Suppose you decide to move to a new help desk software. Someone must choose a new vendor, configure the new system, and roll it out to staff. In many startups, it is challenging for leaders to balance everyday responsibilities (support tickets and calls) with project delivery (new help desk software rollout), so one or more balls will be dropped.

A startup with a robust operations function won’t have this problem. With the consultation of all relevant stakeholders, an operations manager can carry out the vendor selection and system configuration process. They can guide staff through the adoption of the new product. And most importantly, they can empower the customer service team to remain focused on servicing customers.

Conversely, an ineffective operations function can harm a startup. A startup can take the agency away from its teams by recruiting an operations team. Bad operations managers impose strict and ineffective ways of working on individuals who are perfectly capable of designing their own procedures. They disruptively roll out initiatives and fail to meet the needs of the teams they are meant to serve.

So, let’s talk about the best ways to set an operations discipline up for success.

Best practices for operations teams

An excellent operations team amplifies the capabilities of their colleagues. They collaborate with leaders and individuals to solve problems within the business through improvements to how everybody works and collaborates.

Their goals include:

They achieve these goals through two primary responsibilities:


  1. Imagine a startup that wants to move from tracking customer relationships in a knowledge base like Notion towards a CRM. This could impact how the finance team reports on sales results, how the sales team tracks opportunities, how the marketing team segments prospects for campaigns, and how customer service manages support tickets. Therefore, this initiative has many stakeholders, and it is not apparent who should own it primarily. Operations managers are great at bringing together multiple teams to get things like this done. ↩︎

  2. Imagine a startup that wants to move towards a model where third parties can implement their product for new customers rather than their own internal teams. This might allow them to grow more quickly or expand into new markets. If they give this initiative to their already busy professional services team, it will move along very slowly. If an operations manager can own it and call upon the expertise of the professional services team only where necessary (e.g., writing technical documentation), things will move faster. ↩︎

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