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Effective Operational Management Strategies for Digital Agencies: Insights and Best Practices
Using Data and Tools for Effective Operations Management
How do you see the role of an operations manager in an agency? What challenges do you face in this role?
In my opinion, an operations manager is critical to the long-term success of an agency. While each department is focused on its KPIs and deliverables, an operations team can help ensure success for everyone. There are always challenges, but they evolve over the lifespan of an agency. Early in an agency's maturity, the focus is often on a nominal tech stack, SOPs, and who's doing what. As the agency progresses, the operation's focus grows into things like department utilization rates, when to hire, and decreasing roadblocks.
A Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) is a set of detailed instructions created by an organization to help employees perform regular tasks. The purpose of SOPs is to achieve efficiency, consistent product quality and standardized work, and to reduce the risk of misunderstandings and non-compliance with industry guidelines.
How do you use data and analytics to make decisions in your work? What tools do you use to collect and analyze data?
Analysis in operations is a bit fuzzier than in other departments of a digital agency, like SEO or PPC, but we're not flying blind. By gathering data from our project management system (ClickUp) and time-tracking tool (Harvest), we're able to extract meaningful insights and measurable points of reference.
What tools do you use to improve operational processes in the agency? How effective are they?
For SOP creation and consumption, we use either Tango or Loom, depending on who is preparing the SOP and how it should be consumed. Then we house them in our SOP Wiki (library) inside ClickUp. So not only can anyone view an SOP directly in the wiki, we can also easily "attach" them to a task so that whoever is performing said task has quick access to the related SOP(s). In addition, we've also developed a proprietary tool (Portal) for Local SEO that makes managing and delivering awesome work to our clients a breeze. All these tools are great at what they're designed to do and make our work much easier.
Management in challenging conditions
When facing a scarcity of resources, such as personnel or finances, what strategies do you employ to manage this situation? How do you maximize resource efficiency in the agency?
At RicketyRoo, we tackle resource management through utilization rate analysis. In its most simplistic form, we evaluate how many hours of work our client roster needs per month versus how many hours our team(s) have available. If the gap in those numbers narrows to a particular threshold, we know it's time to hire. By being aware of those departmental utilization rates, we're typically able to avoid the burden of scarcity.
How do you ensure the sustainability and reliability of operational processes in the agency? How do you respond to unexpected changes in operational processes?
As a former SME, I understand firsthand how frustrating it can be to adhere to suboptimal processes. For this reason, I make it a point to share with all our SMEs that the Ops team does not want to create and/or enforce SOPs without their input. By regularly reviewing our SOPs with the SMEs and department directors, we can create and/or adjust SOPs that are effective for client success and concise and easily implemented by anyone on the team. If at any time an SME presents issues with an SOP, we get together for a chat with the team to discuss necessary adjustments and put those in the playbook right away.
A subject matter expert (SME) is someone with specialized knowledge in a specific area. Often, their competencies are developed through years of on-the-job experience and education in their field. It's not enough to just be an experienced person in your role to be considered a subject matter expert.
What is your attitude to innovation in operational processes? What innovations have you implemented in the agency and how have they impacted the business?
A lack of innovation in SOPs can be crippling to the sustained success of an agency. If you're still doing things the way they were a decade ago, you'll lose to competitors at the forefront of the industry. We make it a point to be involved in current conversations and nerd out on what's new or coming soon. The RooKrew evaluates emerging technologies and tools to determine if they can/should be added to our SOP library.
Organizing communication between departments
When faced with conflicts between various departments in the agency, what approaches do you take to resolve these issues? How do you ensure streamlined operations across departments?
I think the answers to these questions go back to ensuring that SMEs and department directors are involved, right from the beginning, in the process creation and implementation. If the team(s) are part of the building process, you're less likely to face conflicts or pushback down the road. We're actually in the middle of an agency SOP audit (that we call Ops Overhaul) that is providing tremendous insight into what's working and what isn't. This helps us ensure the stability of our playbook and the ability to streamline across the organization.
What steps do you take to ensure that your team members are effectively communicating with one another? How do you ensure that everyone is on the same page?
Two things we couldn't live without: Slack and a weekly "all hands" meeting. We also make an effort to regularly let our teammates know that we're available for any questions or concerns they have. No one is more important than anyone else, and no question is a dumb one to ask.
An all-hands meeting is an event that involves the entire staff, management, and stakeholders of a company. This gathering aims to address critical company-wide issues and provide updates to all employees.
When it comes to measuring the effectiveness of agency operations, what is your process for defining key metrics? How do you analyze them and use them to improve the business?
This is a tricky one, and the answer is probably different for every agency. Defining KPIs ultimately relies on the larger goals of the company. An agency that aims to become a thousand-employee corporation will have vastly different KPIs than an agency that wants to provide a sustainable lifestyle for five people. Here at RicketyRoo, culture, and stress-level are always top of mind. So we define KPIs that help measure those - like utilization rate, workloads, and employee satisfaction. Through weekly 1 on 1's and quarterly & annual reviews, we can ensure that we're hitting those KPIs that matter the most to us.
In terms of ensuring quality control, what strategies do you implement within the agency? How do you define and use metrics to assess quality?
For us, it starts with a strong team culture that values quality and encourages employees to take ownership of their work. Regular communication and collaboration among the team help ensure everyone is on the same page and working toward the same goals, which we feel helps improve the quality of the agency's processes and deliverables. Thanks to this approach, we've honestly not needed to define metrics for measuring quality. It's just built in from the start.
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