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Sunday, May 13, 2012

Scientist ≠ Operations Manager

The right tool for the right job.  You wouldn’t use pliers instead of a screw driver.  So why would you have your brilliant scientist lead the operations group?  There are three reasons a designated manager may be a more appropriate choice to run operations than your chief scientist who is responsible for the organizations’ lead product.

      1. The scientist needs to dedicate the maximum amount of time on product development.  The amount of time distracted from that mission negatively affects the product in some way.  Every hour working on budget forecasts is time taken away from opportunities to further develop the product, brainstorm with colleagues, or review product reports.  I have talked to numerous mixed-role scientists and time and again they get the most work completed after everyone else goes home: the questions stop, the phone isn’t ringing, and the interruptions cease.   After they have their eight hours in they can sink their teeth into the product issue at hand. I would add that this is not their most productive brain period.  They were fresh after that first cup of coffee this morning.  Not so much after that cup of coffee to keep them awake  late in the evening.

2.      Operations will always come in second place in the scientist’s mind.  Operations will always demand real-time attention NOW.  That decision must be made now because the downstream department might have to work overtime, the form needs to be signed now, and the high-maintenance employee must be counseled now.  Why would you give someone responsibilities for a role that they did not aspire to take?  Don’t get me wrong, the scientist enjoys working with a seasoned, trained staff who are all working towards the same goal.  Not a lot of hand-holding and plenty of practical problem-solving give and take.  Unfortunately, when performance review time comes around, how many hours will the scientist spend away from product development?

3.      The operations manager has one priority: Keeping operations at a point where the scientist does not have to concern themselves with operations.  They will have time for staff development, budget management, training program refinement, six sigma projects, management reports, human resource issues, and staff absence contingencies.  The operations manager understands the needs of the scientist, the goals of the company, and what must happen to keep all of the parts moving to achieve those goals.  The good operations manager does not act as an island upon themselves but utilizes a matrix approach to ensure that everyone is on the same page.

Many organizations already have an established “go to” person who has not quite made the leap to operational manager.  Sadly, some of these folks are stymied in a mess of title/degree-issues and the H.R. department maybe holding up it's becoming official (read: w/pay).  Meanwhile the scientist is burning the midnight oil, not problem solving the product issue but instead are wondering how they will staff the upcoming holiday weekend.  You are losing money on this every week.  Make the right choice and free that scientist from those unwelcome bonds. 
 Disclaimer: To be fair there are some scientists who feel complete and comfortable if they pull the strings on every aspect of the business operation.  This includes not only operations, but the sales and marketing aspect of the business.  These individuals are few and frequently work in very small organizations. Much like a Swiss Army knife, these folks have a lot of tools at their disposal.  Unfortunately, you wouldn’t use a Swiss Army knife for any but the most infrequent of jobs.

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