Why Entrepreneurs and Tech Operations Professionals Make a Powerful Team
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In the diversity of the modern office, there are probably not two groups as opposed to technology and operations professionals and business founders. As technologists and operators live in a linear, repeatable, process-driven world constrained by resources, including people, talents and the most valued resources – time – entrepreneurs who have founded and run many businesses today often view processes and constraints as synthetic barriers created by those who fear change. You might think these groups would never find common ground, but in my work as a COO, I know they don’t. In fact, putting them together can be one of the smartest things you can do to increase your chances of success.
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The role of technicians
Just about everything companies do these days has some type of technology that works directly underneath or behind the scenes. As a COO, it’s my job to watch what an entrepreneur wants to do and make sure the systems support it. It’s a two-fold effort: I have to look at and understand the whole business process, but I also have to manage the technology itself and do a lot of analysis to make it work and improve it. So the work involves a lot of linear thinking. I always consider extreme cases, failures and how to recover, and like most tech operations professionals, I tend to have a generally conservative view of most things.
The role of entrepreneurs
Entrepreneurs are natural creatives. Some, like the Wright brothers, are engineers at heart and do a great job of design and construction. But even though they can see great patterns in chaos, they are not structured, constrained, or burdened by the reality of their surroundings. They are able to take a leap of faith to try new things, and they rely on that faith when they might otherwise give up. Their mindset is more abstract and they generally think more in terms of “what” than “how”.
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Both ways, when I partner with an entrepreneur, there are natural frictions. Where he or she sees an opportunity, I see trade-offs and a high probability of failure. Where I live in detailed minutiae, identifying the “how”, he or she is always looking for the next solution and is enthusiastically trying to get things to the world quickly. With the creative entrepreneur’s constant beat of “fail fast” and “fail early”, I’m looking for a way to make sure the so-called “pilot” is a real test of the idea. – or at the very least, provide enough feedback to update and revise the idea to meet market needs and production realities.
Because I understand that entrepreneurs are all about the possible (or maybe even the impossible), I avoid being an opponent; if I stood there and recited the litany of reasons why things wouldn’t work out, I would quickly lose partnerships and never be invited to participate in the creative process again, thus losing my ability to help shape or at least understand the ‘idea. But in everyday work, I take their concepts and anchor them. I recognize the barriers between concept and implementation, and find how to overcome these challenges in a practical and realistic way. It’s about creating a plan to bring the idea to life.
As I plan and analyze, entrepreneurs make me very aware of the value of having a passion for something. They encourage me to get out of my storage box and look at what might be, what the future might be, what might, in fact, be possible. Not only that, but I also take their speed to heart and watch how they learn quickly. They teach me that it’s normal to experiment quickly and adapt quickly, which helps me refine and improve the approach I take to be ever more agile. I’ve learned that small parts and iteration can be both economical and competitive. More importantly, I see that the process is not much without a vision, and leadership without passion is ultimately hollow.
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An unlikely partnership, but of incredible strength
Ultimately, it’s in the best interests of tech operations professionals to mold their thinking on the entrepreneurial side of things, as charging entrepreneurs with details and real-world realities will crush their creativity and prevent them from freely innovating. But no matter how you slice it, entrepreneurs and those of us on the tech and operations side can learn from each other. Partnership may seem unlikely at first glance, but they fill in each other’s weaker gaps to create a powerful team. Focus on this complementary balance within the relationship and you can overcome your differences and work together with incredible strength.