The Joys and Challenges of the Operational Mindset

Jérôme Smolinski By Jérôme Smolinski | May 15, 2017

The engineering community is a widely varied group. People from all over the world and with different educational backgrounds are often thrown together in the pursuit of making amazing products. Product development is one of the few remaining meritocracies in the business world today so it’s not surprising to see successful industry leaders exemplify different personality traits.  

Some are loud, boisterous types while others are more reserved and introverted. There’s no right or wrong way to bring a product to market so we’ll be analyzing the personalities we see most often in our clients to highlight the strengths and weaknesses of each. To start, we’re going to focus on engineers with an operational mindset.  

Operators are easily recognized in the wild. They are highly organized taskmasters that don’t let anything slip through the cracks. They plan the work and then work the plan. Operators are grizzled veterans whose knowledge and expertise is unquestioned and act like product development maestros. They are excellent communicators and know what everyone does and how they contribute to a successful product. These types of leaders are invaluable to emerging companies that can often find themselves derailed by inefficiencies or delays.  

So everyone should be an operator, right? Not necessarily. The biggest knock on operators is that they often view the product development process as the goal rather than the product itself. They are often unable to recover quickly if there is a setback within the development process that requires unconventional tactics. Operators’ most common downfall is a simple truth: consumers don’t care if a product was lovingly crafted under budget and ahead of schedule, they just want a great product. Operators often find that their checkbox mentality makes it difficult to cultivate a true innovation that could potentially create a new product category or revenue stream for their company. Because of this, they’re often passed over for more senior roles to colleagues that have grander vision though less technical aptitude.  

Operators play key roles in any product design and engineering team. The key hurdle for this personality type is to make sure they use their expertise to elevate themselves out of day-to-day activities so they can be diligent in identifying opportunities that improve the overall business, not just the product line. Delivering quantifiable value to a company’s bottom line will always get the attention of the executive suite. Operators that understand their limitations and predispositions are in the best position to overcome them.