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How to Build the Best Business Operations (BizOps) Team
by
Sydney Maxwell
, 27th February 2020
7 min read
For Employers
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“I believe our collective failure to articulate the essence of BizOps (Business Operations) is a problem. [...] BizOps is a function that is uniquely positioned to solve certain classes of problems for rapidly scaling organizations. BizOps works within, alongside and sometimes outside of the established organizational structure of a company.” 

Yao Choong, Director of Business Operations, Intercom (Series D SaaS company)

As organisations and teams scale at a rapid pace, the BizOps function will grow and evolve in parallel, which is why hiring for this role is a unique exercise. Recently, Hiperpool spoke to a number of business leaders who have experience in building BizOps teams. The professionals came from a variety of backgrounds and companies, some from early-stage startups with less than 50 employees, others late-stage ventures with 500+ employees. We wanted to know what it takes to build the best possible team.

What we wanted to know:

How are BizOps teams structured and does it vary depending on company size?

BizOps looks very different at different companies, and there’s no ‘one size fits all’ mould that the function fits into. This element is also what makes the role so versatile and exciting for some and potentially daunting for others. 

Some leaders believe that the function should emulate an in-house and hands-on consulting team. From the project-based work to data-driven problem solving, Springboard’s (Series A Ed-Tech Platform) Head of Business Operations, Analytics, and Strategy, Eric Brandt shared:

“When I first started at Springboard, I joined, alongside a counterpart coming from McKinsey, as one of the first two BizOps employees at Springboard. At that time, we both operated as individual contributors reporting through Gautam, our CEO, and ran on our own individual projects. 

As things have grown, the team has transitioned to now having a Team Lead role that sits above three to four team members split across classic business operations as well as for analytics. All members on the team operate as individual contributors, with two or three on the business operations side running on more classic BizOps projects, and one team member solely focused on building out our company’s analytics. As the team lead, I support the team on their projects, from prioritization to scoping, to thought partnership, and also try to handle more of the ad-hoc projects to help them protect their focus for their own core projects.”

As previously mentioned, as companies scale BizOps will change in tandem and the function will often begin to mimic the organisation's structure. As Better.com (Series C Lending Service) scales, the team has shifted towards a project-based structure, as Armando La Rocca the Head of Strategy & Business Operations explains below:

“My team is structured similarly to the way we structure the company, which is organised by cross-functional projects. We have six large projects that are driving the different levers that we pull, and my team is aligned to that. Therefore, we have six smaller teams that are dedicated to an individual project. Every team is very lean and typically looks like one plus two, so we’re about 18 in total. We used to have this saying at BCG, “There's nothing that a project leader plus two cannot do.” I believe in that, and I think that these lean teams have been able to coordinate across the company on these projects in a very thoughtful way.”

Once teams start to hit 500, 800, 1000+ employees and are spread across different geographies, a shift in the structure becomes essential. The Former Head of Business Strategy, Operations and Monetization at a now public company (former unicorn) with 1000+ employees, stresses this necessary structural shift:

“My philosophy is that BizOps should not be an internal consulting team, and it can actually be almost a failure as a result. I believe that BizOps should align to either the functions or the products of the company. For example, at my previous company, we had thirteen people within BizOps by the end of tenure, and they were aligned to the products. So every Head of Product or GM, had a BizOps counterpart on my team. It's a beautifully designed company and every major office is actually the owner of one or two different products, which means there was at least one BizOps professional in every office.” 

What do BizOps leaders look for when hiring new team members?

At times, because of the lack of a clear definition of BizOps, hiring for the role can be more difficult than universally understood roles. For example, someone interviewing for a Sales Associate role will have a general idea of what their day-to-day will look like. Therefore, that person typically knows at the beginning of their recruitment process if they’re actually interested in doing it. 

So how do you hire for a role that not many people know about, or know what it will look like at your company specifically? Almost every Hiring Manager that we spoke too agrees there is a specific tool-kit a professional must possess to be successful in the role: 

  • Strong analytical and problem-solving skills
  • The desire to get their hands dirty and execute on projects
  • The ability to collaborate cross-functionally

There are a few other skills different managers will look for when screening and interviewing candidates. Ying Wang, the Head of Business Operations & Strategic Initiatives at FreeWheel a Comcast Company (a Comcast owned Video Advertising software company), shares some critical elements a BizOps candidate must possess:

“I think there's always a baseline of strong analytical and problem-solving skills. Beyond that, I really value those who ask good questions. When I’m interviewing someone, I will always walk through a version of our operating plan and see what questions they ask, because a lot of our job is finding ways to do things better. So it's really important to be curious and be able to spot opportunities. 

Another element I look for is how good you are at explaining your ideas, considering we spend a lot of time explaining and selling new ideas or processes. I want to see if you are able to convince people that it’s the right plan and to adopt it within their part of the business. And finally, for me, enthusiasm is really important—are you really excited about this job? I like to hire people who believe in what we're doing, and who really want to be here.”

The Head of Global Business Operations from a public technology company and former unicorn also takes into consideration the longevity of a hire.

“Some skills we look for are a strategic mindset, strong stakeholder management, an understanding of the industry, presentation skills and the right seniority to have a run rate to grow in the role.”

Springboards, Eric Brandt breaks down how different candidates stand-out through their three-stage interview process:

“In the initial screen, we’ll look for people that want to get more hands-on, are excited by ambiguity, and are able to be self-directed and take full ownership of a project. We, of course, look into their background and ask further questions to better understand if their motivations align with Springboard, as well as if they are excited by the pros and cons coming from working in a start-up. 

After the initial screen, we have a take-home assignment that tests the analytics and communications side and involves working through data and building a presentation. 

In the onsite interview, we want to see how the candidate engages in a team environment or thinks about working relationships, and how they talk about and demonstrate ownership. We’ll also do some case type questions that are a bit open-ended such as engaging on a slide or thinking through how to approach a research problem, as we want to see how they think through a complicated issue. It’s important that the candidate be able to digest information and pull out what’s valuable.”

Finally, the Global Head of Business Strategy and Operations at a Series D SaaS company with 500+ employees approaches hiring with a bigger picture view and a key element, background diversity:

“The main skills I look for are the ability to frame problems and creatively solve problems using quant and qual inputs. There are lots of people and analysts who can run an analysis and solve a problem, which is great in the early stage. However, a good fit for BizOps is someone who can identify and then frame the problems correctly. In BizOps you work with key stakeholders and try to identify and solve problems before they hit the business.

The ideal candidate for me is someone with the skills of a consultant, but also have some operational experience (product, finance, go-to-market, etc) considering the way our team is structured.

The key to building a strong BizOps team though is in diversity and I mean beyond gender, race, etc. You want people with diverse backgrounds because they will think differently from one another. Over the past couple of years of building a team, I have realized that pedigree matters less and less and if you only hire one type of profile, you will have a room of people thinking in a similar fashion. Different experiences also bring different skills to the table.”

Are there any specific profiles that look great on paper but tend not to work out in the interview process?

Most companies will agree, making the wrong hire can be not only time-consuming but actually quite costly for a business. And the opposite, hiring the right person can have an everlasting positive impact on a team through morale, drive, the calibre of work, innovative ideas, etc. This is a challenge that every Hiring Manager faces, no matter the role, size or type of the company. However, there doesn’t seem to be any singular ‘red flag’ our managers have encountered. By being exceptionally upfront and transparent about the role from the very beginning, you’re likely to weed out those who won’t actually follow through, as explains the Head of Global Business Operations from a public technology company:

“Not really, it depends on the individual. I am cautious with ex-consultants because they have the right training and core skills but the role with our team is not always really appealing to their career expectations when they actually start doing it.”

Ying Wang identifies another element that might demonstrate a candidates dedication to a role:

“A red flag for me is when someone has hopped around a lot, of different companies in not a lot of time, even if those companies are really high-profile companies. I always try to look for people who have demonstrated commitment to a role and have done a lot of different things in that role.” 

Practical tips for new hiring managers building a BizOps team

“You want to make sure that you’re building the team with the right culture and mindset. And diversify beyond gender ratios, race etc.” 

Global Head of Business Strategy and Operations, Series D SaaS company


“In thinking through hiring, first, it’s important for me to understand how I want to build the team to be able to both accomplish the necessary work, as well to enable the existing members to grow and develop in the longer-term. Second, we then think about hiring and what profile makes sense to accomplish those goals. 

One important part of considering how we build the team relates to simple capacity planning. At the beginning of each quarter, we’ll identify if we have the resources to support the priority projects in the pipeline. If I feel it’s important for the business for us to be able to cover more ground, and that the cost of another resource is worth the additional projects he/she will be able to handle, I’ll propose moving forward with hiring plans, though at that point it comes to a broader company hiring and burn strategy discussion.”

Eric Brandt, Head of Business Operations, Analytics, and Strategy, Springboard

“It's really important to be clear about the scope of your team because sometimes BizOps can be a catch-all for everything. Especially when you're starting out,  even if it changes over time, make sure it’s very clear what you're responsible for versus what other internal operations groups are responsible for (eg. production ops, commercial ops). 

It’s also important to have a clear staffing model. For example, if your business is organized by business units, then maybe that’s how you start to organize your team. Versus, if you have more of a matrixed organisation, maybe should have people specialise in functional areas, like someone focused on planning, someone focused on strategic initiatives, etc.  

Finally, make sure you have a clear growth path for your team, especially with smaller BizOps groups. People will often ask, “Where does this role take me?” You want to have an answer to that. The growth path doesn’t have to only be within the team, there could be a lot of other great internal roles that BizOps would be a great launching pad for. BizOps exposes you to so many parts of the business, which I think is a big selling point when attracting top talent.” 

Ying Wang, Head of Business Operations & Strategic Initiatives, FreeWheel a Comcast Company

When Building a BizOps team, it’s important to start with a multi-year approach for the business as a whole—2-3 years is plenty. How big do you see the company growing over the coming years? What do you want to achieve—revenue, customers, market reach, etc? Is the business fully distributed, co-located, or some combination of the two?

From there, break the plan into quarterly milestones. Anything more detailed is false precision when thinking about multiple years. With that in mind, it’s time to think about how the team will need to be supported by BizOps. Common needs are sales enablement, office managers, people operations, business analysts, etc.

Then, when it comes time to start hiring, many people are often overly prescriptive about particular skills or years of experience. Instead, you will be better served to step back and think about the real attributes needed for someone to be successful in the role(s). Hard skills can be taught and years of experience is just a vanity metric. At the end of the day, you want people who can support the business, accelerate growth, and be an overall net add to the team.”

Head of Finance and Business Operations, Series B Developer Platform

Have some thoughts or tips you think could be helpful? Let us know!

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Additional Resources for Hiring Managers

Additional Resources for Candidates

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