Review of operations management as a career path

In most cases, the success stories of multimillion-dollar companies highlight just the brilliant idea that kick-started the business. You might have heard many times how Bill Gates started Microsoft, but not so much about what it takes to keep the behemoth organization running over the years.

For such large organizations, there are often many principles holding it together. Probably the most significant of them is operations management. Discover what operations management entails in the daily running of a company and why it is a promising key career path.

What is operations management?

Operations management is a business concept that involves using different ideas and practices to improve productivity and maximize profit. It entails planning and implementing operations within an organization in such a way that drives production and enhances profitability.

Operations management aims to achieve the most profitable balance between revenue and cost without compromising on quality. As such, it covers three major aspects of production — materials, labor and technology.

For instance, the healthcare sector is increasingly costly. With the deployment of new equipment and the latest technologies, treatment costs continue to increase. When uninsured patients are unable to cover the bills, the burdens pass on to taxpayers, insurance holders, healthcare facilities and other stakeholders. A situation such as this requires effective operations to create a balance.  

Responsibilities in operations management

Operations management is an essential aspect of business and is often a separate department in an organization. Operations managers head these departments and are responsible for carrying out the following:

  • Product design

This function involves the creation of products for customers. Product design may require starting from scratch with ideas for new products or improving existing ones.

Just like rebranding can boost the value of a company, rolling out these new designs could help to keep the balance between revenues and costs. Ideally, product designs should meet the business objectives and align with current market trends. With quality remaining constant, all other factors should be flexible when designing or redesigning a product to achieve the desired goal.

  • Demand forecast

Predicting future trends is an integral part of running a successful enterprise, and this is one of the critical functions of operations managers. These managers use historical data and analyze current trends to forecast which direction the market might swing toward in the future.

Suppose a company has several products. Forecasting demand for each will help decide the right volume of products to churn out and which ones need more attention. Forecasts are not necessarily 100% accurate, but they offer near-accurate results with the right prediction model. These odds are more than enough to avoid having too much or too little supply to meet consumer demands.

  • Supply chain management

This function focuses on the supply chain — one of the core processes in business. Depending on the type of business, the supply chain could entail the production of finished goods from raw materials to shipping, product delivery, etc. Getting products ready for customer demand is critical to the success of a business venture. Good supply chain management potentially triggers a seamless production process, fewer expenses, and prompt delivery to consumers.

For proper supply chain management, the operations manager will have to supervise the following:

  • Optimizing the production process
  • Finding suppliers with quality products at affordable prices
  • Taking inventory
  • Quick distribution 
  • Delivery Management

Getting products across to consumers might seem like the easy part, but it is not necessarily so. Many organizations resort to employing the services of logistics companies to handle these processes.

Customers are often angry or disappointed with delayed deliveries. These customers become even more unsatisfied when they do not get what they ordered, which could affect brand reputation and future demand. The operations manager ensures that product delivery is swift and smooth. Besides liaising with the logistics department, they also ensure that customers get exactly what they ordered.

Operations management theories:

  • Business process redesign

This theory hinges on evaluating the workflow and processes within an organization. Business process redesign aims to restructure the organization through its operations in a way that improves efficiency and cuts down costs.

  • Reconfigurable manufacturing systems

As demand varies, supply/production should be adjustable to cater to current market changes. The idea is that to achieve effective operations management, manufacturing systems should be flexible enough to implement quick changes in hardware, software, or any of its other components.

So, manufacturers should be able to increase their outputs easily when the demand for a product increases.

  • Six Sigma

This theory revolves around optimizing the quality of products through statistical improvements. Six Sigma is a quality control process that employs tools and techniques such as charts, product defect calculations, etc.

In operations management, Six Sigma starts with defining a faulty process. The next step is determining the process’s standard performance and how well the system works presently. From here, the operations manager has to analyze each potential cause of the process errors. This approach also involves improving the system’s performance and adding controls to ensure it does not regress.

  • Lean manufacturing

This theory focuses on downsizing the manufacturing process as much as possible to eliminate waste. Here, the only valid use of resources is for value creation, so operations managers must ensure systematic waste elimination to cut down on expenditure. Aside from the reduced cost, the removal of unnecessary manufacturing will also put the systems in better working condition. 

Skills needed by an operations manager

For the most part, the work of an operations manager involves evaluating existing structures and processes and then developing new ones when necessary. To achieve this, an operations manager needs the following skill set:

  • Technical know-how

Operations managers need to be technically sound to optimize systems and processes, especially in the manufacturing setting. Managers should have a high level of expertise in data analysis, budgeting and production automation. Without this knowledge, it might be difficult to implement some of the theories discussed above.

Also, with the rapid advancement in technology, operations managers have to be tech-savvy and stay abreast of the latest innovation. A technology-inclined manager should be able to convert some of the manual procedures into automated processes.

  • Organizational capabilities

Sometimes, the difference between a faulty operation and an ideal one may be a tiny detail. So, operations managers should pay great attention to detail, ensuring proper organization of data, materials and overall projects.

A lack of organizational skills will result in more uncompleted tasks, missing documents, and other scenarios that would impair the system’s efficiency.

  • Coordination

Operations managers should have good coordination skills as they spend most of their time integrating resources, time, and activities within the department. Coordination has to do with executing processes and procedures in the proper sequence and dealing with interruptions as quickly as possible to reduce downtime.

  • People skills

Any managerial position requires people skills. These professionals need to be able to relate with employees, fellow managers, and other stakeholders effectively. The ability to motivate other staff and bring out the best in them is key. In some cases, this involves connecting with others on a personal level.

Also, operations managers’ interpersonal skills can help resolve disputes that arise within the department. Managers may also delegate tasks to other team members and supervise them, in which case they must understand the strengths and weaknesses of each member.

  • Critical thinking

As earlier established, every decision that an operations manager makes takes into account different factors and has a massive impact. As such, these professionals need critical thinking skills to analyze situations and proffer effective solutions. This is especially so in situations where there is very little time for analysis. In such scenarios, operations managers should be able to think on their feet.

Types of decisions an operations manager makes

Operations managers must make various essential decisions to optimize productivity and efficiency in the organization. These decisions can be grouped into two categories:

  • Strategic operations decisions — These are decisions with long-term effects and goals. These types of decisions require long-term commitments in terms of resources and personnel. Common examples include deciding the facility’s location, the kind of technology to deploy, or whether or not to use an advertising management tool.
  • Tactical operations decisions — These are decisions by operations managers that have short/medium-term effects on the company’s goals. Due to the nature of these decisions, they require fewer resources and commitment from team members. In addition, tactical operations decisions are easier to change and revise. Typical examples include deciding the management style of inventory or the vendors to contract.

Making the right call in long or short-term decisions gives the organization a comparative advantage over its competitors while bringing the company closer to its goals.

Beginning a career as an operations manager

An operations manager position is important because it comes with many delicate responsibilities. Operations management requires a lot of formative steps and may take several years to attain. Here is the process for this career path:

  • Get a bachelor’s degree

In most cases, this is the minimum requirement to get into this management level. You can get a bachelor’s degree in business administration with majors in supply chain management, logistics management, etc. In some rare cases, a degree may not be necessary as long as you have completed operations management training.

  • Gain job experience

If you wish to attain a managerial position, you need to back up your theoretical knowledge with experience. After completing your degree, look for entry-level jobs and begin gaining experience in the field. Your experience working alongside team members comes in handy when you have to supervise them.

  • Get a master’s degree in operations management

Although this step is optional, you stand a better chance of bagging top career opportunities when you have an advanced degree. Fortunately, you can now get an online master’s degree in operations management. This flexible program will allow you to work and study simultaneously. Once completed, you will have the perfect platform to take your career to the next level.

Top career paths in operations management

Plenty of career opportunities are available for operations managers. And finding the career path most suitable for you is just as essential as any training or experience. You may find better job satisfaction in one compared to another. Below are some of the top career opportunities for graduates of operations management:

  • Business operations management

This is the most popular setting for operations managers. This type of management deals with drawing out plans, budgets, and schedules to aid production. Here, managers must ensure the processes and systems produce high-quality outputs that give them a competitive edge in the market.

Also, these professionals have to achieve this without scaling the cost of production beyond the budgeted figure.

  • Purchasing management

In this career path, operations managers are more focused on procuring supplies for the company. Here, the goal is to get the best raw materials of excellent quality and at the best possible price. An operations manager in this career path must stay updated with market trends and prices. 

In addition, the role of a manager in this field is indispensable since purchasing is one of the most important steps in the running of an organization. If the investment goes wrong or the schedule is delayed, it will likely affect other aspects of the business.

  • Materials management

In the manufacturing industry, the production and storage of finished goods is a delicate function in the purview of materials management. These managers find the best ways to handle the materials during production and the best storage solutions for finished goods. No business wants to create finished products only to have them diminished by poor storage. So, there is a huge need for materials managers in this regard.

Furthermore, managers on this career path handle the movement of products from one part of the organization to another, or to distribution centers, warehouses, etc.

  • Operations research

This career path revolves around research and analysis. Operations researchers and analysts determine the best ways to deploy the company’s staff, materials, time and other resources. However, before making any of these decisions, they consider several factors, like the future costs associated with these resources and their value in terms of demand.

The benefits of operations management as a career

  • High employability

The job market favors operations managers because of the ever-growing relevance of this profession. An organization might be thriving, but its revenue figures will improve even further with a sound operations manager. According to some reports, operations management is expected to record even higher job growth over the next few years.

Another factor responsible for high employability is the fact that their responsibilities and functions cut across the different organizational aspects in various industries.

  • High income

The job of an operations manager comes with many demanding responsibilities with a tangible impact on the success of an organization as a whole. It is a highly valued position and, in the US, is a high-paying job.

The salary range also depends on the industry. For instance, an operations manager in the manufacturing industry will likely earn more than one in the construction industry.

  • Autonomy

These managers enjoy a lot of independence as they decide how resources are deployed. Although they are answerable to company executives, these senior managers often get the leeway to manage company resources the best way they see fit.

With this high level of autonomy comes greater scrutiny. Suppose an operations manager is tasked with cutting down expenses and the system’s downtime. In that case, their professional rating will be measured based on how well the company’s cost reduces and how productive the systems become.

  • Flexibility

Similar to the autonomy operations managers have, they also enjoy flexibility regarding schedules and processes. Usually, these professionals can develop new approaches and systems as long as they help the company achieve its objectives. Since the job often requires long hours to see projects through, this flexibility is essential to work around the challenging responsibilities.


Operations managers have some of the most critical roles in the day-to-day running of a company. These professionals preside over many critical teams and projects to improve the efficiency and productivity of the company.

This comprehensive review has covered the educational requirements, skills, and level of experience required to have a successful career in operations management. If interested, you can begin your journey with the steps we have highlighted. A master’s degree like the one at Kettering University Online will prepare you to take on higher managerial duties.

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