Developing & Executing 5-Star Operations Systems

By Katie Dankleff


Developing and executing strong operations systems can be daunting, particularly for a team member new to the work or for a more complicated, multi-part system such as student arrival or dismissal. To guide this work and to take a more formulaic approach to systems development, consider using the following question-based systems develop framework to identify the most critical details that must be reflected in and addressed by the system.

  1. What is the objective of the system? This is the most critical question of the framework, and operations leaders often err in making assumptions about or under-developing the answer to this question. It is a critical question because the objective that is ultimately defined often points to a definitively wrong or right system to address it. A well-defined and perfectly executed system is worth little if it doesn’t accomplish the intended objective.
  2. What is the “why” behind the system? How will I get buy-in to the importance of executing the system as defined? Knowing the “why” behind the system is important, not only for the purposes of getting buy-in when the system is taught and ultimately executed, but to pressure-test the importance and relevance of complicated steps that comprise the system.
  3. When, how often and how quickly must the system be executed? A system that must be executed daily in five minutes daily shouldn’t include a dozen steps.
  4. What resources are available to you? Is there a group of people for whom this system is their priority at a given time? Do you have the supplies & materials you need to execute the system? Consider both human and non-human resources. Design a system that is dependent only on the people and resources available to execute it or be explicit in defining why additional people or resources are essential to execution.
  5. What could go wrong and how have you prepared for issues? What constraints do you need to consider? Be productively paranoid; consider everything that could go wrong, and either develop a system that proactively avoids what could go wrong or enables team members to quickly respond when something does go wrong.
  6. Who plays a role in executing the system? How are roles defined? Who needs to be trained? Who needs to understand the “why” behind the system? Consider the role that leadership, operations team members, teachers, parents, students and even vendors will play. Define & document all roles, develop rationale that best resonates with each group, and schedule trainings.
  7. What training & implementation support is necessary? Determine whether the details of the system can be effectively communicated in writing or whether individuals must be trained in person. Identify what data can be gathered to help you determine whether the training was effective or whether additional implementation support is necessary.
  8. How do you ensure precise & consistent execution? Consider developing a rubric or other evaluation tool that clearly defines what the system should and should not look like in execution. Develop an explicit observation and evaluation schedule to monitor performance against the evaluation tool.


When collectively answered for the purposes of informing the development of a system, the eight-questions that comprise the systems development framework contribute to the development of a system that is intentional, specific, and comprehensive.