This feature first appeared in the Fall 2020 issue of Certification Magazine. Click here to get your own print or digital copy.
Author, critic, philosopher, and theologian G. K. Chesterton once said, "One sees great things from the valley; only small things from the peak." His point, of course, is all about perspective. Where we stand, or rather, our view of the task to be performed, naturally influences our view of how the task should be performed. We think differently about possible problems, risks, and outcomes, along with potential solutions.
Often, our natural proclivities influence our viewpoint. We all know people who view the world from the mountaintop. Such individuals instantly see the big picture and regard those pesky little details are merely an annoyance, to be swatted away like flies. At the other end of the spectrum are those individuals who gravitate to the valley.
People who gravitate to the valley lose themselves in details so small that they may become bogged down in a quagmire of minutiae. Successful businesses need big picture people, of course, but equally important are those who have an eye to analytics and details. When you find that magic combination in one person, you just may have just found your organization's next operations analyst.
What does an operations analyst do?
Operations analysts (frequently also called management analysts) bring a unique skill set to the organizations they support. Keenly analytical, good OAs possess the ability to see both the big picture as well as the small details.
This ability allows them to view organizational problems to be solved from multiple perspectives. This breadth of view helps a good OA identify areas for improvement in business processes and drive efficiencies within organizations. The result to the organization's business? Cost reductions and increased profits.
To accomplish these goals, analysts first work with an organization's management team to identify various problems to be solved, or processes to be improved. After a given problem set has been identified and refined, the analyst gathers information and conducts research related to the problem set.
This part of the process may include numerous activities such as interviewing subject matter experts or reviewing relevant financial data. Once all information has been gathered, analysts review the collected data and begin to generate and develop potential solutions. Possible solutions are evaluated and fine-tuned.
Finally, recommendations are made to the management team regarding the recommended course of action. Once a final course of action has been determined, analysts work with the business organization to ensure the proposed solutions are implemented and work properly.
Operations analysts are more important to organizations than ever before. In response to the global COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 has witnessed a total revamp of the way many organizations conduct business, as we move from traditional workplace environments to virtual or hybrid offices.
Organizations are seeking better, more efficient ways to continue to provide quality goods and services as they operate in the new pandemic-normal world. Operations analysts assist in advising management on ways to implement solutions to address risks, exposures, and processes as a result of new pandemic-imposed ways of doing business.
Career preparation guidelines
Most employers seek candidates who possess a combination of both education and industry-relevant experience. Entry-level analyst positions typically require at least a bachelor's degree or equivalent training. Common fields of study include areas such as finance, economics, business, marketing, or related fields.
For more advanced OA positions, typically with large-scale employers, it's likely that a masters or MBA will be required. Senior analyst positions typically require at least five years of experience or more. Operations analysts may be found in all industry sectors including IT, finance, healthcare, insurance, government, and the like.
You'll find that many employers seek individuals with industry-specific experience. If you are interested in working in a specific industry (finance, insurance, government, healthcare, or IT, for example), then you'll benefit by actively seeking ways to gain experience in that industry sector.
You should do all that you can to build skills and establish a reputation for excellence in whichever field where you want to eventually get an OA position. Candidates who are interested in working for state or federal agencies should also focus on gaining skills directly related to the agency mission.
While operations analysts perform a variety of tasks, many of their activities focus on improving organizational efficiency and business processes, and then implementing recommended changes throughout the organization. Candidates are likely to find that certifications which focus on efficiency or project management principles are highly useful in their role as an operations analyst.
I conducted an informal survey of real-world job postings for operations analyst positions on several popular job boards. The most common certifications sought by employers included Kaizen, Six Signa (Green Belt or higher), ScrumMaster, Agile Certified Practitioner, and Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM), along with several similar project management certifications.
The Institute of Management Consultants USA (IMC USA) also offers a credential targeting operations analysts. The Certified Management Consultant (CMC) credential is geared to OAs who work as consultants.
To earn the CMC designation, candidates must possess a combination of education and experience and provide client evaluation references, plus written summaries of prior client engagements. In addition, candidates must pass four exams, including both a written and oral competency exam, as well as a written and oral ethics exam.
Don't forget the soft skills!
Soft skills are often overlooked when it comes to career planning and development. The truth is that soft skills — or rather, the lack thereof — can make or break a project, keep you from getting a promotion, put you at odds with your peers, or worse yet leave you with dissatisfied clients.
First and foremost, you need to cultivate excellent communication skills. No matter how good you are at your job, if your client doesn't understand the message you're trying to deliver, then the information will be of no use to them. In addition to having excellent writing and speaking skills, good communicators are master listeners.
OAs especially need to be good listeners. Because analysts work with multiple stakeholders, clients, and peers, along with extended, collocated and virtual team members, good interpersonal skills are a major plus. Analysts should be comfortable working with team members across a variety of job roles from the CEO to architects, finance, sales, and more.
In today's changing work environment, the ability to be flexible is a requirement. While it should be obvious, operations analysts by nature are keenly analytical and able to analyze large amounts of data, synthesize the data, and find potential solutions. Along with being skilled problem solvers, you'll also find that analysts possess excellent time management and organizational skills.
Working as an operations analyst can be quite lucrative. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the reported 2019 median annual salary for operations analysts is $85,260. Top-tier operations analysts earned in excess of $154,310.
Potential earnings reported on SimplyHired were slightly lower than those reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, with average earnings coming in at just under $79,152. Salaries on the high end were reported at $130,630. Similar salaries were also reported on Indeed.
Several factors, such as whether the position is entry-level or a more senior role, along with industry sector, may also affect salary potential. By way of example, median wages for OAs working for the federal government were reported at $133,940.
By comparison, median wages for those OAs working in the finance sector were in the mid-80s. When examined by industry sector, analysts employed in professional, scientific, or technical services field typically earned more than other industry sectors with reported median wages of $91,160 annually.
The long-term job outlook for OAs is solid. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports an anticipated growth rate of 14 percent over the 10-year period from 2018 to 2028. This is higher than the national average.