When I helped launch Uber early 2010 I didn’t really see myself as an operations guy. I am just a get-shit-done guy that can take on a project, learn what I need to know, talk to the right people, and deploy…then keep learning. I guess that’s part of the process called entrepreneurism.
I’m not a builder in the “code” sense, I’m not an engineer, and for that I’ll probably never gain the respect of certain “Valley” participants, but I’m cool with that. What gets me most excited is building up process and working with people to execute that process. In my short life as an operations guy that has become my own, and Uber’s, goal of operations; tightly executed, precisely defined, flexible but scalable, clarity in outcome, delivered on by amazing people. That’s pretty much everyday.
The 3 “P’s” of Operations
Process - When you think about any operations heavy process from a CPG supply-chain to training a distributed workforce to execute in unison, you first must think about the process by which these tasks will be executed.
I recently read the book, “Checklist Manifesto” by Atul Gawande. Atul is a cardiac surgeon and in his view, the only way human beings can routinely execute on complex processes with a high degree of quality is through using a defined process…simply, a checklist. My experience (as a guy who struggles to be detail oriented but some how achieves it by using to-do lists) has lead me to agree with Mr. Gawande. So in my personal operations, as well as Uber’s, we depend on defining processes.
At the highest level we operate from ‘Playbooks’. This is an outline broken into consumable chunks. One example of a playbook may be our ‘Launch Playbook’. This outlines everything from recruiting, training, and on-boarding drivers, all the way down to preparing for our pre-launch dinners. These processes happen in every city and by now, with 7 fully functional Uber cities (San Francisco, New York, and Seattle, Chicago, Boston, DC, Paris) we’re pretty damned good and executing those our Playbooks.
Within ‘Playbooks’ we operate from ‘Checklists’ (duh!). These outline the details. In rock solid processes the devil lives in executing flawlessly on these details, not to mention in a timely, orderly fashion. Our checklists are things that our Operations people know by heart through repetition, but they still use checklists each time. That’s how we can guarantee your driver knows what the F he’s doing. Our Playbook/Checklist structure allows us to execute similar processes in multiple cities, across the country (and globally) with great levels of success.
People - It’s really freakin’ hard to find awesome people. Uber is tough place to work, but with that difficulty comes amazing reward and some fun to boot. I believe hard work can be exciting when you’re firing on all cylinders and accomplishing big things. Especially, when you find people that have the emotional and intellectual capacity to endure the gnarly startup environment.
Without the right people and operation is screwed. Why? Because ultimately processes will break down. New variables will be introduced and challenges will arise that only the best can overcome quickly. That’s why you can only afford to hire the best.
People are quite affected by environment, so first the right culture must be built around the processes. We like, “Let the right answer prevail”. It’s no official slogan, but this tenant does build a foundation for democratic contribution and a confidence for the individual that when things do change and “out of the box” thinking is required (everyday) they’ll act efficiently. We also set priorities so that when inevitable forks in the road arise, we depend on our priorities and our culture to help us make the right decisions. So far it’s worked pretty well.
Passion - The final ‘P’ in successful operations is a passion for the process and the results that are being delivered. Quality, quality, quality. If the results of your operation are not something you strive to be proud of, you’ve already lost.
It doesn’t matter if you’re making pizza’s, building a photo sharing app, or delivering an on-demand car, you’ve gotta be excited about your work.
When I talk to drivers who have a smile from ear to ear because they’re making enough money using Uber to take their family of 4 on a vacation, and it’s the first time they’ve been able to do that in 8 years, holy shit, that get’s me excited. The results of an extremely complex operation at Uber are changing the world and that makes all the hard work, all the complexities, all late nights, 100% worth it.
In my time running Uber’s operations I’ve had the chance to develop and role out some insane processes. I’ve had the opportunity to work along side some of the smartest, hardest working operators in the business. Collectively, the level of focus and energy towards building this operation have been and continue to be truly inspiring.
The quality of my environment and my peers, paired with the sheer impact of what we’re delivering has helped me develop an amazing passion for operations.
The main reason Santa is so Jolly is because he knows where all the bad girls live. — George Carlin