Good Operator, Bad Operator

If you spend any time listening to what people in Silicon Valley talk about, you’ve probably heard the concept “operator” being thrown around at least once in every conversation.

-There’s a very famous essay by Ben Horowitz titled “Good Product Manager, Bad Product Manager” where he highlights the qualities that make a good/bad product manager. It’s become a sort of canonical essay for aspiring “product” people. With the increase interest in “operators” I wonder if a similar canonical piece could be written about the qualities that make a great operator.

This is just a note meant to start thinking about the topic but here are some initial points I’ve thought about:

  1. Mastery of Metrics: this includes both operational metrics (KPIs, P&L, overall business goals) and product/strategic metrics (DAU, retention, etc.)
  2. Proactiveness: good operators are not only proactive within their very specific list of task. They’re a major source of “energy” for the team to help explore new areas and plow throw barriers standing in the way of teams.
  3. Effectiveness: at the end of the day good operators are able to get sh*t done. The best operators can clearly articulate how they’ve impacted the bottom line of the business even if +50% of their work is a seemingly amorphous set of tasks.

This seem pretty obvious points. I will keep thinking about this and keep adding things to this list as they come up. One interesting note is that the qualities that make a good operator are not that different from those that make up a good product manager (perhaps because PMs are a subset of operators). It would also be interesting to understand what are the distinctions in order to figure out what makes a good operator across functions.

That’s it for now. Back to work…