Operators vs. Innovators: What is your IT Team Made Of?

I just got finished reading a really interesting article about the separation of duties in IT groups around the world. I think it brings a new perspective to an issue that we can all relate to: how much of the IT group’s job is innovation versus operations? This made me think: am I an operator or an innovator?

How does my team look when viewed through this perspective? I think this idea applies universally, but it is especially interesting to think about yourself and your IT team this way.


We all know how stressful and frustrating it can be to spend 100% (or more) of your time “putting out fires.” I don’t know of anyone who wants that to be in that position all the time for multiple years. However, it is a necessary part of the job, and in fact it is important for anyone in any job to have experience “getting their hands dirty” with the system that they are most associated with. I do know people that enjoy solving customer problems, even the minor and (to me) simple ones. They get a kick out of seeing things run smoothly. I seriously love having these types of people around. It takes a ton of stress out of life.


However, I bet we all know someone who is just great at thinking outside the box and enjoys tackling complex problems. The same person also typically gets bored with solving the same problem over and over again (hand in the air waving wildly right now) and may get viewed as a liability in an operations-focused team. These kinds of people are needed to drive leaps in growth, and they are especially important in IT groups where you are bombarded with a million potential solutions to problems you didn’t even know you had every day. They don’t mind taking time to evaluate new ideas from a very subjective point of view and they don’t mind if it doesn’t work right the first time.

Finding That Balance

Does it make sense to separate innovation and operation into two separate teams? I don’t think so.

It is best to have a balance of these two traits in every employee. I can relate to this as a product manager: you have to be able to make sense of the product architecture and be able to help customers fix errors. I can also relate to this as a marketer: you have to go through a sale from start to finish to see exactly how your messaging and value proposition work with real “users” in order to be effective.  So it makes sense to me that everyone in IT should have some experience fixing broken services.

My opinion is that everyone should have a little bit of operations and a little bit of innovation in their job. The best way to do this is to let people select which they prefer and modify their own work balance. Unfortunately, we don’t often have this luxury; when stuff breaks we need all hands on deck fixing it, and when we are looking to grow rapidly we need creative ideas.

What do you think? Where do you see yourself in these two capabilities?

Do you see attempts to organize your teams along the lines of Operations versus Innovation?  Does it make sense to you?  Tell us your story!