10x Your Output: The System-Led Operations Guide

In the mid-2010's, OpenView — a Boston based venture capital firm — began actively advocating for software companies to adopt a product-led growth (PLG) strategy. You are likely familiar with this growth strategy — PLG gained significant attention and recognition as a go-to-market strategy, particularly in the software-as-a-service (SaaS) sector.

Although OpenView started advocating for this business approach in mid-2010's, the framework was actually founded by Wes Bush, Founder of Since Wes Bush's founding of this framework, companies like Dropbox and Slack are often cited as early adopters and pioneers of PLG, as they successfully grew their user bases and revenue by offering free or freemium versions of their products that users could try and adopt with minimal friction.

In the same way product-led growth is a growth strategy, System-Led Operations™ (SLO), founded by Brian Ragone, Founder of Puzzle, is an operating strategy centered on optimizing and streamlining a company's operations by placing a strong emphasis on the systems that govern its processes.


System-Led Operations is an operating strategy centered on optimizing and streamlining a company's operations by placing a strong emphasis on the system that govern it's processes.


The future of how organizations operate is system-led; and this applies to both knowledge-based organizations and manufacturing- and production-based organizations. Organizations always look for ways to gain efficiencies because it means you're either able to reinvest in other business areas, or increase net profit for shareholders or reserves.

Well, one great way to do that is to lower your headcount and instead configure hardware and software to run most business processes.

Why is System-Led Operations (SLO) the future?

There are a collection of trends and technological advancements that are driving organizations towards building a System-Led Operations in the realm of knowledge work.

First, Organizations use 130 SaaS applications to run their business operations on average according to Better Cloud's 2023 State of SaaS Ops report. Just 5 short years ago that number in 2017, it was 16. This will continue to increase, and so will the complexity of operationalizing these tools.

Second, 70% of new application organizations develop will use low-code or no-code technologies by 2025, up from less than 25 % in 2020 according to Gartner. These no-code systems enable non-technical team members, known as citizen developers to build automations, integrations and configurations across core operational systems like customer relationship management systems, support systems, Automation systems, and AI chat bots without writing a single line of code.

Third, 86% of IT professionals believe automation is important to effectively managing SaaS operations, but nearly two-thirds (64%) lack insight and visibility to automate effectively as stated in Better Cloud's 2023 State of SaaS Ops report. This statistic tells us that automation isn't only a priority, but the people who are responsible for making it a reality, don't feel equip with a way to proper manage it all.

After all, executives and directors are incentivized to find the most efficient and effective ways to create repeatable high quality outcomes across their business operations; but prior to the maturation of no-code tools, the go-to solution for meeting increasing work volume in a given department was to hire full-time hyper-specialized team members (i.e sales development representatives (SDRs), account manager, support representatives) and hold on for dear life through a messy growth push.

However, now, using no-code tools and artificial intelligence, a handful of full-lifecycle sales representatives can build high quality replicable processes that produce ten times the results of the traditional scaled sales team. That's the goal at the end of the day is to try to "10x" your output.

For leaders, the decision is clear to get to this end result — hire senior-level strategists who are subject matter experts who understand what good process looks like, and work with them to intentionally unpack how top-performers produce their results to codify and replicate their output using artificial intelligence and no-code tools.

This approach is the basis of building a System-Led Operation.

It will be the forward-thinking people who adopt this high-leverage operational mindset who will be getting the high-paying jobs, and biggest promotions. The incentive structure (and economic conditions) of organizations will inevitably drive leaders towards building a System-Led Operation. So let's start talking about how to built one.

How do you build a System-Led Operation?

The key to building a System-Led Operation within your organizations starts with understanding the operational big picture. If you don't understand how your company operates across teams, you will unknowingly accrue massive operational debt as you try to scale this approach across departments. 

Step 1:  Get your team's processes out of their head

The first steps to understanding the operational big picture is to get your team members who have their processes stored in the depths of their brain to share exactly how their processes work.

Often times, teams start by typing out how their processes work in a document tool like Notion or Google Documents. Do not make this mistake, because written process documentation make it incredibly hard to understand how one person's process documents relate to another person's process in separate, but adjacent departments. 

The best way to get your team to share how their processes work is creating a process visualization using tools like Puzzle because our brains process images much faster than words. That’s why it’s generally easier for you to understand and remember visual information than written information. This is known as the pictorial superiority effect (PSE), which basically means that we remember information better when it includes pictures.

The best way to get your team to share how their processes work is creating a process visualization because our brains process images much faster than words. That’s why it’s generally easier for you to understand and remember visual information than written information."


Process maps are visual representations of the stuff your company does. A process map can represent software development, product manufacturing, IT infrastructure, employee onboarding, and more. These maps show you the specific steps, and who is responsible for that part of the process. 

Mapping current processes gives stakeholders and team members an overall view of how things are done in your organization. This encourages everybody to think through workflows and to see how everything fits together. Looking at current processes objectively and getting input from multiple interested parties helps you to see where improvements can be made so you can work more efficiently and get products to market faster. 


An example process map built in showing how several processes work together.

Visualize your processes with Puzzle

Ultimately the path to a System-Led Operation will be an incremental one, which is why process mapping is so crucial when your company is going to look for their low-hanging fruit opportunities to take those first steps towards embedding automation and artificial intelligence to replace high-frequency manual steps across your current processes.

Plus, once you've identified the places that are highly manual bottlenecks in your process, you'll know exactly which surrounding processes your new no-code automation or AI-fueled workflow will have to flow into, which sets you up for the next step — identifying which systems you'll use for your system-led operation. 

Step 2: Choose the best systems to build your operation on

After you've mapped out your most important business processes and your teams have identified which parts of the process can be codified using no-code and AI tools, it's time to start researching tools that make everything run smoothly.

Unfortunately though, there is no one-size fits all tool that you can run every-and-all processes on. However there are some platforms that can handle 80% - 90% of business use cases, and in addition to that there are best practices when shopping for one tool versus the other when building a System-Led Operation that we're going cover.

But before we do that, let's identify the core set of systems that businesses run on today:

  • Customer Relationship Management system
  • Mass Email system
  • Email Hosting system
  • Website Building & Hosting system
  • Project Management system
  • Form Builder system
  • Customer Support system
  • Virtual Conferencing system
  • Automation system
  • Team Communication system
  • Billing & Payment system
  • eSignature system
  • File Storage system
  • Time Tracking system
  • Data Warehouse system

There are thousands of other system categories, but we're going to call this list (above) the core set of systems that an organization would need to manage their business operations.

It's not such a short list. But this is where the best practices come into play regarding selecting the right tools to build a highly scalable System-Led Operation. 

Tip #1: Your CRM is the heart of your systems

Your Customer Relationship Manager (CRM) system is the heart of your system. Your business needs to have a reliable place for anyone on your team to find  contacts, company, or opportunity information that you're currently, or historically, engaged with. 

Ideally your CRM has a collection of features that covers many of the use cases listed in the "core set of systems" above. For instance, we commonly recommend using or Hubspot because our in-house system implementation team at Puzzle has worked in dozens of CRM systems and we commonly implement one of those two systems. 

If you need help exploring The Best-in-Class software tools, visit our tool directory where we've selected the best CRM systems on the market. 

Tip #2: Look for native integrations

Once you've identified your CRM system, many of your other system decisions for Project Management, Automation, Team Communication, Billing & Payments, and Data Warehouse, will be determined on whether or not your CRM has native integrations with these system. 

Any CRM that is worth using will have a list of their integrations available on their website. However, you must be careful here. Many providers will advertise integration, but then once you're in the system you realize that the native integrations doesn't work exactly how you imagined it. The key here is to ask very specific questions about how the integrations works with your CRM.

Tip #3: Prioritize flexibility and scalability

While native integrations are important (as I mentioned in Tip #2), flexibility and scalability should be another key consideration when choosing your systems.

The needs of your operation will change over time. Look for systems that can adapt and grow with you. Can you add new features or functionalities easily? Is the system designed to handle an increase in users or data?

Don't get locked into a system that limits your options down the road. Choose a platform with an open API (Application Programming Interface) that allows you to connect with other tools and build custom integrations if needed.

By prioritizing flexibility and scalability, you'll ensure your systems can keep pace with your growing business and avoid the need for a complete overhaul later.

Tip #4: Find Experts to help with choosing the right tools for you

There's no shame in admitting you need a helping hand. While the internet offers a wealth of information on business tools, navigating the ever-growing landscape and making the best choices for your specific needs can be overwhelming.


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Here's where system implementation experts can become invaluable assets. These professionals possess a deep understanding of various systems and their capabilities. They can help you:

  • Identify your unique needs: Through workshops and discussions, they'll work with you to pinpoint your business's specific pain points and identify the tools best suited to address them.
  • Cut through the marketing hype: Don't get fooled by flashy advertising. Experts can provide unbiased insights and compare different systems based on functionality, user experience, and cost.
  • Streamline implementation: Setting up and integrating new systems can be a complex process. Experts can handle the heavy lifting, ensuring a smooth transition with minimal disruption to your workflow.

Investing in a system implementation expert can save you time, money, and frustration in the long run. They'll help you build a strong foundation of well-integrated systems that support your business's growth and success.

Step 3: Coming soon...

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Work together with the big picture in mind.

Puzzle exists to make working on your business more joyful, impactful and collaborative by giving people the power to build and adapt their processes with the big picture in mind.