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How to Prepare Your Organization for Operational Excellence

By Roger Price - November 1, 2016

Preparing-your-business-for-continuous-improvement.jpgThese days, organizations are more focused than ever before on operational excellence (OpEx); creating the various systems and processes they need in order to achieve sustained improvement in their key performance metrics (KPIs) over time.  However, despite commitment from both the leadership and the workforce, many businesses face difficulties when attempting to deploy the precepts of operational excellence organization-wide. 

One of the biggest challenges an organization faces in this regard is how to create and manage the process of continuous improvement itself.  They need to construct a governance model for their OpEx program management that drives individual accountability and ownership in order to fully infuse these principles into the DNA of the organization. 

Here are three specific tips to keep in mind when managing an organization through the process of developing their strategic plan for operational excellence:

1. Keep CI Experts Focused on Process Improvement

Nothing can sidetrack effort for continuous improvement faster than watching all your CI experts become wrapped up in collecting and disseminating data, rather than focusing on training or process improvement.  Every hour they dedicate to improving your plan for operational excellence, putting together PowerPoint presentations, SharePoint sites, Excel Workbooks, or Infographics, is an hour they aren’t spending directly solving the problems your organization faces.

Does this look familiar?

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Instead, arrange for all the administrative and communications support these personnel need in advance, removing their workflow constraints and allowing them to spend their time where it matters most.  Making sure that you’re able to maximize the time spent on direct strategic improvement is a great first step in building an effective long term plan for operational excellence at your organization.

2. Minimize Complexity, Boost Workforce Engagement

Another common mistake organizations make when it comes to implementing a strategic plan for operational excellence is making the overall process opaque and difficult to interact with for the workforce.  This leads to situations where engagement with your process plummets.  In a nutshell, if something seems unnecessarily hard to do, most people won’t do it.

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One way to combat this natural tendency is by doing everything you can to minimize the complexity of your CI process.  Avoid requiring an overabundance of reporting.  Don’t embrace antiquated software, tools, or processes which will hamper communications and require your workforce to engage in a lot of extra rework for no substantial benefit.  The simpler you keep the process, the more likely your organization is to embrace it rather than resist it.  Here is some more specific information on how to inspire your workforce to proactively improve rather than simply comply with your program.

3. Focus on Hard Metrics to Appeal to Leadership

Usually, leadership at an organization will consider a program for operational excellence to be a “nice-to-have” capability, but not an integral one.  Others consider them a major distraction to the core competencies of the business.  Both groups are missing out on the benefits of continuous improvement, most likely because they’re having difficulty connecting the processes used to achieve OpEx with their activity and outcome-based management procedures.

For example, here are a few questions an executive might ask of an individual plant manager that focus on activities they are engaged in:

  1. What is the status of the vacant Manager position?
  2. When do you plan to re-tool the production line?
  3. How large an equipment budget are you requesting in next years’ capital plan?

Here are some that are more outcome-based:

  1. Please explain the production shortfall last month relative to projections?
  2. How are you successfully meeting goals while remaining so far under budget on fixed costs?
  3. Have product shortages and production interruptions ceased after acquiring new suppliers?

Both of these formats should feel extremely comfortable to most managers and leaders at an organization. The disconnect occurs when leaders have difficulty reducing the language of CI to these same concrete metrics. Don’t get bogged down in Six Sigma variables, SWOT analysis, and Lean Management jargon – directly tie CI concepts to real business practices.

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Here are several examples of both activity and outcome-based questions that can help pare the abstract concepts of operational excellence down to the same hard metrics leadership is more traditionally familiar with:

  1. What are the potential cost savings from our supplier analysis?
  2. Has productivity increased due to workforce training programs?
  3. Is time spent on reporting and compliance issues kept to a minimum?

As you can see, these types of questions are framed in the same activity and outcome-oriented language business leaders will already be familiar with, but focus more directly on actionable goals and insights derived from an ongoing operational excellence program. 

Ultimately, helping leadership to understand strategic CI goals in the same language and as a part of their own strategic management style will help keep them engaged and interested in the process, driving improvement through their organization from the top down.

Don’t Get Left Behind

Organizations of all shapes and sizes which are able to successfully connect the dots between their focus on CI and their real business impacts will find themselves better positioned to adapt to changing market conditions than their competitors, and ultimately more profitable as a result. 

To learn more about continuous improvement, operational excellence, and other valuable business insights, make sure to visit the Phase 5 Group blog regularly. 

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