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Back to Basics: Eleven Things Every OpEx Manager Should Know

By Nancy Bach - May 25, 2018

OpEx Leader

No matter where you are in your operational excellence (OpEx) process, it’s worth going back to basics and looking for further opportunities to drive toward perfection. In fact, because the very essence of operational excellence is continuous improvement (CI), you should expect to be constantly learning and continuously growing in your role as an OpEx manager.

Alignment

Like everything else in the organization, operational excellence efforts must align with the organization’s overall strategy and vision. The quickest way to have OpEx efforts fail is to have conflicts with day-to-day, project, or strategic activities in general operations. From key leaders down, performance review and compensation should tie to goal achievement. If OpEx activities keep people from meeting their goals, they will ignore or actively oppose them.

Focus

Remember that OpEx is not simply operator suggestions or busywork. To support alignment, OpEx must focus on delivering value. This means value for the customer and for the organization. OpEx is likely to involve significant change; however, this is NOT just change for the sake of change, but change for greater value.

Active Leadership

You know the expression: “Actions speak louder than words.” This is particularly true for management related to OpEx activities. It’s quite easy to pledge support of operational excellence. However, unless that support is active and visible, the words fall flat. Build OpEx goals and projects into overall strategy and OpEx tactics into your daily schedule. This might involve gemba walks, leader standard work, barrier busting, and recognition for progress.

Engagement

Operational excellence success is highly dependent on participation, including everyone in the organization’s hierarchy, from leaders to shop floor workers. Creating cross-functional teams is particularly valuable for the highest synergies. Teams must be striving for optimization of the flow, not individual silos within the organization.

Implement Cultural Change

As operational excellence is targeted and achieved, the team will not simply be delivering enhanced processes. The actual functioning performance capabilities of the teams in the organization will be increasing as well. Utilize change management and behavioral skills to help drive toward a culture of high-performance teams that thrive on change and become empowered and self-reinforcing.

KISS

Hopefully you’re well beyond the old meaning of KISS (keep it simple, stupid) because you recognize the value of brainpower from everyone in the organization. When you encourage engagement, it will become obvious that you don’t have stupid employees. Nevertheless KISS still works as “keep it simple and sensible.” OpEx is built on simple models. For example, lean helps to take out non-value-added elements, leaving simpler solutions. Synergies from engaged cross-functional teams tend to drive toward sensible solutions that are sustainable over time.

Measure

Metrics are crucial to success in OpEx processes. It’s difficult to know that you have achieved operational improvements if you can’t measure a baseline and then see movement from the baseline as you make changes. In addition, the concept of “what gets measured gets done” is basic to human behavior in and outside the workplace. Project and performance monitoring, organizational key performance indicators (KPIs) and balanced scorecards all help people to understand where to focus, what is expected, and how they are doing.

Systematize

Let’s consider two interpretations of systematization. The proven systematic approach of PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) works across nearly all problems, projects, opportunities, and tactics; it is the model for continuous improvement. Systematizing, in the form of standard work, is essential to sustain the gains achieved in OpEx efforts.

Benchmark

If you’ve been working as an operational excellence manager for a while or have inherited a working OpEx department, you’re probably already doing many of these basics. However, that’s not enough. Look at your efforts and ask, “How can we do this better, more consistently and more reliably?” Often you can benchmark across teams or among organizations, and leverage methods and what you learn for faster and more effective solutions.

Leverage

Just as OpEx focuses on efficiency improvements in processes, OpEx managers can focus on efficiencies in their own processes. This involves leveraging methods that work in other areas. For example:

  • Build modular training materials, allowing multiple just-in-time reuses across teams and functions;
  • Build OpEx skill practitioners across the organization to lead teams and sustain focus;
  • Widely communicate processes and successes so others can learn and leverage; and
  • Leverage learning from mistakes and failures as well.

Celebrate

Plans for celebration and reinforcement of progress and achievement should be built into overall OpEx planning and execution. While operational excellence efforts are often intrinsically reinforcing (such as pride in achievement, making work easier, and team participation), it’s important to plan and execute extrinsic reinforcement as well. Sincere recognition and planned celebrations motivate people and help high-performing teams sustain maximum efforts.

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