What is the most important factor in real estate? That’s easy: location, location, location. What is the most important factor in operational excellence? That’s easy too: execution, execution, execution.
If you go after a big or small project with sloppy execution, you may get poor results. In addition, you may demotivate the workforce from making further continuous improvement efforts. On the other hand, if you have excellent execution, even on a small project, you may be able to leverage its methods, results, and enthusiasm across many parts of the organization.
OpEx maturity doesn’t matter as much as you might think it does...
What do we mean by operational excellence maturity? In general it’s the shift over time in the company’s focus, competencies, and projects on its continuous improvement path.
The CI process may start with disconnected projects that seem to be the right things for the organization to do in the name of quality, customer value, efficiency or other goal areas.
In the transition phase, projects are combined in a systems approach, often using specialists in quality methodologies and delivering pockets of excellence.
Ultimately, the organization may achieve the ideal state of using operational excellence as a strategic tool, not only delivering cost-saving and other projects, but also adding value by enabling the organization to achieve competitive advantages and drive toward its overall vision.
Operational excellence efforts can happen at a local, department level or across the full organization. They may start with a few simple projects to test the waters or they may be part of a multi-faceted improvement program strongly aligned with organizational vision and incorporating structured projects from the shop floor to the boardroom. They may be driven by small, self-directed quality teams or have a platoon of Master Black Belts and Lean Leaders embedded throughout the organization.
No matter where the OpEx process is on the maturity path, the projects all have the common need for excellent execution. No matter how small the project, with excellent execution it can have a bigger impact than just its immediate results.
One problem organizations sometimes have is inertia. People may find themselves uncomfortable moving forward for fear of doing something wrong. They may be hesitant to start acting when they don’t have the whole strategy in place or be unsure that the “best” approach has been discovered. These concerns melt away with good execution.
Prerequisites for achieving good execution
Whether you’re just starting on your way as an OpEx leader or you’re a longtime practitioner, you need to utilize a mindset, methods, and tools that will help you achieve good execution. These are profound requirements, but relatively simple to incorporate into plans.
1. Know what you want to achieve.
Articulate a good problem statement or charter to ensure the situation, goals, scope and metrics are clearly defined. Too often, execution can fail because the desired outcome wasn’t clear at the start.
2. Ensure you have a capable project leader.
Invest in upfront training and skills building. Don’t put anyone in a position of being over his or her head. Trial by fire in OpEx is not a good approach. In some cases, engaging a journey partner to close the gap in capabilities may be a valuable option.
3. Provide leadership support.
This happens in two ways. The hierarchical leader needs to approve of the project and the resource requirements an time needed for execution. The local process owner needs to be onboard as well. If there is any evidence of a need to “protect turf,” the project is likely not to succeed.
4. Use systems thinking.
While a complete strategic plan is not necessary, the concepts of assessing risk, imagining possible outcomes, engaging all areas that will be impacted, and creating contingency plans for “what-if” scenarios can be applied to any project.
Make sure teams don’t try to invent everything from scratch. Benchmarking can be very valuable. At a process level, use digital aids for statistical process control and other tracking needs. At an organizational level use business strategy and tracking software to build organization and accountability into the CI efforts.
6. Address human factors.
Remember that projects succeed not just because of the latest and greatest technology. Success is also dependent on the engagement, capabilities, and motivation of the people involved in the project. Build in excellent communications, provide as-needed training and use good change management methods to bring people onboard with the project.
7. Monitor and adjust.
The Deming PDCA (Plan Do Check Act) and similar cyclical improvement models provide a good approach for continuous improvement execution. Break the project into milestones, track performance, and tweak as needed to stay on track.
Are these things that a longtime OpEx practitioner would advise? Yes, most likely. Are they also things that a newbie in the world of OpEx can do? YES! Again, OpEx maturity for the operational area and for the individual project leader are far less important than a systematic and proven approach for execution.
Paraphrasing a Chinese proverb attributed to Lao Tzu: "A journey toward excellence begins with a single step." Don’t let inertia keep you from making that first step. At the same time, use good planning to be sure the step leads in the right direction and sound execution to be sure you achieve desired results.