The Definitive Explanation of What Operational Excellence Is and Is Not

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Operational Excellence is not an empty, meaningless, annoying buzzword; it’s just misunderstood by most executives — even the ones who practice it — and too frequently poorly received by their teams for the same reason.

Quail Egg On Black Acrylic Surface With Reflection And Splash Crown. Philosophical And Religious Symbol Of Revival, New Life And Evolution. Fine Art Photography. Macro Photography.Operational Excellence (OpEx) has only one objective: achieve optimum performance from every individual and function in your organization.

OpEx requires only one thing: that every individual in your organization demonstrate 100% buy-in to achieving optimum performance.

OpEx consists of four basic elements that every single person in your organization already practices every single business day:

  1. Plan it,
  2. Do it,
  3. Check it,
  4. Adjust it.

The immense jumble of words and acronyms that are almost always perceived to be the essential and consistent actions and practices of OpEx — i.e. Lean Six Sigma, DMAIC, Kaizen, Heijunka, mapping, Hoshin Kanri — are, in fact, tools that may or may not be helpful to your infinite number of plan, do, check, and adjust (PDCA) procedures. The professionals we call OpExperts™ know precisely what every one of the hundreds of tools of their trade does and when to use them. You and your team don’t need to be experts; you simply need to know that the tools exist and have a way to identify when in your daily business processes utilizing one, or more, will enhance your PDCAs and elevate them to OpEx status.

If you know how to use every tool on this list, then you are probably the Director of your company’s Center of Excellence (CoE). If you expect anyone on your team to use every tool on this list or even half of them, then they should be members of your CoE team. Being an expert is a full-time job. You and your crew already have full-time jobs. That’s why there is so often so much resistance to accepting an OpEx charter. To overcome that resistance, here are what you need to instill in your own mind and the minds of your team members:

What Operational Excellence Is Not:

  • The unknown. You and your team are already working to achieve it every day, and you always have been. If you’re not at the level, you aspire to, then hire or contract with an OpExpert, and make the tools and how to use them readily available.
  • Difficult. In fact, it’s human nature to constantly improve. Any time a person understands a goal and the value in achieving it, they automatically practice PDCA whether they are aware of it or not. People only struggle with achieving OpEx when they don’t have or don’t know how to use the right tools.
  • Hard to communicate. Unless you’re talking to an OpExpert, start the dialogue with “forget everything you think you know about Operational Excellence and accept that you are already a seasoned practitioner of it.” Then share the vision, strategy and the structure of the process, empower the individual with confidence in their PDCAs and give them generous access to an OpExpert who can give them the best tools for success, and teach them how to use them.
  • Expensive. Depending on the complexity of your organization’s process, you may need one OpExpert per 50 team members or one per 500. Regardless, the cost of OpEx professionals will quickly be offset by the profits generated by OpEx.
  • Time-consuming. Again, every person on your team is trying, on their own, to OpEx everything they do. Given the right tools to augment what already comes naturally will speed up their PDCAs and make them more effective.
  • A job threat. No one ever lost their job because they got better at it. While bringing in tools and a tool-use-training practitioner might be threatening to some, clearly communicating that collaboration with an OpExpert will make them better and happier in their position should overcome that fear.
  • Dispensable. To be the best you can be you have to commit to OpEx. If you don’t, the competition or a disruptor that does will be better than you.

What Operational Excellence Is:

  • Continuous improvement of the flow of value.
  • Competitive edge and differentiation.
  • Quick responses to problems.
  • A waste eliminator.
  • The natural result of PDCA.
  • The opposite of everything in the ‘Is Not’ list above.

It is: “A philosophy of the workplace where problem-solving, teamwork, and leadership results in the ongoing improvement in an organization. The process involves focusing on the customers’ needs, keeping employees positive and empowered, and continually improving the current activities in the workplace” (BusinessDictionary). It’s a philosophy that everyone you work with shares and practices naturally. All you have to do is encourage them to make it a priority in everything they do, give them easy access to the tools that support their PDCA, and provide an OpExpert to make using the tools as natural as their innate desire to achieve Operational Excellence.


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