by Enrique Mora

“Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.”
-Vince Lombardi

A good number of global organizations are now pursuing an ambitious goal: Operational Excellence (OE), triggering overwhelming anxiety in some of their surprised plant populations.

Of course, there is a good reason for setting such an ambitious goal: Competition. There is some scarcity of information on the subject and some people may feel threatened because they easily confuse excellence with perfection. The good news is there is research and development that takes this concept into application in everyday operations.

Clarifying

The first step is clarification. You've probably already done something like it without calling it by its official name. You might have actually done some groundwork toward it. You have been driving in the right direction, so you are closer to the achievement than you thought.

If you have done any of the following:

  • Kaizen events
  • Lean manufacturing
  • Autonomous quality
  • 5S workshops
  • Best maintenance practices
  • Autonomous maintenance
  • Quality circles
  • Total productive maintenance (TPM) or total process reliability (TPR)
  • Reliability centered maintenance (RCM) or condition-based maintenance (CBM)

Great News! You are aware of all you need to establish operational excellence.

image explaining operational excellence

Inclusivity of the Whole Population and True Empowerment

All the associates can now freely bring up their goodwilled creativity and objectivity to enrich processes, products and infrastructures. This contributes to operational excellence.

One vital sign in the new environment is that associates at all levels are not only listened to, but also are daily trained, equipped and empowered to do their duties in an autonomous manner. Leaders can now focus on the big picture and the challenges of the future. Everyone becomes aware of the co-responsibility of watching for any possible losses. They all feel the ownership of the business.

Enhanced Visual Systems

Each day brings improvement in technologies. With the advantage of these continuously improving technologies, everyone now can be clearly and timely informed of the process flow. This is happening for administrative and production processes. With operational excellence, all associates are aware in real time of the possible obstacles or alterations that might affect their flow. They can now develop standard processes to ease and help with informed timely corrections. They are empowered and able to act this way without having to wait around for any authorizations. This prevents delays and stoppages that today still plague traditional administration and manufacturing processes.

Management Development

Leaders at all levels have an important task in front of them to help operational excellence happen. To take advantage of this opportunity, they will need to go into overdrive in their process of strongly educating and training their teams. The great advantage is that all these efforts result in true operational excellence empowerment. The leaders will benefit from:

  • Fewer micromanagement tasks;
  • More effective and responsible teams;
  • True accountability from all;
  • Better team-wide attitudes;
  • Higher levels of cooperation;
  • Excellent working environment;
  • Higher quality of everything they do;
  • Longer tenure of their best people.

Once they achieve this, minor tasks that usually consume and, at times, waste leaders' time are lifted from their shoulders by team members so the leaders now have the time to better see the big picture.

This enhanced vision is perhaps the most important benefit of operational excellence.

Managers will be in a position to help their operation not only survive, but compete and grow beyond the traditional expectations!

OE Strengthens Your Efforts

All these features of operational excellence are aligned with all previous efforts, such as kaizen events, TPM, RCM and lean, and bond them into a strong, structured and solid discipline with higher standards of performance, accountability and ownership by everyone. The population gradually matures and enjoys the cultural improvement.

Where and When Can You Get Started?

One of the most noticeable differences of operational excellence is the criticality of the initial approach. That is actually the main ingredient that, unfortunately, is missing in many poor implementations of any discipline or strategy. In some cases, though, even with that flaw, some satisfactory results can be obtained. In operational excellence, however, the key ingredient is commitment. Commitment is paramount when you need improvements to become a real breakthrough. As you work toward excellence, it becomes evident that the main technique to achieve the culture needed is example. This means that top management must be the source of inspiration, the engine of change, the exemplary behavior to be followed by everyone.

While most other strategies produce a certain amount of improvement even if the commitment is low, operational excellence will not fly without the fuel produced by that kind of commitment from the top. Many companies fail in their intention simply because there are some top managers who still believe that they are immune to any new disciplines. Their idea is, “Everybody should abide…..but me.”

Where to begin is clear: You must start at the top.

When is also clear: When the organization is ready. It will happen when you decide to do away with traditional tolerances and conformity behaviors.

It has been proven in many cases. One switch of mind-sets was established a few years ago when Bill Ford, executive chairman of Ford Motor Company, faced criticism for bringing in the CEO who has turned things around for the important automobile manufacturer. Alan Mulally came to Ford to work hard in changing the culture and in the last few years he succeeded big time at that.

Another example of that kind of adventurous determination is doubtlessly Jack Welch, who in a few years turned GE's destiny into the brightest ever for the giant. A good number of other enterprises have followed these great champions.

Start at the Head of the Organization; Credibility Will Follow, Results Will Be Unstoppable!

What needs to change first? Attitude! The goal is to get everyone in the organization to understand that they all own the success or the failure. Hierarchies are gradually blurred as the common knowledge, responsibility and accountability grow.

For the most part, everything will fall in place when you achieve such an atmosphere. Each individual in every area of responsibility will deliver if they are adequately motivated. This, of course, demands an unusual assignment of effort and attention to fundamental education and training. Any investment in this regard will have spectacular returns.

Operational excellence is not something you implement because it is a healthy and fashionable trend. Rather, it is a priceless status that everyone will all live and enjoy!

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