The Journey to Operational Excellence

The Journey to Operational Excellence | Part 1

Dr Anthony Kenneson-Adams.  MA. Bsc(Hons). FInstLM. Royal Air Force (Ret’d)
Posted on 06/27/2023

Operational Excellence is the practice of continuously maximizing the potential of your people, optimizing your business processes and as a result achieving best in class performance. This best-in-class performance is repeatable if you consistently follow these 8-steps:

  1. Define your objectives
  2. Identify areas for improvement
  3. Develop a plan
  4. Implement a plan
  5. Monitor progress
  6. Continuous Improvement
  7. Commit to the tools
  8. Commit to your people

Over the next 2 weeks, we will define these steps so you too can join the ranks of businesses that exemplify Operational Excellence.

  1. Define your objectives: Far too many projects in business begin without clear objectives and then leaders wonder why they fail. So, how does an organization define clear objectives?

Defining a clear objective requires a structured approach and project manager accountability. Here are some steps you can follow to define those clear objectives and thus be successful.

  1. Start with the end in mind: Take the time upfront to very clearly visualize the outcome you want to achieve. Be specific and drive constantly to the greatest level of detail that you can achieve. This will be the vision of your specific result, your achievement, or milestone you want to reach.
  2. Make it measurable: Identify how you will measure progress towards your objective. This must be a specific metric, like revenue ‘$’, the new waste figure ‘%’, training courses completed ‘25’ or time saved per operation ‘minutes.’ If you can’t measure it, you can’t change it. 
  3. Identify the timeframe: Determine exactly WHEN you want to achieve your objective. Be realistic and consider factors like available resources and external factors that may affect your progress, but when these elements have been considered, don’t accept compromise.
  4. Create an action plan: Develop a plan of action that outlines the detailed steps you will take to achieve your objective. This must include specific tasks, timelines, and responsible parties in achievable packets of work.

By following these steps, you can define a clear objective that is specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART). This will help you stay focused and motivated as you work towards achieving your goal.

2. Identify areas for improvement: Once you have a clear understanding of your objectives, you need to take time to identify the areas of your business that need improvement that will drive out waste in time, effort, and materials. This can involve analyzing your current processes and systems to identify inefficiencies or areas for optimization. 

Here are some practical ideas to help you identify areas of your business for improvement:

  1. Review Process Documentation: Start by reviewing the existing documentation related to the manufacturing or build process, such as standard operating procedures (SOPs), work instructions, and process flowcharts. Analyze the documentation to identify any potential bottlenecks, inefficiencies, or areas where improvements can be made.
  2. Conduct Process Mapping: Create a process map or flowchart that illustrates the entire manufacturing process from start to finish. This visual representation will help you identify all the steps involved, dependencies, and potential areas for improvement. Also align how the process actually works with how you want it to work to ensure the process is as efficient as it possibly can be as in Value Stream Mapping.
  3. Analyze Key Performance Indicators (KPIs): Examine the relevant KPIs for the manufacturing process, such as production output, cycle time, downtime, quality metrics, and scrap or waste rates. Compare the actual performance against the desired targets or industry benchmarks to identify any significant gaps or areas of underperformance.
  4. Engage with Employees: Involve the employees who work directly with the manufacturing process. Conduct interviews, focus groups, or surveys to gather their insights and perspectives on potential areas for improvement. Often it is your people who have valuable on-the-ground knowledge that provide the most valuable suggestions.
  5. Perform Root Cause Analysis: If you identify specific problems or bottlenecks in the manufacturing process, conduct a root cause analysis to determine the underlying causes. Use techniques like the “5 Whys” to dig deeper and understand the fundamental reasons behind the issues. Ensure you are working to solve the real problem and not just the symptom of the problem.
  6. Utilize Lean Manufacturing Principles: Apply Lean Manufacturing principles and tools such as value stream mapping, 5S methodology, and Kaizen events. These methodologies can help you identify waste, eliminate non-value-added activities, and continuously improve the process.
  7. Implement Process Monitoring and Control: Establish robust monitoring and control mechanisms to track the performance of the manufacturing or building process in real-time. Use sensors, automation, and data analytics to collect relevant data and identify patterns or anomalies that can highlight areas for improvement.
  8. Benchmark and Industry Research: Conduct research to identify best practices and benchmarks within your industry. Compare your manufacturing process to those of similar organizations to identify areas where you may be lagging behind or where you have the potential to excel.
  9. Seek Continuous Feedback: Encourage continuous feedback from stakeholders, including customers, suppliers, and internal teams. They may provide insights on areas for improvement, such as quality issues, delivery delays, or communication gaps.
  10. Prioritize and Plan Improvements: Finally, prioritize the identified areas for improvement based on their potential impact and feasibility, i.e., which will best improve safety, quality, cost, delivery, and people. Develop a detailed action plan outlining specific improvement initiatives, here it is essential to assign responsibilities, set timelines, and track progress regularly.

Remember that continuous improvement is an ongoing process, and it requires commitment and collaboration from all levels of the organization. Regularly reassess and adjust your improvement efforts based on feedback and changing circumstances.

This is a 4-part series: Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4


Dr Anthony Kenneson-Adams

Dr. Anthony Kenneson-Adams had a 30-year career in the Royal Air Force, becoming a Senior Engineering Officer, Project Manager and Engineering Authority responsible for multiple fast jets and large-body aircraft in peace and war operations. On retiring from the Royal Air Force, he became a Corporate Operational Excellence Consultant in the Paper Manufacturing and Packaging Industries and is now the Head of Learning and Knowledge Transfer for the international Project 7 Consultancy.  You can contact Anthony at or [email protected]

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