One Company, One Process: An Insight into Coca Cola’s Opex Program

The Coca-Cola Company has placed a focus on quality since the production of its first bottles of Coca-Cola. As industry standards regarding quality management systems evolved, so has the company. While "pockets" of Lean-Six Sigma have existed in their system for decades, a formal, modern, global Operational Excellence journey began nearly 10 years ago.

Since then they have experienced several iterations, moving from a manufacturing based Six-Sigma type program to a broader scoped Lean-Six Sigma type program, inclusive of transactional environments as well. Ilir Morina, Global Director of Operational Excellence, The Coca Cola Company, explains the company’s Operational Excellence program.

Editor’s note: this interview was featured in our recent report "From PEX to OpEx: The Next Generation" on insights and trends on the state of Operational Excellence programs in Europe. Download the full report, along with case studies from Euroports, Coca-Cola, E.ON and Air France here.

PEX Network: There have been big changes over the last year across the organization – could you tell me more about the changes around your Operational Excellence program?

Ilir Morina: The role of the corporate Operational Excellence (OE) program has evolved from a direct support model, to one that assists our international operations, by preparing them for the development of self-sustaining OE Business Unit support. In parallel, we are fostering an OE community of practice, realizing that tremendous opportunities exist for leveraging the collective knowledge of our operations.

PEX Network: Do you think that Coca Cola has succeeded in blending the OpEx program into the organization so that it’s not looked upon as something separate – what tips would you give for doing so?

Ilir Morina: We’ve certainly set a high standard for the way we go to work. Our roadmap places an emphasis on the Planet, People, Partners, our Portfolio, Profit, and Productivity. Therefore, all functions need to address these areas as part of business planning. That said, the challenge of viewing OE as being incremental or additional work, always remains. The idea is to weave it into existing platforms -to take what already and improve upon it. Efforts need to be coordinated and organized, otherwise there’s the risk of creating parallel or even redundant systems. Support functions play a large role. Whether it’s human resources helping to link performance to rewards and recognition, or finance playing a role in value identification and prioritization, it’s a team effort.

PEX Network: How do you achieve executive buy-in?

Ilir Morina: Keep the message simple. Identify the costs of poor quality and demonstrate results. While it’s easy to view Operational Excellence as a technical endeavor, rooted in quality and engineering, we must speak the language of business and create value for our customers, first and foremost.

PEX Network: In your experience, how important are the people working in the organization when it comes to driving successful Operational Excellence programs?

Ilir Morina: The people are critical to the success of any Operational Excellence Program. Everybody has a role to play and they need to understand what that role is. The infrastructure should be designed in such a way that allows people to execute their roles in harmony. Empowered people tend to be engaged people.

PEX Network: In your opinion what are the main strategies companies should have to drive successful cultural change?

Ilir Morina: One of the first things a company needs to do is take a realistic look at where they currently stand and where they would like to go. Set the vision, understand why it’s important and then formalize the method. Companies need to ask, "How ready is our organization to embrace change?" Identify strengths and weakness and how can they be leveraged or mitigated. Companies are complex and dynamic entities. Roadmaps for cultural change are commonplace, but every company’s journey will be custom and unique.

PEX Network: Can you share tips on how to make the link between Operational Excellence activity and what the business is trying to achieve?

Ilir Morina: It’s a must that you cascade top level business goals into operational strategy. You need to ensure that process indicators can be tied to strategic planning. Go through the exercise of creating a flow down, tying it all together. Execute meaningful improvement projects that reinforce what is critical to the business. But allow for flexibility in idea creation since improvement in certain areas such as communication or morale can have a positive impact in seemingly unrelated areas of performance. Reward the behaviors you are seeking and nurture accountability and commitment. Great project management doesn’t hurt either!

PEX Network: What are your main goals for 2016?

Ilir Morina: Our main goals for 2016 include the development of locally based resources that can operate autonomously requiring less direct support from corporate headquarters. Part of this includes ongoing work in developing global centers of excellence. We would also like to continue our work in standardizing PMO administrative tasks to reduce complexity and augment our ability to share knowledge across geographies or functions. Oh, and to have fun while doing it all, of course!