OPEX in Action: Adapting for Cultural Differences ft. Pedro Hernandez, Eni

In the lead up to the 5th annual OPEX Week Europe summit, the official event blog will become home to some of the industry's most informed and influential voices.

In this blog post, we speak with Pedro Hernandez, a Worldwide Operational Excellence Senior Advisor at Italian oil & gas national company Eni. Coming from a manufacturing engineer background and management consulting, he has more than 16 years experience conducting operational improvements across industries varying from Food and Goods Manufacturing to Automotive, Service and Oil & Gas. Below, Pedro shares some insight into his work at Eni and explains his methods for overcoming cultural differences when teaching OPEX principles across a global company.

Pedro, Can you begin by explaining what your role is at Eni?

Essentially, I am one of the Operational Excellence Advisors. We support and advise the different geographical units worldwide on how to implement Operational Excellence. This usually starts with us helping the local Leadership team to identify best projects. This activity is followed up by a Lean Six Sigma training course given to people participating on those selected projects and focused on their specific projects. I am also the gatekeeper for all Lean Six Sigma project running right now worldwide. This means that every time that we finish one of the five steps of the DMAIC methodology we have a meeting and I approve the work done until that point. We will also discuss and agree on the main activities for the following stage of the methodology.

It is important to highlight that every project has its own coach focused on supporting the project on a day-to-day basis. These coaches are usually Green Belt certified and can be located anywhere.

How would you describe the relationship between Operational Excellence and the business units at Eni? 

We have a straight forward setup that is simple but efficient. We have a team in Milan where each member has specific countries to work with. So, in that sense, it is not an internal consultancy practice but a partnership because the managing director of a Geographical unit has a fixed interlocutor at HQ to discuss all Operational Excellence matters. This creates synergy and helps continuity when Manager Directors are moved from country to country.

The relationship with these units is going from strength to strength based on the achievement done with the partnership. This doesn’t mean that all is done, but it is getting better and better based on mutual trust.
We have teams in Milan and Rome that are dedicated to specific countries and specific companies, and then the team in London is dedicated to the implementation strategies, knowledge management, training and standardization.

Do you face any challenges in getting people to understand what Operational Excellence is and why it’s necessary?

It is well known inside Eni that there is a Continuous Improvement team and a Continuous Improvement process. However, as the company is so large in the number of people and geographically, you always get to know people who have different level of awareness on OPEX. And those are two of the challenges we face.

Another challenge is the purpose of the business itself and the fact that the company generally has an engineer mind-set expecting Operational Excellence to arrive with better tools and equipment rather than focused on Systems, People and Processes. Nonetheless, this is also an advantage that works well when you present results achieved in other geographical units.

You mentioned a lot of different countries there. Is there’s ever a cultural element that contributes to how people pick up Operational Excellence methodologies?

Yes, in all the countries and not only in terms of Operational Excellence but also in terms of project management. There are countries where people are much more flexible in terms of doing things on time and achieving as much.

So you can see the impact each countries own cultural background plays on Operational excellence and, for me, it’s just striking. In the last two years I have been in Africa, Asia, and throughout Europe and every time that I start a discussion with someone else I can feel a mind-set related to the country of origin. This is nothing negative but is just to be aware and use this knowledge in order to achieve improvements.

How do you accommodate that?

It’s a case of reading the people and listening to what they are telling you. You may have an idea of what you have to do. But it is about understanding how they work and seeing how you can help them to actually finish their project or to implement Operational Excellence.

One of the things I usually do when I start is to provide the LSS training which helps me to understand the different personalities and the culture in general. In some countries, people have told me: “listen, I’m not interested in a certificate; I’m interested just in learning the LSS methodology”. But in some countries, there are plenty of questions about the certificate: “what does the paper look like?; Is it big?; are we getting the certification immediately or later on?” From there, you start seeing the difference of how different communities or different cultures think about something as simple as training.

So it’s all about how you accommodate your aim. At the end of the day, what I would like is to help them improve their performance. So I have to ask myself: “how can I accommodate all this activities so it fits theirs and my expectations?”