Smart strategies to build capability in OPEX




Ryan King and Chris Dando

Whilst we can all agree that Operational Excellence is a vital part of any business that wants to perform at peak, getting this message understood throughout the organization can be difficult. PEX Editor Ian Hawkins talked to Ryan King and Chris Dando about how building capability must include encouraging others to share knowledge and enthusiasm. 

PEX: Building capability in OPEX is central to what you do - why is it so important to your clients?

Ryan King: For long-term sustainability, building OPEX capability at each level is key. It is impossible to have a culture of continuous improvement if there are only a select few employees who understand and are able to use OPEX. We support our clients to increase their levels of OPEX capability from the boardroom to the front-line service. This enables the organisation to solve their own problems and drive operational improvement everyday.

PEX: What sort of problems are we talking about? How are organisations being held back?

Ryan King: We are talking about both day-to-day operational problems as well as significant business challenges which require collaboration across teams and departments. An organisation that is fully equipped with OPEX capability, identifies problems continuously and uses a standard methodology to eliminate the root cause. There is always a focus on performance improvement and striving for better. The organisation with OPEX capability is also equipped to deliver wider business transformation to achieve a step-change in performance.

The journey starts with Senior Leaders promoting the right behaviours, allowing performance to be transparent and visible. Employees need time allocated for continuous improvement, with operational managers supporting and leading OPEX on a daily basis.

 

An organisation that is fully equipped with OPEX capability, identifies problems continuously and uses a standard methodology to eliminate the root cause.

 

PEX: What are the classic symptoms of capability building that isn’t working as it should? And what are the first steps people can do to put them right? 

Chris Dando: Often organisations train the same content to the different groups of people within their organisation which has limited success. First of all I would suggest identifying the different employee groups and then define the competencies you are looking to develop for each group.

Typical employee groups for OPEX capability building could be Senior Leaders, Internal Improvement Team Members, Operations Managers/Team Leaders and Frontline Employees.

We typically are aiming for our Senior Leaders to be presenting the right behaviours, support the change, remove barriers and create the strategy. Ideally Operations Managers and Team Leaders would be using effective day-to-day continuous improvement methods to drive daily service delivery. Improvement Team Members need to be able to facilitate workshops, coach others, diagnose process challenges, manage projects & stakeholders etc. Front Line Employees need an awareness of different continuous improvement techniques, understanding how they can practically be involved and influence day-to-day improvement as well as the benefits of continuous improvement to customers.

PEX: So which Capability Building methods might be appropriate to achieve these competences for each Employee Group and is there anything to assess competencies to ensure these are achieved? 

Chris Dando: A facilitated workshop with the Senior Leadership Team can be an ideal approach for agreeing how the group can lead Operations Excellence and devising the strategic objectives for the next 2-3 years. The best Senior Leaders workshops I have observed have included a ‘go and see‘ element of an area/organisation deemed as best practice. 

Although Classroom Training is often overused, it can be ideal for training Operations Excellence techniques to internal Improvement Practitioners as it gives them the upfront knowledge of the methodology and tools. Classroom training can also be very effective for teaching Operational Managers and Team Leaders the different continuous improvement techniques they can use in their work environment. Both of these training events should be followed up with 1-2-1 coaching sessions to further their development and support practical use.

E-learning can be successful to create widespread awareness at a global level quickly and at a reasonable cost. This can be a useful mechanism for training frontline employees; and ideally this would be received just prior to being involved with any OPEX activities.

In terms of assessing OPEX competencies an accreditation such as the Lean Competency System from Cardiff University is ideal as there are 7 different levels of Lean competence from awareness to expert. Individuals need to practically use their OPEX learning to gain the different qualifications. In many cases, these official qualifications have helped to motivate individuals to progress with OPEX. Reinvigoration have been an LCS accrediting organisation for 8 years now.

PEX: What about getting the changes to stick? How do you keep new behaviour continuing after the training is over?

Ryan King: There are a number of strategies we use to ensure sustainment of the change and further continuous improvement. 

The first important point is the business themselves own the change. The Improvement Team (either internal or external) is supporting but not leading. OPEX solutions should be designed by the people who will be running and leading the operations. This is why capability building is so important. Designing, implementing and sustaining change is all part of the learning process. 

There are also OPEX day-to-day management practices which can be implemented to support sustainment of process changes and drive further improvement. For example having purposeful performance measures brought to life visually on a board (which can be physical or electronic) and introducing regular ‘huddles’ bringing the team together to discuss performance will help keep improvement in focus. The concept of Root Cause Problem Solving if introduced to operational teams will also help drive focus on performance and help to identify bottlenecks and areas for improvement to exploit. Process confirmation is another technique which ensures standards are followed and any differences are identified. 

These different practices help to change behaviour, making OPEX a way of working not a temporary fix.

 

The first important point is the business themselves own the change.

 

PEX: So - ownership, accountability and visibility are all key to keeping the change going. How are these supported through technology? Any particular apps that really work?

Chris Dando: Yes in recent years there are a number of technology solutions that have come to market which support OPEX to be successful in the long-term. 

Reinvigoration’s Skill Control is a piece of software which ensures SOPs are kept up to date and tracks that every user has read and understood the latest processes. It is great for sustaining change as everytime there is a process change, every related employee receives an alert to the newly defined procedure.

There are a number of digital whiteboards solutions which work well and allow multi-located teams to use effective visual management and huddles to review performance. These include Real Time Board and Obeya and I believe there are many more applications which are broadly similar. Data mining applications are also developing well, which supports performance measurement. Celonis is one application I have witnessed which is particularly effective. 

OpAssess, also part of Reinvigoration’s portfolio is a great tool for tracking the current levels of OPEX maturity across different operations and teams. It can be effective to benchmark your different operations and identify areas of excellence as well as teams which are declining and require further support. It scores in 10 different categories of OPEX ways of working. This solution works particularly well where there are different teams across a number of geographical locations.

PEX: Finally, what are some of the positive changes that you’ve seen in people and organisations as they make these changes part of their culture?

Chris Dando: The positive changes are varied and plentiful, so I’ll touch on a few of the key ones here. 

Firstly and I think most importantly is that we see significant increases in people engagement and satisfaction with their work. You have to remember that people come to work to do a great job, yet they are often left feeling frustrated with the issues that they face on a daily basis. These are typically accepted as ‘normal work’, however when you teach a different way of thinking, and OPEX mindset, they suddenly feel confident and capable to solve their own problems. This is hugely engaging and empowering for people – I’ve seen countless examples of individuals who suddenly have a new zest for their life as a result!

Secondly, we tend to find this positive cycle of what I like to call supportive challenge emerging. What do I mean by this? Well quite simply, when people operate in a true OPEX culture, they are continually challenging each other individually and the organisational working practices in order to improve further. This is done not in a confrontational way, but a supportive way as people realise that they can harness combined intellect to make the system, and therefore performance better.

This leads me nicely onto my final point, the positive impact on the organisation itself. Who doesn’t want to be part of an organisation that is providing better service, at a lower price, in a more repeatable and reliable way to its customers? The ‘hard’ business benefits are well reported, but the significant benefit is one that is harder to measure, yet easy to spot when it happens. That is a positive culture change driven by different behaviours, actions and subsequent results created by people throughout the entire organisation. 

Better skilled, happier, more engaged people who work for an organisation that is excelling in its field – where do I sign up! 

 

This is hugely engaging and empowering for people – I’ve seen countless examples of individuals who suddenly have a new zest for their life as a result!

 

Ryan King and Chris Dando are Partners at Reinvigoration, a leading UK-based consultancy specialising in integrating Operational Excellence with innovation and cutting-edge technology to transform service operations. Together with their large delivery team of accredited, experienced consultants, they support organisations around the world in their pursuit of Operational Excellence, process change and business transformation, using a set of consulting, coaching and capability building solutions.

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