Operational Excellence- It Is Not The Tools That Make The Difference

In the world of Operational Excellence (OpEx), ‘The Toyota Way’ is considered the bible.  I recently read an article about the reasons why ‘The Toyota Way’ got developed in 2001 by then President and Chairman of Toyota, My Fujio Cho.  Reportedly, the main reason for codifying ‘The Toyota Way’ was to emphasize the less visible but equally important parts of the Toyota System.  During the time of Toyota’s global expansion, they had been concerned that only the ‘tools’ got replicated.  Often we try to understand how a ‘system’ works based on superficial observations, but, it is not as simple as that.

I came across a business where a production manager was sent on a four week trip to Japan to observe and learn the lean framework (Toyota System) and implement it at their company upon his return!  A more common scenario is where leaders and managers visit other businesses to ‘see’ continuous improvement programs with the hope of taking back one or two good ideas to be implemented back in their own businesses.   Whist it is a good practice to observe others and learn, there are pitfalls in this approach to be aware of. One could easily implement a number of processes/activities where the ‘dots don’t connect’.  This could lead to frustrating the employees as the changes could be seen as unproductive and time-wasting activities that don’t help the business to move forward – negating the sole purpose of OpEx.

This common situation led me to write this blog to explain that the magic is in the framework (e.g. The Toyota Way) and not in the individual tools/processes such as 5S, A3 Problem Solving, JIT, DMAIC, Poke-Yoke, Value Stream Mapping etc.  My sketch below depicts an OpEx framework I first came across when I visited the Pringles plant in USA a few years ago.  A highly efficient mega-factory with 40 acers under roof on 137 acres of land with extremely mature business processes, it was the only North American Proctor & Gamble plant to have received a Phase 5 maturity status at the time. (the highest maturity score).

The elements of the framework.Framework4

The Cart – the cart represents the manufacturing plant (business unit) where the main purpose is to carry the finished goods to deliver to the customers.  The size of the cart and the model is based on the business size, growth strategies and operating model.

Losses – unfortunately, we also carry some boulders on this cart, which limits the space allocated to carry the finished goods.  It also makes the cart less agile and harder for the workers move the cart.  These boulders that are present in any business (hidden losses) is what Continuous Improvement processes strive to remove or lessen.

Leadership – the purpose of the leadership team is to set the direction of the cart.  The Leadership team also decides the strategic journey and the path for the cart to travel – i.e. business strategy.

Engineering – paves the roadway to make it easier to push/pull the cart, ensuring that there are no pot holes in the road ahead where the cart may get stuck.  This is akin to major capital infrastructure activities and minor equipment improvement work undertaken by engineering.

HR (Human Resources) – will ensure that the required number and the right calibre of people are recruited to push/pull the cart.

PM (Planned Maintenance) / AM (Autonomous Maintenance) – the two main types of maintenance practices are represented by the two wheels.  It is important to make sure that PM and AM processes receive equal priority in a business (efforts and resources) similar to the critical need for the wheels of the cart to be of equal size.  Otherwise, the cart will move in circles!

Process Improvement Tools – continuous improvement (CI) teams will focus on removing some of the losses (boulders), making it easier for the workers to move the cart.  One of the other important roles that CI teams carry out is to educate teams on the existence of different tools that can be used based on the boulder type/size.  It is important to know the right tool to be used for a specific situation (different boulders) – the essence of effective problem solving.

Training & Development – will develop the capability to push the cart which will determine how fast the cart can travel.

Safety /Quality – ensure that the cart and the employees operate in a safe and a compliant environment.

So what is the role of OpEx? Well, it is to provide a framework and a methodology to continually improve all of the above elements with the introduction of appropriate strategies as well as tools to make the journey of the cart easy and efficient.  Typically, the entire framework consists of multiple levels/layers, providing depth for each of the elements (Leadership, AM, RM, Engineering, C.I. etc) to increase its maturity.  The aim of the game is to progress across all the elements in maturity in parallel, creating a highly capable, engaged and efficient business unit.

And if you are wondering “where does the road lead to?”, that’s another story….

[gs_testimonial transition="carousel"]