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Five Ways to Launch a Successful Operational Excellence Program

OE programs often run the risk of over promising. To combat this risk, we have compiled a list of five useful tips for an effective Kaizen event.

I’ve asked Brian Guillett, one of Clarkston Consulting’s supply chain and operational excellence (OE) experts, to share his thoughts and our experiences with the pitfalls our clients face when implementing supply chain OE programs and some recommendations to achieve success. This is the second of a two-part series discussing challenges and solutions to a  successful operational excellence program.

In the last post, Five Reasons your Operational Excellence Program May be Failing, examined several topics including misaligned priorities and a lack of executive support. In this piece, we move away from common mistakes to discuss best practices for executing a winning operational excellence program from the start.

While there are many types of operational excellence tools and techniques, we’ve chosen to discuss an industry favorite: the Kaizen event. The reason why we’ve chosen Kaizen events is due to their high value with driving significant improvements in an extremely efficient manner.

Widely utilized and overwhelmingly successful, Kaizen events have proven to be an extremely efficient way to realize necessary improvements to implementing an operational excellence program. Kaizen events, literally translated as “continual improvement” in Japanese, are short-term improvement projects aimed at tackling the specific issues affecting the operational excellence program. The program typically comprises a series of facilitator-led events spanning two to five days. Beyond the facilitated session, the implementation team is responsible for executing on the session output. The implementation team should consist of subject matter experts from support areas across the business.

As with any OE program, Kaizen events run the risk of over-promising. To combat this risk, we have compiled a list of five useful tips for an effective Kaizen event. While this list is specific to Kaizen, the ideas can be extrapolated to the larger field of operational excellence.

1. It’s all in the Preparation

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the ax.” ― Abraham Lincoln.

No truer words have been said when it comes to preparing for a Kaizen event. Depending on the complexity of the process to be improved, the duration could be weeks. Ensuring that the attendees understand the agenda, comprehend the process, and are assigned homework to prepare for the workshop are critical to its success. Clarity in regard to the workshop Inputs, Process & Outputs (IPO) is vital. Each attendee should come prepared to present their undesirable effects (UDEs) to the table, ensuring to specifically outline what areas need improvement.

2. The Right Attendees

To ensure that the event produces successful results, perform a thorough stakeholder analysis to make sure the right people are in the room for the workshop. Attendees should have the accountability to make decisions as either process owners, subject matter experts, or super users. The workshop team must be cross-functional including all functional areas that take part in the process to be improved.

3. The Best Tools to Facilitate

Although technology has come a long way, our vote is still to run the workshop using brown paper on the walls of the largest conference room in the building. There’s just no good replacement for putting down the screens and having a healthy discussion.

4. Effective Workshop Processes

Though there are many ways to run a workshop, our recommended path is as follows:

  • Set the Stage – Kick off the workshop by ensuring that everyone understands the purpose, the ground rules for behavior, the IPO and what success looks like for the day.
  • Seek Understanding (UDE’s) – Everyone should have the chance to review and discuss the undesirable effects of the process. Document these effects on flip charts or sticky notes, aligning them into topical groups and then refining them into key areas to address.
  • Effective Facilitation – The facilitator (a Six Sigma Greenbelt or Blackbelt) should use traditional good facilitation practice including action log, parking lot, and effective timekeeping. Be clear to the attendees that everyone is committed to staying until the outcome is complete.
  • Process Mapping – The first exercise is the “As-Is” mapping. Map the process on a brown paper and include all of the functions, activities, dependencies and system interfaces. The group should identify individual roles to assure key activities are completed.  Next, the group should focus on “to-be” mapping. Arriving at the future state of the process could involve some of the other OE tools mentioned above and should address all of the issues and UDE’s discussed at the beginning of the workshop. The last phase is to identify the gaps from the old to the new process and discuss the steps and actions to be taken to achieve the future state.
5. Timely Detailed Workshop Outputs

Ensure that the outputs are issued in a timely manner, including action summaries with clear owners and dates for completion. The owner of the process improvement must keep the momentum of the improvement work through implementation. Without such accountability, work is lost and the once productive-feeling workshop has no output.

The temptation is strong to dive into an operational excellence program before the time is right. Without strong executive level support, an appropriate initial scope, and the right-size committed team, it will be difficult to realize the benefits of OE; however, when an OE Program is approached strategically, it has proven successful in enhancing day to day operations. This has led to cost savings in operating budgets, either going directly to the bottom line or enabling other key initiatives to take place. As we’ve seen, OE can be dangerous if used poorly, but extremely effective if handled properly.

To find out how to take the next step for your organization, contact an OE expert.

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