The primary goal of any Operational Excellence program is to bring about a systemic change in the way of working and nurture a “new normal” that enables the organization to deliver its business results in a seamless manner. Often such ambitious programs fall short of required changes and it ends abruptly as another failed attempt at change, with a premature end or a sub-optimal state, with partially delivered results.
It is, therefore, no surprise to me that end-to-end business transformation emerges as the 3rd biggest challenge in this survey of 2018, ranking only below cultural change and sustaining operational excellence, which are obvious requirements of any program.
Based on my experience with business transformations across multiple industries like Pharmaceuticals, Chemicals, FMCG and several others, the success rates of Operational Excellence programs can be significantly enhanced by focusing on a few checkpoints detailed below:
Defining clear objectives of the program
A clear understanding and articulation of the objectives of the excellence program right at the outset is a pre-requisite. Though this is obvious, the scope of the program is often defined hazily and informally, coupled with weak accountability and tracking through the lifecycle of the program. Scope definition and sign-off with the project sponsor is critical before the start. It is advisable to clearly detail what items are in-scope and what are out-of-scope of the program to ensure focus.
A formal project management approach is crucial to ensure success of any transformation initiative. It provides a clear direction and timeline towards which the entire team can work on in a structured manner, enabling a clear commitment on resources required. Identifying and ensuring the availability of an experienced and highly skilled, independent project manager to drive the initiative till conclusion is often another big challenge. An experienced project manager deftly uses Project Management methodology skillfully and leverages his knowledge of using standard templates to define and monitor the scope, ensure accountability, governance to manage risks and deliverables. The project manager with a single-minded focus, formally defines and reviews the program on a periodic basis, with necessary management interventions in a professional manner.
Understanding the levers for change
In any excellence program, there are 2-3 key levers which clearly impact the outcome of the program. The team should work with a clear knowledge and sensitivity to these levers to ensure smooth implementation. Levers could be process-based or people-based. This is where involvement of experienced colleagues from within the system and periodic management reviews help to keep the program on track.
Enrollment and engagement
The key to successful implementation and sustenance of the program is to actively enroll and engage the right people across all levels. Early involvement, induction, review workshops, continuous knowledge campaigns and active engagement ensure that the energy levels of each resource engaged in the program is channelized positively and aligned to the program objectives.
Utilization of suitable process and system enablers
Structured use of processes and systems ensures that the program is driven by a sustainable set of enablers. Continuous training and development on usage of these enablers help in realizing and sustaining the benefits of the program.
E.g. A system-based enabler helps accelerate the program through effective use of reusable, including documentation and templates.
The people factor
This is perhaps the most critical link to success of any program. Often overlooked or underplayed, identifying the right set of process champions from every area as part of the governance team is a challenge. The mix and motivation levels of project champions often determine the fate of critical programs. A carefully chosen team of high potential leaders enables the organization to channelize focused energies of all team members towards the program objectives. Most successful programs attribute their success to such high-performance teams who help in surmounting exceptional challenges, achieving great results.
Successfully run operational excellence programs often propel organizations to achieve a big step-change in their maturity levels, which otherwise takes years to achieve using incremental methods. This is also an opportunity for the organization to institutionalize and broad-base effective use of well-known approaches like Lean Six Sigma and project management. It is a Win-Win for both organizations and its leaders to build such enriching and long-lasting competencies and experience that could be cascaded to further nurture its pipeline of young leaders through similar engagements in multiple areas.
Thankfully, for achieving an organizational change through End-to-end transformation, we can still rely on time-tested methodologies and basic principles. Change in this case is just a refreshing outcome!
This article was first published in BTOES 2018.