The Worst Advice We've Ever Heard about Operational Excellence



I cringe to write bad advice in case someone misreads the headline and follows these suggestions. Oh well, here are Operational Excellence (OpEx) methods and actions people might suggest you follow, but you shouldn’t… Just don’t do it.


“Don’t worry about strategy. Just get started doing something.”

This has a couple kernels of substance; you do want to get engagement quickly and you can get started before every “t” is crossed and every “i” is dotted. However, the essence of the advice is contrary to operational excellence basics. Continuous improvement (CI) efforts must be aligned with strategy and must focus on delivering value. Have the strategy in mind rather than initiating teams willy-nilly just for the sake of saying you’re doing continuous improvement.

Why? Unfocused, unaligned teams may have small, individual successes — but then what? If teams have numerous starts and stops before leadership gets the alignment and long-term plans right, they’ll start becoming disillusioned with the methods they’re learning and applying. Team members are smart enough to recognize busywork that doesn’t align with “real” goals when they see senior staff focusing on other things and paying little attention to operational excellence progress.


“Teach every person every tool.”

Again, a kernel of substance: You may have a long-term vision of having a cross-trained, high-performance team that is self-directed and able to expertly whip out the right approach and tools to solve any problem that comes at them. But, you won’t reach that state by doing a training dump on OpEx newbies.

Building OpEx skills across the organization is doable, but it has to happen the right way. Remember, you’re teaching old dogs new tricks. Too much information at one time just can’t be absorbed. If trainees do pick up new skills but don’t have opportunities to apply them, they’ll just forget what they’ve learned or prefer to go back to the old ways in their comfort zone. Ideally, skills are taught with a just-in-time training of specific tools needed and, importantly, with immediate application.


“Put technical staff in all OpEx leadership roles.”

Operational excellence does require capable and passionate leaders to understand a wide variety of relevant skills and to establish goals, feedback and reinforcement for the teams. But, this doesn’t necessarily require an engineering or business degree. People from anywhere in the organization can bring the right combination of process knowledge, people skills, and innate enthusiasm to lead OpEx processes. Supplement their existing skills with training for leadership, facilitation, and operational excellence.

Technical staff will still be great resources for cross-functional problem-solving, project implementation, and other teams, but they don’t have to be constantly called into work double-duty outside their technical areas. Help all your employees shine by augmenting and leveraging their natural abilities on OpEx teams.


“OpEx doesn’t need a seat at the table.”

C-level executives, business unit directors, and departmental supervisors generally include a small number of leaders in cross-functional teams to define strategy, monitor performance, and make tactical adjustments at their level as needed. OpEx should be part of those teams. For example, at the top level, a chief quality officer (CQO) should engage with CFO, CTO, CIO, COO (chief officers of financial, technical, information, and operation functions or departments), etc. This example continues at cascaded levels within the organization.

In order to maximize value from operational excellence efforts, plans should be proactive rather than reactive. The OpEx function does not just fix problems; it also provides insights to build synergies into plans and execution. In fact, operational excellence leaders are often at the cutting edge of changes in culture and methodology because they benchmark leading efforts within and outside the organization. If you don’t have OpEx engaged from the beginning, you’re likely to miss out on strategic opportunities and have slower, less efficient tactical implementation.


“When times are tough, put OpEx on the back burner.”

Ouch! When leaders and teams have their feet to the fire to deliver key goals — often financial in nature — they may see OpEx as a discretionary effort that can be postponed until things are calm again. On the contrary, because the primary focus of operational excellence is to provide value, OpEx teams can help identify and implement strategically-aligned projects and programs that deliver value — even under the most dire constraints of a situation. Additionally, operational excellence practitioners often have skills that can be leveraged to fight the fires — but, only if they are included in the planning and execution teams rather than pushed aside until better times.

These quoted suggestions come from real advice I’ve heard people say explicitly or real actions I’ve seen executed. They’re generally bad advice, so I repeat: just don’t do it. Instead, get good advice for your operational excellence efforts by contacting EON.


Talk with an EON Opex expert to learn more

About the author

Nancy Bach

Nancy Bach has spent more than 20 years in the industry as a quality and operational excellence practitioner and manager. In private consulting, she creates and delivers a Lean Certification course, provides Green Belt training and works with multi-functional organizations to develop strategy and implement process improvement.