Lessons on evolving from Lean to OPEX
To some degree, everyone knows what lean is. And whether an organization has done continuous improvement for years or has never undertaken any lean efforts, it can be challenging to understand how to go beyond lean and start pursuing the destination of Operational Excellence. Here are three things to remember.
- Lean tools still apply
With Operational Excellence, all the same lean tools work. But instead of applying these tools on an endless journey to eliminate waste, they are used to achieve a destination. So even if an organization hasn’t done any 5S, mistake proofing or other lean techniques, that’s okay. But now when the company starts on the journey to OpEx, the key is to pick a value stream and start with 5S and teach employees why the organization’s doing it. And for those companies that are doing Six Sigma, it still applies at the process level, For example, a tool like Kaizen is great for determining standard work for abnormal flow. So don’t lose what you’ve learned from lean, but use it as a way to get to OpEx.
- Use lean to grow, not just to be lean
It’s important to understand the real reason for using lean tools. And it’s not to be lean, because even if a company is the leanest, its customers won’t necessarily be loyal if there’s another source that’s cheaper or faster. Rather, the real reason for applying lean tools is to achieve Operational Excellence, the goal of which is to grow the business. That’s because, when an organization achieves OpEx, management will be able to focus on offence activities, such as working with customers and new product development that will drive market share and retention. Business growth provides employees context for why the company is undertaking the efforts as well as a motivational incentive – more so than doing lean for lean’s sake.
- Recognize when the destination is reached. Unlike an endless journey of continuous improvement, with Operational Excellence, a company can move from Point A to Point B in a short period of time – as little as a few months. And when it does, it’s important to recognize the progress made. That means rewarding top-line business growth through any variety of activities, like an ESOP or employee profit sharing plan. It also means celebrating when management is working on activities to grow the business, such as working with sales to build a prototype for a prospective customer. And organizations may even need to applaud some “failures.” For example, when an employee scraps a part number when trying to test the design of the value stream, the result may not be desirable, but the intentions are and should be recognized.