Foundational Principles of OpX

Posted on Jan 22 in featured by

Want your improvement program to take root? Everyone does,but  not everyone is successful. The difference is in the foundational principles in which the improvement program is planted. 

Installing a Lean Six Sigma program is relatively easy – print some posters, train people up and send them off to improve something. In contrast, having a Lean Six Sigma program take root, grow and develop into an organic machine that continually finds ways to improve quality, cycle time and cost is something else again.

The difference is often the soil in which the program is planted. The technologies of OpX are encouraged to grow in an organizational environment that accepts the five foundational principles required for long-term success.

1. Customer Driven

The primary function of any organization is providing what the customer wants. Doing so in a manner that is more productive or efficient than competing sources of the same product or service adds value. Management consultant Peter Drucker once noted that, “The purpose of a business is to create customers.” Customers define our success or failure, our product or service quality; ultimately they define whether our organization prospers or dies.

This holds true for internal customers as well as external ones. All too often, internal service departments assume they are above serving the customers within their own organization. By taking this attitude, they lose the loyalty and support of others within the company. Everyone is amazed when the inevitable outsourcing follows.

The bottom line: “The most fundamental law of business is, without customers, there is no business.”

2. People Based

The real work of organizations is performed by people working together to accomplish some task or goal. Improving the performance of any system or process requires people. There is no other way.

People are not objects of analysis or cogs in a huge industrial wheel. They are first and foremost individuals, with personal aspirations, beliefs and individual differences. The object of business is not to turn individuals into efficient little clones, but to get everyone contributing to the long-term prosperity to the business. Organizations that understand this, understand the true value of employees. A people-based improvement effort is one that respects the individual.

It is also one that recognizes the necessity of teamwork. Improving process flow across functional boundaries requires an understanding of that flow from different perspectives. Improving the system requires teamwork.

Teamwork maximizes something else – organizational learning. Employees in the organization have a wealth of ideas but few organizations take advantage of this hidden asset. Separating responsibilities, through artificial organizational boundaries and levels, limits the ability of this resource to contribute effectively to improvement. Talent and ideas are wasted. Teamwork recognizes the value of this resource and, more importantly, provides an outlet for this experience and talent to be shared. “One Team” is not an idealistic statement; it is a precondition for maximizing the knowledge base within the organization and for maximizing the effectiveness of any improvement effort.

The bottom line: All improvement happens through people. Those organizations that understand what truly motivates people, and can best tap into the talents and ideas of employees, improve faster.

3. Process and System Focused

The new model understands organizations as systems. We move away from the localized, linear thinking of the past and identify the interdependencies linking the processes of production or service. The process becomes the focus of the improvement effort. To measure performance, we measure performance of the process, understanding its capability to deliver what customers need and want. Improving performance requires changing the process, not the people working within it.

Employees in an organization are not responsible for the systems within which they work. These have generally been designed by management. Management sets the rules, allocates the resources and gives the orders. Improvement will not come from demanding everyone works harder, placing inspiring messages on the wall or holding out the prospect of bonuses or punishments for over/under achievers. Changing the system and using employees to help with this change is the key to real long-term performance improvement.

The bottom line: To improve performance, you must improve the process or system responsible for the existing performance level.

4. Scientific Method

Scientific method links theories and ideas with empirical, real world results. The prediction inherent in theory is compared with observed results. If the results support the theory, we have evidence that our thinking is sound. If the results fail to support our theory, we must abandon it and look to new ideas and theories. Empirical evidence, then, is the acid test of our ideas and the foundation of scientific method.

We can only understand the systems and processes at work if we are willing to give up our biases and rely on data as the acid test of ideas. Moreover, we need a sound approach to working with data – applying statistics, “the science of data” – to enhance our understanding and learning. The word “statistics” tends to strike fear in the hearts of many managers and employees alike. But the basic methods used to analyze systems and processes are understandable to anyone.

Moreover, there is no viable alternative. Without scientific method and empirical data, we are left with gut feel, impressions, guess work, and bias. Improvement by guess work is expecting greatness to flow from ignorance – it won’t happen. The scientific method is a learning model, grounding our understanding in empirical, real world information and building knowledge upon this foundation. Improving performance means we constantly test our ideas, conduct experiments, measure results and implement improvements where warranted.

The bottom line: Greatness doesn’t flow from ignorance, improvement is dependent upon knowledge.

5. Purposeful

A system without an aim is not a system! To which we add that improvement without direction is an oxymoron. Improvement, by definition, is purposeful activity.

Providing purpose is the first task of leadership. Leaders, at whatever level they exist in the organization, become leaders by defining direction and giving purpose to the activities of those they lead. Organizations all too often forget that the job of leadership is to lead. Management must demonstrate that leadership by clearly defining the aim and purpose of the system, as well as for each and every component of it.

Purposeful activity and the role of leadership, however, goes beyond this. Purposeful activity is also that which stays the course, seeing things through to completion. In short, purposeful activity demands discipline and focus.

With the new management, the role of manager as leader changes. It is no longer a “set the objective and forget it” approach. The role of management must become one of involvement – initiating and guiding performance improvement projects through to success. This in turn places new demands upon management. Managers must become more than figureheads bestowing blessings upon improvement initiatives. They become active participants, working with improvement teams in supporting their efforts. Ultimately, showing leadership means demonstrating knowledge of the new management and the systems view of performance improvement.

The bottom line: If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there. Improvement is a purposeful activity – it demands direction.

These are the five foundational principles of OpX. All five are required. Organizations promoting teamwork with one or more of the others missing will succeed only in making the same mistakes in the same old way – except they will be doing it in groups. Focusing on the system with scientific methods, but without teamwork, will produce brilliant analysis but little no change.

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