What is Operational Excellence?

Clarity about what operational excellence means is essential for organisations wishing to incorporate it. When searching for a definition, however, it is important to keep in mind that it is less a concept and more a practice. It cannot be captured in a checklist, but relies on a dynamic combination of process management and company culture.

The Dynamics of Operational Excellence

Organisations across industries strive for “operational excellence” with good reason. When deployed effectively, it can have transformational results. However, it isn’t easy to arrive at a simple definition of operational excellence, and without a clear idea of what it means, how can an organisation hope to embody it? One reason for the difficulty is that operational excellence is not static. It is action-based, rooted in execution and upheld or undermined each time an individual performs a task. The dynamic nature of operational excellence stems from the constant interaction of its two component parts: systematic process management and culture.

Operational Excellence Through Operational Discipline

In fact, to successfully practice operational excellence, an organisation must manage its business and operational processes systematically and invest in developing a culture characterised by integrity and teamwork. Taking a closer look at operational discipline, a key component of operational excellence, reveals how process management and culture constantly interact.
Operational discipline, put simply, is “doing the right thing, the right way, every time.” In the context of operational discipline “doing the right thing” presupposes that the “right thing” has been accurately determined through solid process management and that the human being doing it understands not only the “what”, but also the “why”. Similarly, doing something the “right way” implies that there is, empirically, a proper way to carry out the task and, moreover, that the person involved is committed to following this protocol out of respect for their role, a sense of accountability and a belief in the integrity of the organisation. Finally, maintaining the consistency suggested by “every time” requires a questioning habit of mind that does not take a positive outcome for granted. Such an attitude is easier to cultivate within a collaborative culture that values problem solving and continuous improvement.

Operational Excellence Is a Verb

Rather than something to attain or achieve, operational excellence is something we do when we combine well-crafted tools, processes and practices with an advocacy mindset that views our actions as meaningful and important. At DEKRA, we help our clients create a Culture of Care that goes beyond compliance and beyond continuous improvement models. We champion a values and people-based approach grounded in science to teach the skills and practice of operational excellence.
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