How to achieve and sustain operational excellence in the digital age

In today’s digital world, forward-thinking executives are increasingly viewing operational excellence as a key driver of top-line growth and no longer as just a tool for incremental process improvements at an operational level. They understand that operational excellence (OpEx) project teams and processes are best placed to create disciplined frameworks to gain a competitive advantage. As a result, they’re starting to align operational excellence teams at the strategic, value creation and customer experience levels to enable end-to-end business transformation.

Find out more about what operational excellence is; how to achieve it and measure its success; the benefits of a digital operational excellence strategy; and more below.

What is operational excellence?

Operational excellence is the organisational ability to respond to change with agility. It is achieved when an organisation embeds a company-wide, people-driven, customer-focused and problem-solving culture of continuous improvement (CI). A successful digital transformation empowers operational excellence as it enables functional integration for greater transparency, efficiency and collaboration, ensuring continual business growth.


Why is operational excellence important?

Operational excellence helps organisations improve their business performance and profitability by increasing workplace efficiency, decision intelligence and end-to-end supply chain management and investment.

It provides the focus that managers and their teams need to consistently deliver their products or services to the customer on time, at the right price and with minimal effort.

Research by Harvard Business Review states that organisations operating at peak operational excellence enjoy 25% higher growth and 75% higher productivity than their less developed peers.

Operational excellence offers organisations a big competitive advantage. But it doesn’t require grand gestures. Striving for small, incremental improvements can deliver large impacts. It keeps a company on track with its customers, consistently meeting (and even exceeding) their needs with products and services they want.

Discover more about how operational excellence applies to your organisation:

Components of operational excellence 

Operational excellence is achieved through a culture of continuous improvement. To achieve sustainability, organisations need to promote positive change within a holistic environment, a collaborative workforce, and a committed leadership and management system. 

Learn how to achieve operational excellence

Operational excellence framework 

An operational excellence framework provides direction for how an organisation executes strategy, manages performance, and instils process excellence and a high-performance culture. It therefore helps a business grow and adapt to change with agility.

5 steps to transforming your operational excellence framework

Digitalised operational excellence strategy 

An organisation can only embed a culture of integrated, continuous improvement through successful digital transformation. A digitalised company has the mindset and tools to respond to change with agility, and thus achieve operational excellence. 

Learn how to digitalise your operational excellence strategy

Operational excellence implementation

The secret to a successful operational excellence implementation strategy lies in the initial stages of its execution. Here are 7 core principles of operational excellence to help manufacturing and supply chain operational environments translate great concepts into results-driven methodology and actions.

Explore the 7 principles of a winning operational excellence implementation strategy

Operational excellence system 

A world-class operational excellence system builds a unified workforce that demonstrates curiosity, commitment and collaboration in all it does. By adopting a system that displays the 9 key features described in the blog below, organisations can harness the benefits of people development for sustainable and world-class success. 

Discover what makes a world-class operational excellence system

Loss and waste analysis 

Operational excellence requires efficient production. By conducting a loss and waste analysis, organisations are able to identify and address areas of inefficiency. The results of the analysis direct the strategic implementation of best practices to improve production and profitability. 

How to conduct a loss and waste analysis for operational excellence

What are the key components of operational excellence?

Operational excellence can be broken down into 3 key components: Creating a holistic, integrated environment with strong customer focus; a collaborative workforce built on knowledge-sharing, training and teamwork; and committed leaders who demonstrate their commitment to the pursuit of operational excellence among all employees.


How do you achieve operational excellence?

The pursuit of operational excellence begins with a vision of the organisation’s future. To align this vision and help uncover potential divisions and differences among the entire leadership, discuss the following seven areas with them:

1. Customer satisfaction What specific customer satisfaction improvement action items need to be initiated immediately?
2. Value flow design What measurable results and KPIs must be achieved and when?
3. Breaking down goals What specific business process improvements will we achieve over the next six months (or 12 months, 18 months, 24 months)?
4. Understanding success In what three areas have we achieved breakthrough business results?
5. Immediate actions What five immediate actions are required to initiate, invigorate or enhance our operational performance?
6. Measuring operational improvements Do we have clear, time-phased, measurable objectives for operational performance improvement, and is accountability clear?
7. Understanding skills gaps What outside consulting assistance is needed to assist our organisation to achieve business goals more speedily?

By determining where it wants to go and outlining its short- and long-term goals, an organisation can then develop its unique continuous improvement action plan.

To achieve meaningful business improvement, it is crucial to ensure all functions within your organisation are on the same page and working towards the same goals.

While an immediate, easy consensus is unlikely, the process of thinking, discussing and reaching a conclusion is, in itself, a good learning experience and a major advance towards an essential singleness of purpose and vision for the entire team. After successfully working out solutions to the preceding questions, the management team should have a common, agreed-upon operational direction.

This business strategy acts as a roadmap that carefully and clearly segments the company’s transformative journey into sensible steps.

Read more about how to achieve operational excellence.


What are the benefits of operational excellence?

The benefits of operational excellence include greater process and resource efficiency, reduced costs, improved quality standards, greater collaboration, accountability, collaborative leadership, a healthy and united performance culture, greater employee satisfaction and improved supplier partnerships.

A maturity-based and integrated CI approach to operational excellence enables manufacturers to benefit from a number of improvements that optimises their competitiveness, profitability and reputation.


How do you measure the success of operational excellence?

The success of an operational excellence programme is most commonly measured in terms of delighted customers, improved processes and reduced costs (although these metrics may vary slightly according to industry).

This is according to a research report by Proqis.

An integrated, continuous improvement strategy is consistently looking for ways to improve processes and optimise workflow through simplification and automation and thus, reduce costs through enhanced efficiencies. Reduced costs can cover a range a financial indicators that include operating costs, cost per activity and margins.

However, all that depends on an organisation’s ability as a whole to delight their customers. Satisfied customers who return for more business and who help grow the company are the greatest indicator of an organisation achieving operational excellence. For that to happen, the people engaging with customers need to be supported by a robust CI culture and strong leadership role models. A people-driven, customer-focused, digitalised and integrated continuous improvement strategy is the ticket to sustainable success. 


What are examples of operational excellence?

Operational excellence examples include: 
Engaged, accountable front-line employees that understand the flow of value
A culture of continuous process improvement
Collaborative leadership and lean management encouraging integration
Human resources development based on training and knowledge-sharing
Create value based on customers’ needs
Improved process visibility enabling better decisions
Efficient supply chain, operational and process management
Faster lead times
Minimised overproduction 

Why do you need to take a maturity-based approach to operational excellence?

A maturity-based approach to improve operational excellence ensures that the organisation pursues CI initiatives that are relevant to its specific needs and implemented at the right pace. First and foremost, an organisation needs to understand its existing baseline capabilities. In other words, it needs to identify its strengths and weaknesses with regards to aspects such as digitalisation, internal and external processes, and people development.

Only by understanding its current gaps in maturity can an organisation improve itself.

An analysis of its current maturity levels gives an organisation the data it needs to design an appropriate CI strategy that guides implementation seamlessly and executes sustainable improvement initiatives logically. 


How does operational excellence relate to digital transformation?

Digital transformation helps organisations achieve operational excellence in the workplace by providing the tools to design and build smarter factories and lean manufacturing systems in order to develop innovative products, materials and solutions.

Manufacturing companies are becoming more complex and globally distributed, accelerating the need for increased innovation, collaboration and visibility. Manufacturers therefore face unprecedented challenges as these global economic forces drive competition and open opportunities in new markets.

Digital operational excellence helps these organisations become more efficient, flexible and collaborative to keep up with rapidly changing demands. By improving operational visibility and getting the right information to the right people at the right time in an integrated format organisations can improve overall decision-making and be more competitive in a global manufacturing environment.

Fundamentally, an incremental, maturity-based approach to operational excellence prepares the organisation to adopt and adapt new technologies at the correct pace. This approach empowers organisations to conduct their transformations through a 5-stage journey of performance improvement. By stage 5, organisational maturity supports an integrated continuous improvement strategy. Operational excellence is realised in boosted productivity, reduced inefficiencies and increased revenue. 


How do you get everyone committed to operational excellence?

An organisation will only achieve sustainable operational excellence if all its employees – including its leaders – are involved and committed to delivering positive change. Here are some guidelines to get an entire company working together in pursuit of operational excellence.

1. Share the CI vision The organisation’s integrated, continuous improvement strategy needs to be included in every meeting agenda. Leaders and their teams must be thinking and discussing it in daily meetings to keep energy focused and people committed.
2. Listen to people Adjusting to change is not easy. Leaders and their teams need to feel confident about their abilities to contribute to the organisation’s CI vision. Reassurance comes through regular communication that highlights progress, understands people’s concerns and addresses any issues without delay.
3. Help employees upskill Training programmes that provide the knowledge and skills to support an integrated, CI strategy are key to successful and sustainable implementation. Investing in people’s capabilities helps improve their confidence, which encourages new behaviours and positive change.
4. Encourage accountability By giving people ownership, organisations benefit from a mature and proactive workforce. Their direct involvement in CI initiatives gives them a front row seat when the results come in, which perpetuates a positive cycle of enthusiasm, innovation and inclusion.
5. Reward results-driven positive change To sustain energy levels and commitment, organisations need to ensure that employee successes are lauded and rewarded. Acknowledgement is key to establishing a motivated workforce keen to achieve.
6. Lead the CI culture An integrated, CI culture is only possible if all levels of an organisation are actively involved in its success. Organisational leaders plays a vital role, encouraging positive change through their own actions and mindsets. A committed leadership is achieved by breaking down functional silos, allocating work sequentially and driving digitalisation.

Download the eBook The definitive guide to integrative improvement to find out more about achieving operational excellence through this integrative approach.

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