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  • Writer's pictureAmelia Waters

Operational Excellence isn't one-size-fits-all

Over Thanksgiving, my family rented an AirBnB townhouse. The kitchen was on the second floor, and the landing overlooked the foyer on the first floor.

Instead of sedately carrying groceries up the stars, my children threw the groceries up into the waiting hands of their siblings and their father (who really ought to have known better).

Fortunately, my children had the good sense (hopefully inherited from me) to not throw everything to the second floor. Fragile, breakable groceries were carried up the stairs. No damages occured (other than my temporary heart palpitations.)

This escapade resulted in two things:

First, I developed a minor identity crisis. I'm no longer certain if I was a good kid because I was a good kid, or simply because I lacked the imagination to be...troublesome.

Second, more importantly, it was a huge learning moment on operational excellence.

My first Aha! moment:

Just because all items fit into the category of groceries and have an end goal of arriving intact on the second floor, it doesn't mean that they all have to go through the same process. It was certainly simpler to throw some of the groceries to the second floor. Likewise, just because all products, customers, etc, have to arrive at the same end point, they don't all have to go through the same process of getting there. It's always worth taking a deeper look at segmenting for greater efficiency gains.

My second Aha! moment: 

Culture matters. The children were empowered to make decisions and to act on them. They were almost certainly optimizing for fun instead of operational excellence, but their enthusiasm made the hallway ring with laughter, and even now, the merest mention of "the second floor kitchen" elicits a round of chuckles. They created an environment where work didn't seem like work, but it still got done with moderate efficiency and without any disasters. After all, don't we all want workplaces like that?

So What?

We all have processes and workflows that are bogged down, sometimes simply because we haven't recently considered alternatives. Perhaps it's time for a deeper look and a hefty dose of creative zing to infuse energy back into our work days.

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