personal case study

Operational Excellence – A Personal Case Study

I write often about Operational Excellence.  How we live in a world of Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity (VUCA).  How time is the enemy of the 21st century company and that the organization that knows and trusts its capabilities (and also where they are lacking) is better prepared to synthesize decisions from imperfect data – operating within its own OODA Loop.  And how an organization can operate at its best when it is operating as an organization.

But how does this translate outside a company?  Can we use these techniques to achieve success in our personal lives as well as in our professional?

I also have written that clarity of purpose is essential.  That alignment and commitment cannot be achieved unless we all know and share a vision of the future – a vision defined in absolute and unambiguous terms.

We recently moved from one house near Frankfurt to another.  It was a test of our “state of readiness”; whether we had a level of operational excellence and could operate as a high-performing team.  The results were mixed.

Scenario Background

Everyone who knows us knows we lived in the “house from hell”.  It was an automated abomination, a computerized catastrophe, a data-driven disaster.  Without getting into too many details, we were having to fight the systems of the house every single day.  If that were not bad enough, the landlord seemed to simply not care.

Of course, with all the irritations of living in the house and the apparent apathy of the landlord, we had been looking for a new residence for several months.  We had even begun packing some items in anticipation of the day.

Then we received notice from the landlord to vacate as he was having to return to Germany as a result of Brexit and needed to reclaim their home and they wanted us to vacate by September 30th.  It was a date we knew would not be made and also that it really didn’t matter what the landlord wanted due to German law favoring the tenant.  But the circumstances added incrementally to the level of tension and anxiety.

The Opportunity

As luck (and a daily search of the real estate listings) would have it, we found a suitable home the first week in October.  The negotiations and paperwork were finally agreed and signed on October 15th and we sent notice of our vacating our old house to the landlord on the same day.

One of terms that was negotiated was our being able to take possession of the new house one week later on October 22nd so that we would not have to pay another month’s rent on the house we were vacating.

We have from October 16th to October 31st to make the move – to be completely out of the old house and into the new house.  The clock was ticking.

The first task was to determine what the actual mission (problem statement) was and to create a plan for success that was as efficient and effective as possible.  This might not be as obvious as it seems because there were actually two specific outcomes that needed to be accomplished; one was moving into the new house and the other moving out of the old house.

The planning took the form of a “Quick Changeover” exercise (also called Single Minute Exchange of Dies or SMED).  But one that was operating in a VUCA environment and where a series of OODA Loops were going to be the vehicles by which everything was going to happen.

The first order of business was to interview and hire a moving company.  The reason this task came first is because the day the movers arrived would be “D-Day” with the days before being either “D+” or “D-“.

The real estate website was useful in recommending several moving companies (ones that were known and had favorable reviews).  Since time was not on our side, we went with the moving company that was most responsive and also similar in price to what we paid when we moved into the house several years prior.  The date was set; D-Day was going to be October 28th.

This helped to define the time periods for what needed to be done and what could be done and when; there were five primary periods (time buckets);

Oct 15th to 25th was dedicated to preparing the move from our old house.

We had to sort our belongings for what was going to be moved to the new house and what was not going to be moved to the new house.  That material which was not going to be moved had to be disposed of one way or another.

Being in Germany, and having it difficult to dispose of refuse, it has a tendency to accumulate.  So, we ordered a 5-sqm dumpster to dispose of refuse (filling it with 6-sqm).  In addition to the dumpster, we also filled 12 muelsacks (special bags you purchase and fill, and the municipal garbage trucks would take).  We listed some items for sale on the “Frankfurt Yardsale” page on Facebook.  And we prepared items to just be taken by passers-by who wanted them.

Since time was short and left little opportunity for deliberation, items which we were not sure of whether we wanted to keep them or not were going to be packed and moved the same as the items we knew we wanted to keep.

As for the new house, there were already utilities (gas, electric, and water), but we had to order internet service (which was able to be contracted online).

Oct 25th to 28th was moving from our old house to our new house

On taking possession of the new house, we focused our efforts on moving the basic items we needed to live.  Since it was only for a few days, we packed like we were going on vacation to a cottage; a couple changes of clothes, toiletries, basic cooking and cleaning supplies.  The rest of the time was spent preparing and packing our belongings in preparation of the movers arriving early in the morning on Oct 28th.

The movers arrived as scheduled on D-Day.  They worked diligently and had us moved into the new house by the end of the day in reasonable, if not somewhat chaotic form.  The challenge here, and first substantial deviation from the plan, was that they underestimated the volume of the items being moved and had to leave a significant amount behind – and by “significant”, I mean that they could not be reasonably moved by automobile.

The other deviation from the plan which caused some anxiety was that the movers wanted to be paid in cash at the completion of the move.  Not to many people, including us, keep €1,500 on their person and organizing the cash was a bit of a challenge – but was accomplished.

Oct 29th to 31st was finalizing the move from our old house and preparing its return to the landlord as well as making our new house fit for Spartan living (eating and sleeping).

As mentioned above, we needed to rent a panel-truck to complete the moving of our belongings.  We did not have the luxury of time, but we were able to secure a panel truck for three days at €200.  Remember, “Google is your friend”.

But having to complete the move ourselves cut substantially into the time we planned for preparing the old house for the handover – time we simply did not have.

Fortunately, we met two women who were interested in taking some of the belongings we were leaving behind.  They offered to clean the house in exchange for the items (which we were just going to leave anyway).  It’s important to remember in executing a project that not everything goes against you, sometimes favorable events occur.  The two women were cleaning Ninja’s.  They spent two days cleaning the house and did a fine job (of course, we also paid them in addition to letting them take the items).

Nov 1st was the formal handover of the old house to the landlord.  The appointment was scheduled for late in the afternoon (to make sure they were more likely to be motivated to conclude the proceedings and not dawdle).

As luck would have it, the afternoon appointment offered additional time for the Ninja’s to finish their cleaning.

I won’t offer too many details of the formal handover.  As mentioned in the beginning, the relationship was tense and, as expected, the landlord showed with an entourage.

Nov 2nd and beyond was settling into our new house.

The major items that were left open from the move were to terminate the responsibilities for the utilities at the old house and for services we would no longer need at all, take on the responsibilities for the utilities at the new house, and to transfer what needed to be transferred (insurances and the like).  We also had to file a change of address with the Post Office and register our being in the new town (unlike in the States, you must register with the local authorities when you move into a place).

It’s now been almost a month and there are still many boxes that are unpacked, light fixtures that are not up, and a general state of being unsettled – yet.  But we are living and comfortable in our new house and progress is being made day by day.


With most people who are 50 years old or more, a move would take months to plan and prepare.  A house is on the market for however long (all the while, preparations for the move are occurring), an offer is made and accepted, there is a month or so for the closing.

We accomplished this mission from inception to completion in three weeks.

There were some things that did not go according to plan with some being unfavorable and some of them being favorable.  But all things considered, I don’t know if we could have done any better or had a more favorable outcome if we had we done anything different.

Which makes me think, do projects adhere to an adaptation of the “Ideal Gas Theory”?  Where an ideal gas will take-up as much room as you give it, might projects take up as much time as they are given?

I do believe one key to our success is that we focused on the “do” over the “think”.  We didn’t have time to contemplate all of the possibilities or analyze data.  If we had a need, we made a decision and satisfied the need.  If we had a problem, we evaluated and made a decision.  We did not obsess.  We kept the ball moving down the field and never lost sight of the vision.

by Joseph Paris

Paris is the Founder and Chairman of the XONITEK Group of Companies; an international management consultancy firm specializing in all disciplines related to Operational Excellence, the continuous and deliberate improvement of company performance AND the circumstances of those who work there – to pursue “Operational Excellence by Design” and not by coincidence.

He is also the Founder of the Operational Excellence Society, with hundreds of members and several Chapters located around the world, as well as the Owner of the Operational Excellence Group on Linked-In, with over 60,000 members. Connect with him on LinkedIn or find out more about him.



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