I have been helping companies design and deploy their Operational Excellence (“OpEx”) and Continuous Improvement (“CI”) programs for a very long time. Mind you, I was not born with this knowledge. Rather I gained this knowledge by working with companies and observing the challenges they faced and helping them to overcome those challenges – and with that experience, converted the knowledge into wisdom.
There is one aspect of designing and deploying a successful OpEx program to which I have devoted a considerable amount of energy; that of education and training. In this regard, I have had the good fortune of being exposed to the challenges facing organizations as well as being on the Advisory Board of Binghamton University’s Systems Science and Industrial Engineering Department – balancing corporate needs with the rigors of academia. The retention of what is being learned, and applying that learning to the tangible benefit of the company and the person being taught, is what motivates me.
In one of my previous articles, “Integrated (Blended) Learning”, I shared an approach to learning that would deliver education in a way that; the retention rate was maximized, the investment requirements minimized, and (if done properly) would generate benefits beyond any hard and soft costs necessary to deliver.
And in another article, “You are Unique, but not Special” I offer guidance that it is a colossal waste of time, effort, and investment for organizations (including academia) to create their own curriculum from scratch. The cost to develop and maintain the material will be so ridiculously high as to never be cost-justified, that the curriculum will never be complete, whatever is complete will already be obsolete when finished, and the material will not benefit from peer review for completeness and quality.
The more wise route would be to obtain (purchase or license) curriculum that would satisfy most of the requirements (a 90% complete fit is not unrealistic) and supplement that curriculum by creating what you believe will make it complete (probably another 5%), with the last 5% will be worth the effort to incorporate at all. Here, time, ego and hubris are the enemy.
The following is a roadmap for making the education and training portion of your OpEx program a success – the more closely you incorporate it into your approach, the more likely your entire OpEx program will be successful; keeping in mind that the roadmap I am sharing is not compete in absolute terms, but the major components are represented and will serve as a benchmark for your efforts.
Scaling your education and training program
Success Criterion; People will claim there are various measurements of success, maybe even a mix of measurements. But always remember the bottom-line is the bottom-line. So at the end of the day, you had better make sure you measure success in terms of monetary benefit. Otherwise, you risk being looked at as a cost and not a benefit – endured until tougher times come along.
A reasonable expectation to ensure the OpEx program receives the on-going support it needs to remain in existence is to generate monetary benefits that are ten-times (10x) the entire budget of the program. No worries, I will share with you how to achieve that here.
The Corporate OpEx Team; The role of the Corporate OpEx Team will be primarily Stewardship – as advocates of the OpEx Program. The primary responsibilities will include; creating awareness, building decentralized capacity and capability for identifying and effecting improvements, and to offer guidance and support of the embedded talent that is created by the education and training program. The Corporate OpEx Team should not be directly involved in routine improvement projects – this is the purview of the talent that is created. Rather be “SEAL Teams” held in reserve for special projects that are of the highest priority. As such, and assuming the Corporate OpEx team is at strength to support these roles, the head-count of the Corporate OpEx Team will remain largely the same.
First Steps; Before you officially launch (or relaunch) your education and training program, ensure the following steps are completed.
- Create a roadmap (or revisit the existing one) for the entire OpEx Program. Make sure the education and training program is designed, configured, and aligned to support the expected outputs of the program. In this regard, follow the Lean principle of “pull”. Don’t build an inventory of talent for which there is no need.
- Ensure you have the training protocols, curriculum, and infrastructure in-place that will result in the desired outcomes for education and training (see previously referenced articles for guidance).
- Ensure you have an Opportunity Tracking System (“OTS”). The first purpose of an OTS is as a means or mechanism for capturing Opportunities for Improvement (“OFI”). The OFI’s should be assigned a score based on the value criterion (including expected ROI) and other business factors. This score will be used for establishing prioritizations later. Eventually, we will want to gather these OFI’s from the employees.
- Build awareness of the program in everyone at the company. Although on-site workshops might seem the best way to build awareness, they are not. They are expensive to produce and deliver, and not everyone will be able to attend. Rather, the easiest and most efficient way of building awareness is to create a video (or a small series of videos) which employees can watch at a time that is convenient for them. The videos should not be intended to educate or train, just to make everyone aware of the program and its success criterion (defined as benefits to individuals and to the organization).
- Teach everyone how to “see” an OFI and how to register an OFI for consideration. This is probably best accomplished by creating a video. Don’t make the reporting process too complex or nobody will use it. Simply have the employee identify the OFI and create a brief summary of why they believe it should be addressed. Leave the scoring and actual cataloging for management – but do be sure to have a mechanism in place for the employee to track the progress and disposition (especially if their OFI is selected). If they don’t feel a part of the process, they will quickly lose interest.
Launching your Education and Training Program
Now that we have properly prepared your program, its time for the launch (relaunch) phase.
- Employee Selection; Not everyone should be educated and trained – what for? Keep your eye on the outputs, not the inputs. And beware the peril of the OpEx program becoming dogma. Always have established the expected benefit to the organization of those trained. For this, establish an employee selection protocol which will consider the aptitude of the employee, their post-training expectation (will they be project leaders or will they become teachers themselves), and their location (physical, business unit, department, product line, and so on) to maintain a balance across the organization.
It is very important (see previously referenced articles) that each employee have a project that is approved by the organization to serve as the employee’s practical. If the employee does not have a project in mind, they can look to the OFI’s that are being tracked in the OTS.
- Class Size; The ideal class size is between 20 and 25 employees – with the number of classes for a given course running simultaneously being a wave. Any less and it becomes difficult to amortize the cost of the instructor and any more becomes unwieldy for the instructor. With the instructor only teaching a maximum of one class per day (up to 4hr in duration), an instructor will only be able to teach five classes at a time. Also keep in mind that every employee should be assigned a mentor to help with their project which serves as the “practical”. So at launch, the effort might be to create additional mentors / teachers rather than those who will just lead projects.
Sustaining your education and training program
Once you have laid the groundwork and have launched your education and training program, you need to maintain and sustain the momentum – otherwise, you will find your program in a state of atrophy.
Attrition Rate; For planning, achieving, and maintaining the proper levels of trained personnel, you will need to factor in the attrition rate of your company; taking into consideration that the attrition rate might vary within your company depending on job function. The graphics I provide here illustrate the effects of attrition over time.
Tracking Cumulative Effort; Most OpEx programs only track the benefit of the single project that served as the employee’s practical during training. This is a colossal mistake. The cumulative value to the company should include the benefits realized by the subsequent projects the employee completes or is otherwise involved (see illustration). This is the true ROI of the OpEx program and can be used to justify its existence and resource requirements in the future. Even if it is argued that the benefit is to the part of the business to which the employee is assigned, its attribution should still go to the education and training the employee received.
Ensure employees complete subsequent projects; Far too many education and training programs believe success is realized when the employee successfully completes the coursework. While this might be somewhat true in academia, this is completely false in the business world. But, unfortunately, most business education and training programs do not look past a employee’s completion and this “one and done” approach has led to the demise of many programs. This is the second purpose of the OTS; to ensure employees have the opportunity to engage and complete subsequent projects and for leadership to be able to track and manage the employee’s continued engagement and contribution.
Maintaining a “Pull”; The third purpose of the OTS is to act as a gauge for monitoring education and training rates and capacity to company needs. As long as the backlog of OFI’s is growing, there is a need for education and training. But an alarm should sound when the backlog of OFI’s starts to flatten or, worse, decline. When such an inflection point occurs, only one of two things can be true, either i) people have stopped seeing and reporting OFI’s and the awareness program should be re-run or, ii) your company has reached a level of trained employees to warrant a change from “building” capacity and capability to “maintaining”.
Remember, the benefits to the company are the results realized by the efforts of those trained, not the training itself. Beware of investing in training for which there is no need. We don’t want to build inventory in talent for which there is no need.
Your OpEx program needs to scale to realize its full potential and sustain to remain a strategic force for accelerating he achievement of your organizations vision – and it also needs to demonstrate a consistent 10x (or better) return on investment (it’s budget). Failing this, the organization will look at the OpEx program as a cost with little or no tangible benefit; with the risk being the program always being starved for resources and looked at as a nice to have and not a need to have.
Other than the education and training itself, a key component for maintaining the momentum and sustainability will be an Opportunity Tracking System (OTS) which will; i) ensure that opportunities are being captured and scored for prioritization, ii) ensure trained employees have a steady stream of projects upon which to work and do not fall into the trap of one-and-done, and iii) act as a gauge for monitoring the health of the education and training program by measuring the backlog of opportunities as an indicator for organizational engagement and the number of employees entering the program.
About the Author
Paris is an international expert in the field of Operational Excellence, organizational design, strategy design and deployment, and helping companies become high-performance organizations. His vehicles for change include being the Founder of; the XONITEK Group of Companies; the Operational Excellence Society; and the Readiness Institute.