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The Science of Performance

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Towards the end of what has been a successful project a member of the client team asked whether the majority of the implemented solutions could have simply been Googled.  Naturally my ego (plus the necessity of repeat custom!) lead me to say ‘No’, but it is a question that deserves reflection.

It is a similar question to one I have asked myself previously:

“Should operational excellence be considered a scientific pursuit?”.

Science by and large can be Googled, that is to say that in theory it can be learned from the comfort of your desk, albeit with some leeway given to individual perceptions of the word ‘comfort’.

Certainly, there are great Opex online materials and a few books that I would recommend anyone in operations management to read.  These materials do feature equations, tools and models that have been proven both theoretically and experimentally to improve factory performance.

Where what we provide is less Google-able and similarly bares less resemblance to science is the matter of repeatability.  When you attempt to apply the same fix from one factory to another you will invariably get a very different result. People, Materials, Process, Culture, Machinery all create variability and only a finite amount of this is likely to be identified and accounted for when developing your solutions.  Below are a few examples illustrating the nature of the variables that  may need to be accounted for: 

  • Under new scrutiny teams may invent ways to obscure poor performance

  • Older assets may not be capable of the performance thy were originally built for

  • Teams on nights may interpret instructions very differently to their counterparts on days

  • Proposed process changes may be halted by the technical department or delayed by a backlog of IS change requests

  • Training records may not provide a good indication of operator competence and maintenance records may not give a good indication of asset reliability

Pushing through meaningful change despite these challenges is where collaborations between client and consultant can add meaningful value; tailoring solutions based on experience in multiple environments to avoid as many pitfalls as possible at the outset and managing unforeseen problems as they arise.

So, no I do not think that more than a small fraction of what we provide could be Googled.  What we can achieve has far more to do with ingenuity, engagement and experience than it does with expertise available on the internet.  Tenacity also helps.

Similarly, no I would not consider operational excellence a scientific pursuit.  At best we might consider this an engineering pursuit; we fix problems via the (often very messy) application of already proven ideas.