Right now I’m working on a story about Lean training for O&M, and yesterday I had the opportunity to speak to Kevin Duggan, president of the consulting firm Duggan Associates. We had a great conversation about his new book “Design for Operational Excellence,” which offers instructions and advice for turning companies into sustainable and “self-healing” lean machines.
If you think about leaning a company as an evolutionary process with many stages, operational excellence would be at the very top. If you’re into auras and chakras, Operational Excellence would be Nirvana. If Lean were a baseball season, Operational Excellence would be the World Series (go Rangers!). It’s the point where all of the pieces of the Lean puzzle come together at every stage of a company, allowing managers to focus on increasing top-line revenue instead of doing damage control on pain points that they wouldn’t even have to touch if things were going well. That’s because in a perfect world, the employees in each stage of the production process would keep the process healthy themselves just by doing their jobs.
Duggan describes operational excellence as “when each and every employee can see the flow of value to the customer, and fix that flow before it breaks down.” Operational excellence is the destination of the Lean process.
Duggan’s book offers many detailed charts about how this actually happens, but to me the most interesting thing about operational excellence is that it makes life in both the shoproom and the office easier with the same principles.Operational excellence in every day life means less time in meetings and more time working on meaningful projects without distraction.
If you are a business professional who has been around for long enough, you’re probably thinking that these things sound great on paper, but find it hard to believe that companies could actually operate this way. I asked Duggan if there were actually any companies that were operating at this standard of excellence, and he admitted that most MROs are still mapping value streams and figuring out how make them flow. Because the aircraft aftermarket is so much more unpredictable than other industries, we can certainly cut companies some slack for taking time to sort things out. But who are those companies that are operating at a standard of Operational Excellence right now?
Wood Group Turbopower is a small engine company in Florida that took Duggan’s advice to heart and implemented his operational excellence principles. And it worked: In just six months, the company was able to cut turnaround times by 45%.
If you take a look at the video, you’ll see that it wasn’t easy for Wood to implement these principles. One of the keys to operational excellence is just getting employees on board to try it in the first place. Many employees need to alter the way that they have been getting things done for years and try out a new system. Changes can seem intimidating at first, even if the end goal is lessening the amount of workload in the end.
GKN Aerospace is another company that drastically reduced turnaround times: In 2010, the company reduced the hours for one program by 31%, lead time by 70% and inventory by 35%. Oh yeah, and they quadrupled the number of deliveries also. That's pretty impressive.
I definitely recommend checking out this book if you get a chance, as it’s an eye-opening read that uses real-life examples of aerospace companies that are making the concepts work.