To sustain successful operations, projects should be undertaken in an efficient and transparent manner. Efficiency improves the affordability of projects, increasing opportunities for growth. Transparency allows a broader range of input to refine a project plan, lowers resistance to change, and increases the probability of success.
The six steps below outline a process that can be used to ensure efficiency and transparency in operations projects. With each new initiative launched, these steps should be refined, applying experience gained in previous projects, to tune the process to the dynamics of your organization. After a few iterations, creating and implementing optimal solutions will begin to feel natural, and anything less, anathema.
If you haven’t already done so, I recommend reading 4 Characteristics of an Optimal Solution before proceeding to the six steps. As each step is executed, bear in mind how the activities described aid in achieving the four characteristics desired. If activity begins to stray from the process goals, reassess and adjust the tasks, participants, objectives, and evaluation methods to reestablish and maintain alignment.
In order to implement an optimal solution to your company’s product development, capacity expansion, cost reduction, continuous improvement, or other project objective, your project team must be able to evaluate alternatives on four key qualitative measures. Each qualitative evaluation is informed by quantitative and pseudo-quantitative measures and other qualitative judgments that will vary by project and objective. Interpretation of these measures is required to reach logical conclusions regarding the optimality of proposed solutions.
Upon completion of the initial evaluations of alternatives, there may be no clear winner, one determined to be best in all aspects. In this situation, another round of evaluation must be conducted to determine the best trade-off of benefits to pursue. It is imperative that the project team consider the potential motivations of influencers; interpersonal conflicts, personal agendas, or other “office politics” can provide perverse incentives that jeopardize the team’s success. Focusing on the merits of each alternative will limit undue influence on the final decision, providing maximum benefit to the company, its employees, and its customers.
Particularly prevalent among project evaluation shortcuts is to simply look for the alternative with the lowest initial cost. Unfortunately, that number is often misleading, misunderstood, or misquoted. Confidence in the accuracy of cost estimates is important, but initial cost remains but one criterion among many.
Four characteristics that form the basis for selection of optimal solutions are outlined in the following sections.
To ensure a fruitful partnership with an Operations Consultant you choose to engage, it is important for all involved to be structured and disciplined in their approach. The process that a consultant will follow to help your organization find its optimal solution is much more detailed than will be discussed here, but the following guidelines will help get your project moving in the right direction.
1. Begin with Problem Definition
The specificity of the problem statement drives the scope of the consultant’s work and the setting of realistic expectations.
“We’re losing money” is a very broad, vague, and open-ended problem statement. Extensive research will be required to determine the technical and nontechnical causes before response plans can be crafted. If the organization does not have the capacity to conduct this research, a consultant can lead the effort, but the timeline for achieving results will be very different from a narrowly defined project.
“High defect rate on Line 4, Machine 3 is causing excessive scrap and rework costs and poor delivery performance that jeopardizes the ABC Corp. account,” in contrast, is a problem statement that prescribes the necessary focus areas. From this, preliminary action plans for technical and nontechnical issues can be generated immediately.
The situations that warrant engaging an Operations Consultant are too numerous, and too varied, to ever hope to describe them all in any detail. Some are purely technical, while others involve less-concrete concerns inherent in group dynamics. Some require a response to a short-term crisis, or disaster recovery, while others require the development of a long-term strategy. Some will magnify the challenges by involving multiple levels of management and various groups, internal and external to the organization. These groups may be geographically distant and culturally disparate. They will likely have differing responsibilities, motivations, and levels of autonomy.
While not comprehensive, the preceding should give one a sense of how many “moving parts” could be present in any planning or decision-making process or project execution. The following 7 Reasons to Hire an Operations Consultant is intended to facilitate focus amid such chaos. It can be used to help formulate your thoughts on the situation you face, define your needs, and facilitate preliminary communications with an Operations Consultant.
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