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warehouse showing quote from Taiichi Ohno
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Dunning-Kruger Effect
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warehouse showing quote from Taiichi Ohno
Standard Work – Create Stability and Focus your Improvement
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Stable Operations – “The Gift that Keeps on Giving”

Stable Operations

As New Zealand and the world is eagerly awaiting the start of the America’s Cup final on the Waitematā harbour in Auckland, we are all hoping that the result will not be defined by something like the spectacular capsize of Patriot in the Prada Cup challenger series. While the sleek American Magic yacht was patched up and raced again, she was all but out of the Cup as soon as she rose out of the water and ended up on its side.

I am a sailing enthusiast, not an expert, but I don’t have to consult PJ Montgomery to understand that the risk of failure is higher in a tack and bear away manoeuvre at the top mark with variable winds, then when you’re doing a broad reach in the open water towards the bottom mark. Excuse the pun, but some manoeuvres are not always ‘plain sailing’.

If we take the sailing analogy to a business environment, best-in-class organisations have made their operational activity akin to ‘plain sailing’ and have studied and improved their at-risk manoeuvres to ensure ongoing operational success is achieved – the manufacturing line does not ‘capsize’ during tricky set-ups, intrusive maintenance or other activities that could introduce instability. They have largely eliminated the peaks and troughs of operational variability and introduced foundational best practices to go from daily firefighting and expediting to the predictable outcomes of operational stability.

I still recall when the then-Director of New Zealand Manufacturing for Fonterra, Brent Taylor said that “Stable Operations is the gift that keeps on giving”. When you leave the state of constant reaction behind and reach operational stability, you are in the position to relentlessly squeeze higher performance out of the line. Another 10-minute reduction in the daily cleaning process, another 0.5% reduction in rework rates or the slightest increase in cycle times to improve overall throughput. This daily improvement process is the underestimated champion of world-class performance. The state of Stable Operations also allows you to introduce step-change improvement activity where you test a new method, layout or process, as you can follow the scientific improvement process of testing a hypothesis and embed improved methods in your operations.

What most organisations don’t realise is that Stable Operations has an almost life-changing effect on your people and your culture. Stable Operations reduce

s conflict, stress and other health issues, and heralds an era of improvement creativity where your talent excels with the highest possible engagement. It might be threatening for those who thrive in ‘Superman’ cultures, where we recognise and reward those who save the day and bring us back from disruption, but we fail to recognise those who prevent us from capsizing in the first place. That’s not a problem as we don’t want the Superman culture in our world-class organisations anyway.

In our Productivity Growth Wheel the foundational best practices of Daily Management Systems, Team Work, 5S and Standard Work (to name a few) are what creates stable operations. Your days become predictable, calm, and focused on improvement activity, not on firefighting and expediting.

So, make your work plain sailing by creating stable operations. Share your success stories with us or contact us if you are interested to know more. And on the real sailing front, let’s hope the lockdown will end this weekend (we’re with you in your Covid troubles Auckland whānau!) and it’s going to be the start of a spectacular event next week.

About the author: Geerten Lengkeek is the Managing Director of Productivity People.