Operational Excellence and Continuous Improvement - what's the difference ?

Updated: Jun 21, 2021

Operational Excellence (OpEx) and Continuous / Continual Improvement (CI) are often used together when describing an improvement journey, however operational excellence more accurately describes a target state, whereas continual improvement describes the process of seeking to improve the business process, products and practices as a way to achieve that target state.

It's impossible be Operationally excellent without continual improvement. CI is a key principle that underpins any and all quality management systems and excellence models; Shingo, ISO, EFQM, Baldridge etc. Operational excellence requires a culture that embraces continual improvement.

OpEx goes beyond tools and requires an organisation to go back to principles to truly set up for growth, understand what the market wants and creating an uninterrupted value stream to deliver this. The Shingo model offers an excellent pathway for any organisation to adopt and succeed. The Shingo Model, was developed from Dr Shigeo Shingo's teachings (quality at the source and flow of value to customers) and has ten guiding principles:

Respect for Every Individual

Lead with Humility

Seek Perfection

Assure Quality at the Source

Flow & Pull Value

Embrace scientific thinking

Focus on Process

Think Systemically

Create Constancy of Purpose

Create Value for the Customer

The foundation of the pyramid relies on developing cultural enablers. At the next level making value and flow visible and continual improvement are key, with the third level ensuring everyone is pulling in the same direction, to deliver the fourth level - real customer value.

It is essential to introduce these principles and supporting concepts in a way that emphasizes the desire to provide the ultimate value to the customer, with the most efficient use of resources along the way. Front line employees need to understand and be empowered to recognize and respond to interruptions in the flow of value.

When implementing an OpEx program, keep it simple and don't try to do too many things at once. Focus on delivering and embedding robust processes, setting standards and standard ways of working for when it goes right and for when it goes wrong. Once you make the flow of value to the customer and the metrics of success visible at all levels, the opportunities to continually improve become readily apparent - and your journey to operational excellence on its way.

So to summarise, operational excellence and continual improvement are related, where continuous improvement (through the right methodology and mindset) is necessary to progress towards operational excellence, but operational excellence can only truly be achieved when this is combined with enterprise alignment, system and scientific thinking and most of all strong cultural enablers.

Find out more about Operational Excellence and how INCIGHT can support your journey.

#operationalexcellence #OpEx #rightfirsttime

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