Active Management Breeds Operational Excellence

Via Shailesh Trivedi, former colleague and good friend working with Intel and based in Folsom, California. Posted with his explicit permission.

The term operational excellence is not new to Corporate America. What is new however is the fact that we at Intel have once again recognized its importance in day-to-day execution of our business goals. While observing your environment with a keen eye towards active management, you will see rich examples of both presence and absence of operational excellence.

First let’s clarify what we mean by the term active management. Quite simply it answers the questions “Is the shopkeeper awake? Is s/he minding the shop?” The term active means that it is a process much like doing the dishes – a job never done.

Active management involves staying on top of all issues that critically affect your business. It means having the ability to determine what is critical and what is not. It means asking the tough questions that affect quality. It means having the courage to address these questions to reach proper resolution. It most definitely means ensuring that nothing “falls through the cracks” and absolutely nothing is “shoved under the carpet”. In summary it means streamlining day-to-day business execution; and this breeds operational excellence.

Do not be misled into thinking that active management is only for managers. The lack of active self-management often, but not always, starts with individual contributors and percolates up to managers. When the two happen concurrently, the repercussions can be disastrous.

So how do we become operationally excellent?

First, learn how to actively manage your work. Find out how your work fits into the grand scheme of things, the big picture. Develop a high degree of awareness of how your and every team member’s work affects this big picture.

Secondly, ask yourself, are you doing everything that needs to be accomplished in order to achieve our business goals? Do you find gaping holes in anyone’s work or in any process? If so, speak up! If you know of a problem in any area (yours or otherwise) that affects our business goals, make yourself responsible for contributing to the solution. Operational excellence demands this level of discipline from us. It requires us to be good business Samaritans by recognizing full well that we are all in this business together. Don’t think, “If it is not in my area, it is not my problem”. Any problem that affects our goals is our problem. Notify the appropriate people and work towards resolution. Operational excellence requires genuine teamwork!

I will conclude with one example on a Chip-Design project where we recognized the absence of operational excellence in a specific area. Once recognized, it was easy to fix and became operationally excellent at this process.

During the peak time of chip validation, we were faced with a significant compute resource problem – not having enough compute cycles to complete a full regression in a reasonable amount of time. We found that we just had a little more compute horsepower than we needed in order to finish the regression in one week. Yet our regressions would always run over two weeks. Clearly there was a problem. On further analysis we found that there was no known way of submitting an incremental regression of only the failing tests. If a subset of a large test list failed, we had to once again rerun the entire large suite of tests – thereby forcing us to waste compute cycles that gained no new knowledge. This was fixed by providing a capability to run incremental regressions for failing tests only. After this we could predictably & repeatedly run regressions in one week, with the existing compute resources. Fixing this operational inefficiency with a simple tweak saved us big dollars on compute resources and project schedule.

Examples of lack of operational excellence (operational inefficiency) abound. The simplest and probably the least harmful examples are ineffective meetings, equipment malfunctions during presentations and unprepared presenters. More serious and detrimental examples include poor customer service, shoddy project execution and poor product quality. Note that if a program was cancelled due to changing market & business requirements it reflects a prime example of operational excellence and active management hard at work. If the program was cancelled due to inferior execution in one or more areas then it most certainly is due to operational inefficiency.

Step up to the challenge by identifying and fixing inefficiencies. Take charge, make yourself responsible by actively managing work and workflows. Each and every one of us can help fine-tune our organization into a role model of operational excellence!

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