The Five Pillars of Operations - By Dr. Singh

June 15, 2017

We used to study that the three most important aspects of operations are 'people, processes, goals'. With the advent of advanced technology in our lives, that threesome has expanded into 'people, process, data, things, goals'. How do we understand these to create a culture of excellence?

While operations is a vast and interlinked field, these five-some help me focus on the most important aspects of management. This is how I understand each of these and break them into constituent parts.

  • People: Perhaps the most important part of operations. From hiring the right people to motivating them, bringing their skill level up, helping advance their career paths in sync with the organization's own goals, facilitating human resource activities to assist them in reaching their goals and aligning them to the larger vision, this is the primary concern of an organization that wishes to reach excellence.

But this is just the beginning. For individuals, no matter how talented, do not create a world-class team, as any good coach can tell us. Talent management should evolve into team creating and coordination. Each individual should become a part of a coordinated and synchronized unity where each individual has learnt to be transparent, open and sincere to the other members of the team, and has ceased to be a silo. Just like a soccer team moves as one, a good organization has to have the level of communication, comfort, culture and practice to function without a hitch where each individual is enhanced by the collective and vice versa.

Only the best talent and team management can foster what we may call a culture of joy in working together. Such joy is its own reward and creates the right conditions for creativity, learning together, innovation and self-actualization.

A strong education and training program that enables a teaching-learning experience where people educate and get educated synchronously builds stronger teams and facilitates the Learning Organization. These knowledge-based interactions become a part of the DNA of the organization and also facilitate engagement with clients and customers. A team approach to the creation of content that reaches across all teams and ties everyone together through that content becomes a salient feature of such organizations. This creates a new platform whereby communication is enhanced also increasing everyone’s buy-in in operations.

Such a culture will help create what we call the organizational brand which goes beyond the individual value of product and service, recognition or credibility.

  • Process: With recent advances, we are seeing a convergence of operations and technology. A re-engineering of both informational technology and processes is happening. An awareness of this convergence is crucial to create the best technological backbone to creating world-class processes.

Writing down policies and procedures to create process is not enough. They must be put into practice. As the team members run the processes and make them an integral part of their fiber, we see an evolution of process into systems.

Organizational hierarchy may be important in some ways but the better organization transcends the rigidity of structure into a flow of information, learning, knowledge and breakthrough. Such an organization can develop people and process into the yin and yang of its activities, as complementary to each other.

  • Data: Big data is everywhere now. But data by itself has no meaning. What we are looking for is meaningful data, accessible, available and actionable data. How to create processes so that individuals can harness loads of information meaningfully is the key. There can be good data and there can be bad data. And if the data is not correct, no matter how good the technology is the reporting and cognition will be erroneous.

Data is transformed by analytics. But analytics by itself has no meaning unless it is designed towards an end. Sometimes, just sharing of data is enough among all members. Sometimes, slicing and dicing it to look for patterns works well too. But the best data is organized and segregated properly, securely, so that it can be studied in an organized manner.

Only a coordinated approach towards data can assist so-called Artificial Intelligence (AI). AI can succeed only if we awaken our own native intelligence. And AI has to be designed just like data has to be designed.

  • Things: With the advent of Internet of Things (IoT), things have suddenly become a part of operational design. It is not that things were not important in the past, but they were more passive in the past, to be looked upon as assets that had to be managed well to ensure smooth operations.

Now things have become smart assets. And if the IoT is structured properly, these smart assets can become an integral part of operations and technology. Such an approach can transform the organization and the industry.

  • Goals: Goals by themselves are meaningless unless they are SMART. Making them SMART aligns them with the vision. Vision accompanied with right implementation creates the best strategy. To create the best strategy, all the teams and individuals need to come together and be involved as stakeholders. All the five elements that are essential to good operations are thus linked together with this sharing of vision and implementation strategy company-wide.

Each organizational goal may have its own team or person responsible for executing it, what has been called the Directly Responsible Team or Individual (DRT or DRI). But, eventually, each person in the organization needs to own the initiatives in small or large measure, according to his or her capacity.

These, to my mind, are critical elements of a strong operational approach in an organization. One may accomplish much with all five being present at the same time. But for optimum success, each has to be considered individually and developed as needed as integral to the operational philosophy of the company.

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