Operational Excellence, as a strategy, involves supreme efficiency in product or service delivery.
The traditional way this strategic option is taught is called “Low Cost Producer”; however, we find this limits thinking too much and we prefer to talk in the broader context of efficiency.
The diagram to the right represents a trinity of trade-offs. A company may produce a product at the lowest cost among its competitors but it may have to compromise on speed or quality to do so. Similarly, a company may focus on fastest order turnaround, but it may require extra costs or lower quality standards to accomplish this consistently.
Let’s focus in the main axis of efficiency: cost and speed. Along the way, we’ll show how quality is impacted.
This is an especially important strategy to use in commodity markets, where there is little product differentiation. Cost (price) and Turnaround are key differentiators. Similarly, this is a good fit for distributors, who have little control over the products they market (other than the assortment) but much more control over fulfillment and price.
- Low-Cost Producer
We’re starting off with Low-cost producer because it’s the most familiar way Operational Excellence is used in practice.
PRODUCT. You probably have a standardized product with relatively few options so you can source raw materials more cost-effectively.
OPERATIONS. Your plant usually has specialized production equipment or is built to produce high volumes that allow you to realize economies of scale. You probably have a very limited range of raw materials you work with.
INNOVATION. Your focus is on process development more so than product development. You’ll be looking for ways to reduce labor and/or materials.
PROFITABILITY. You may realize higher profit margins than your competitors because your specialized production equipment or plant scale allow you to be the most efficient.
SELLING. You focus on value selling. It may not necessarily be by securing business with the lowest price. It could be that you can demonstrate how your product can be used more cost-effectively overall than your competitors’.
PEOPLE. Your employees are dedicated to identifying improvements to your process to maintain your edge over the competition. Engineers and accountants are your key hires.
QUALITY. The quality of your products is comparable to your competitors’, but rarely lower than your competitors’. You might offer a high quality and a lower quality version to give your customers some degree of choice.
YOUR EDGE. Price. You have the potential to squeeze out competitors with higher cost structures.
In an industry (restaurants) known for low margins, McDonald’s has been extremely successful with this strategy by offering basic fast-food meals at low prices. They offer a relatively limited selection of standardized products (don’t think of asking for no mustard on your Quarter Pounder) for which they can source ingredients efficiently. They are able to keep costs low by hiring and training inexperienced employees rather than trained cooks. They also rely on few managers, who typically earn higher wages. These staff savings allow the company to offer its foods for bargain prices.
2. The Fastest
This sub-strategy focuses on being the company that can fulfill a customer’s needs in the shortest time. It’s premised on time being of greater value to some customers than money.
Without a primary focus on product, this is, in essence, a strategy founded on service. In fact, this is a strategy that lends itself well to services or distributors. For example, the fastest oil change, the quickest insurance quote or the fastest way to get from A to B.
PRODUCT. As with the low cost producer, you may have a standardized product that allows you to fulfill orders from inventory or straight from the line. If you are a service provider, your secret may lie in the technology you use to process information.
INNOVATION. The source of innovation is likely to be technology. It could be more efficient information systems so you respond faster to customer needs than your competitors. It could be your manufacturing process involves fewer steps.
PROFITABILITY. You may be able to charge a premium price to some consumers in return for rapid fulfillment and, though you may not have the lowest product cost, your margins are probably above average for your industry.
SELLING. Case studies can demonstrate to potential customers how you’re your service is, without giving away any secrets to your competitors. Help customers understand how your fast turnaround can be a source of competitive advantage for them in their businesses. Focus on industries and customers where there frequently are deadlines to be met: your fast turnaround could be the difference between winning and losing a piece of business.
PEOPLE. Your employees like winning races. You hire engineers or invest in IT business analysts to simplify processes and eliminate unnecessary steps.
QUALITY. Your primary KPIs are probably OTD (On-Time Delivery %), some form of measurement of fulfillment time, and Perfect Order Rates.
YOUR EDGE: Speed.
FedEx is a company that promises faster delivery of packages than anyone else. The pioneered overnight next-day delivery – something the postal system was never able to do consistently. FedEx charges more for delivery than the postal service, but by appealing to the generation of instant gratification, customers are more than willing to pay those premiums because FedEx also has an enviable record for reliability.
Next week, we’ll cover Customer Intimacy, providing an overview of what Customer Intimacy is and how it looks in practice.