The UK branch of a European retail bank came to us because they wanted to grow quickly, without recruiting people. In the early days of the project, the end objective changed from growth to cost savings. But our approach stayed the same: create operational excellence by eliminating waste and optimising processes and ways of working. “Operational excellence starts with the people, not the systems,” says consultant John Parker, who worked on the project.
The UK branch of a European retail bank had a large ambition to grow very rapidly. They understood that the existing processes weren’t robust enough to take on this scale of growth, so they turned to Projective Group for an operational excellence project. We were challenged with identifying the ineffective processes and creating capacity, so they could grow quickly without recruiting people.
“However, in the early days of the project, it became apparent that growth was no longer the overriding factor. The strategy of the bank turned to increasing profit margin through reduced costs,” says consultant John Parker. “Our work stayed the same, but the end objective for the bank shifted. That made for some interesting stakeholder management.” Sensitive topics such as cost savings and even headcount reduction must be handled with care and consideration.
OpEx = change management
When we’re looking at operational excellence, we work primarily with people and processes. “Experience has shown us that it’s often not the systems that create the issues. It’s the people, the processes, and the mindsets and behaviours around them,” John says. “So we agreed with the client that we would go to all departments to understand their current activities, and then work with the people to define a new way of working.”
John and his three colleagues divided the company up into manageable groups of 60 to 100 people to start implementing change. “We agreed waves of 18 weeks. The first few weeks we devoted to current state assessments. The next few weeks were about coming up with the future state design, then testing and then finally, the implementation phase.”
Experience has shown us that it’s often not the systems that create the issues. It’s the people, the processes, and the mindsets and behaviours around them.
The challenges with operational excellence projects are quite numerous. First of all, you’re dealing with a delicate topic. “People can be quite sensitive to change when it comes to the way they work. They can feel unsettled when they think their role is at risk,” John explains. “You also need to make sure that the objectives of the senior leadership are aligned, not only with the recommendations, but also with the ambitions and motivations of the people on the ground.”
To bring that to a successful conclusion, it’s important to work with facts and create transparency around processes and the way people work. Only when you have that communicated transparently, and you have the facts to back it up, can you talk about a new future-state of working and start the testing and implementation phase.
Train the trainer
“In this type of Agile project, we don’t have large phases of business requirements and documentation. It’s very much working with people and post-it notes, drawing things on walls, and having a small impact each day with individuals on the ground,” John says. “It’s about educating individuals.”
That’s why, during the 18-week waves, we organised about 10 different training modules. We trained individuals, creating a train-the-trainer scenario, so those individuals would train the rest of their team. That enabled us to get our concepts out across the whole organisation. “A part of this process is mindset and culture,” John explains. “The trainings are about introducing tools and techniques, but the goal is for people to make those tools and techniques their own and use them to keep improving their performance after we’re gone. A good example is the performance board, where a team will agree what they want to achieve in a particular week and how that fits into the goals for the organisation. The performance board is monitored on a daily basis by the team in a 15-minute check-in. Once the team members understand the components of the performance board and get a handle of those check-ins, they can evolve the board to suit team needs over time. The aim is that we leave with fully trained people and continuous improvement mindset.”
Operational excellence is a passionate line of work, and it extends well outside the workplace. The methodology of analysing waste within a process can make people look at the whole world differently. “Once we had a team leader that came in and told us that she’d been awake all night. By morning, she had changed the lay-out of her whole kitchen, so that she could use her kitchen more effectively and eliminate all of the waste,” John remembers. “When we hear people talking about how operational excellence makes them change the way they operate as a family and as a household, then we know these people have really understood all the concepts.”
By the end of the 12 months, the total cost savings made by the client actually matched our fees, so it was a net zero cost for them. On top of that we made friends with the client for life.
Mission accomplished: A net zero cost project
One of the things that we’re most proud of about this project, was that we were able to make the efficiency savings really tangible and measurable for the client. “For one, the client was able to identify the numbers of hours that were freed up because of new processes and ways of working. That gave them a choice: either to not replace people who left (which is a hard tangible cost saving) or to improve the quality and controls within the organisation, which is sometimes required for regulation,” John says. “But the most noteworthy end benefit of this project was that the cost of the four Projective Group consultants was fully covered by the efficiency savings. By the end of the 12 months, the total cost savings made by the client actually matched our fees, so it was a net zero cost for them. “On top of that, we made friends with the client for life,” John happily concludes.
About Projective Group
Established in 2006, Projective Group is a leading Financial Services change specialist.
We are recognised within the industry as a complete solutions provider, partnering with clients in Financial Services to provide resolutions that are both holistic and pragmatic. We have evolved to become a trusted partner for companies that want to thrive and prosper in an ever-changing Financial Services landscape.