Business process reengineering and Six Sigma thinking has always traditionally focused on process. However, 
OPEX practitioners, particularly in the service sector, have realised that process improvement makes up only one third of the organisational jigsaw required to embed sustainable change.

Therefore, to create operations excellence and make organisational change effective, it’s important to recognise that ‘work’ and operations management capability are equally important as process improvement.

The right balance

The way work flows through a business varies massively between industries. Where there’s a transactional process with high predictability (e.g. Process A is nearly always followed by Process B) it can be organised as a flow line. This is generally the case in manufacturing, and enables efficiency measures to be implemented and operations excellence to be reached.

However, in the service industry many processes have a low predictability, as the supplier of the information is generally the customer. While efforts can be made to make the process more predictable, these actions often run the risk of alienating the customer by forcing them to do extra work that doesn’t interest them. The challenge is balancing good customer service with effective process.

Case ownership or cellular teams?

In unpredictable environments, it’s possible to organise work in two ways. The first is case ownership, which can be adopted if the work is simple but inherently unpredictable, for example in a call centre. In this situation, workers need to be multi-skilled and able to resolve a query or case from cradle to grave.

The second is a cellular team approach, which is suited for environments where work is both complicated and unpredictable. In such cases it’s both impractical and impossible to cross-train large numbers of people quickly. Instead, teams are dedicated to customer segments and each team contains the full range of skills necessary for fulfilment. For this cellular approach to be successful teamwork is essential, so that work can move as quickly and accurately as possible through the organisation.

Successfully implementing OPEX in services

These six key steps enable quick and sustainable change:

  1. Assess work predictability.
  2. Assess work complexity.
  3. Organise teams and design solution using agreed principles.
  4. Set up proof of concept.
  5. Set up pilot using learnings from proof of concept.
  6. Run pilot and prepare roll out.

Working out the mistakes

While many in the service sector have begun to understand that effective organisation of work is essential for long-term success, many still fail to implement all the necessary actions to ensure it happens.

Here are the three main areas where they currently fall down:working out operational mistakes


Operations excellence practitioners in the UK have seen service and productivity improve by as much as 30% as a result of implementing appropriate work design.

Want to talk? Contact our expert:

Mark Palmer

+44 (0)1865 593911



Stay informed. Don't miss our latest thinking.