Car maintenance and the art of operational management

Curium | 03 Feb 2017 | News | Lead Change, Sustain Change, Deliver Change, Manage Payback

I had used the same local auto centre for MOT checks and any remedial work for years and never had any complaints about the service provided. Around MOT time, I detected water in the passenger foot well so asked if they could repair this for me too.

They looked into it and told me that because it was a “bodywork issue”, they were unable to assist and recommended another supplier. At the time, I was a little frustrated at having to use two suppliers, but I accepted their advice and took my car elsewhere. 

In doing so, I discovered that the new supplier met all my car maintenance needs. Now, I wouldn’t consider anywhere else: they are a ‘one stop shop’, they always deliver and they blow me away with the quality of their service.

I was telling this story to a friend, by way of recommending the new supplier, and it got me thinking about how car ownership and maintenance have both similarities and differences with operational management. I’ll explain.

Drivers are responsible for the safety and success of their journeys. They don’t need to also be a fully competent motor mechanic, but they should be in tune with a range of outputs and triggers to alert them to the health of the vehicle.

An operations manager is required to lead their teams on a safe and positive journey, avoiding major problems and knowing the signs of when things are deviating from perfection. They don’t have to be the expert in fixing everything, but they do need to be aware and know where to go to get expert support. 

A car driver may recognise that their car is not performing at the optimum level due to poor fuel consumption or unusual noises they hear while driving. Similarly, an operational manager may feel that their departmental performance is substandard after reviewing expenditure or witnessing a rise in customer complaints.

In either scenario, the root cause may not be clear or within their knowledge and skill-set to rectify. But, in both cases it is preferable to engage with one source to diagnose and rectify the issue with the minimum disruption to your ‘journey’.

Both driver and operational manager have a range of options to diagnose and rectify any problems. However, unlike the driver of a car – who can use alternative transport – the operational manager doesn’t have the luxury of deciding to ‘manage another department while theirs is fixed’.

The journey must continue, customers must be serviced, sales must be secured and their valuable people resources must be optimised and motivated during the period of change.

An improved solution for driver and operational manager would be the ‘F1 model’. When Lewis Hamilton needs to change tyres, refuel or replace damaged bodywork, he simply visits his team in the pit lane to sort it all out. Any ground he may lose on his rivals during the period of change can be swiftly recovered through the performance improvements realised.

The ‘F1 approach’ is also desirable in the dynamic world of operations management. When we speak to and observe operational managers, they typically know that refinements are needed, but business-as-usual activities take precedence, so improvement actions are delayed.

Lewis Hamilton may elect to continue racing if, during the closing stages of a Grand Prix, he ‘loses’ one of his gears, because he is skilled enough to compensate. For operational managers, the race never ends and failing to repair underlying faults will cause them to fall further behind their competitors.

Our approach and the success we have realised is like that of an F1 pit crew. The operational manager is the leader and is responsible for steering the team to success. To do this consistently, he has a harmonious partnership with a trusted pit crew able to implement in-journey repairs which prevent competitors gaining unwanted ground or disappearing into the sunset.


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