Raf Jansen is head of the Essensys Operational Excellence Division which was set up at the start of 2014. His know-how and experience complement the Essensys network very nicely. Raf and his team help businesses and organizations pursue Operational Excellence. Doing things easier, faster, better and cheaper is the leitmotif here. The role of Essensys Operational Excellence in all of that can come in a range of guises, from implementation and intense consulting to periodic coaching.
How did you end up in the world of Operational Excellence?
Jansen: My passion for Operational Excellence grew during the 20 years I spent in the manufacturing industry, in various management roles within Operations. Looking at things from a technical, human and business point of view has been the leitmotif throughout my career. My training as an industrial and civil engineer in combination with business management probably has something to do with that.
Early on in my career, I was given the unique chance at General Electric to engross myself in Lean Six Sigma – a structured and project-based approach to improving business processes as a team. That stood me in good stead later on, e.g. when I was involved in the construction and start-up of a new manufacturing facility in Poland. And I continued to use the underlying ‘Operational Excellence’ principles throughout my career, in a wide variety of functional domains (e.g. production, warehousing & distribution, supply chain management, customer service, finance…) and across various sectors (industry, healthcare, administration, logistics…).
After all these years, I can still find myself marveling at the results teams can achieve and at the dynamics that can be created in an organization once Operational Excellence becomes the common goal.
You then went on to set up the new Operational Excellence Division within Essensys. Why?
Jansen: “Operational Excellence methods (such as Lean, TPM and Six Sigma) are powerful tools in terms of boosting operational and financial performance. Companies across the world have used these tools to great effect. But, so far, it is mainly the big companies that have access to and use these methods. Communication about Operational Excellence is often far too academic, matters are presented in an overly complicated fashion or it focuses on the importance of the various tools only.
We have set ourselves the goal of making Operational Excellence accessible to SMEs.
To do so, you need to operate in a highly pragmatic fashion however: with plenty of focus on correct implementation on the shop-floor, on change-process guidance and coaching at every level of the organization, and by attaining tangible and measurable results.
The potential for improvement at SME level is often far greater than commonly believed. The high labor costs in Belgium should be an extra incentive to strive for maximum added value per hour of labor worked. Yet, reality tells us that far too many working hours and materials are ‘wasted’… and that is where Operational Excellence comes in.
Our strong points are the exclusive deployment of senior experts who can implement and guarantee change, our tailored result and implementation-oriented approach which leads to continued improvement and our aim to forge longer-term partnerships. Together we lay the foundations for a continuous improvement culture where teams give the best of themselves day after day, where they strive/(or: , while striving) for Operational Excellence.”
‘Improving business performance’ is a very broad concept...
Jansen: “True, but, at the same time, the problems often vary enormously. Are the lead times excessive? Are costs too high? What is delivery reliability like? How can quality, productivity, turnaround times or planning be improved upon? Is it possible to create greater stability and a better structure on the shop-floor? We proceed from our own, process-oriented analysis, while taking lead times, quality requirements, costs, stocks, staff and equipment availability… into consideration.
The beauty is that programs such as Six Sigma, Lean or TPM don’t just allow you to tackle business processes in manufacturing. Operational Excellence is universally applicable. Also logistics, warehousing and even customer services or finance benefit greatly. That said, a minimum critical mass is required to make the investment in Operational Excellence pay. This is why we tend to focus on organizations that employ between 50 and 350 people.”
Any concrete examples?
Jansen: “One of our first projects was a food company where a new CEO had been appointed. He asked us to, on the one hand, examine the (operational) organization and, on the other hand, to take a closer look at the existing processes so as to chart the potential for improvement. He had the feeling that the organization itself was not quite in sync with the company’s growth. We were able to improve matters in four areas. Firstly, by making a few changes in the structure and composition of the organization, but with an emphasis on targeted training too. In addition we made a number of recommendations with regard to purchase practices. We mapped out a new supply-chain strategy and helped to implement it. This led, among other things, to a reduction in stocks, an improvement in the quality of the stocks and greater delivery reliability. Finally, we intervened at production level, with e.g. a focus on measuring and boosting returns (OEE), the introduction and visualization of clear KPIs and a greater involvement of people on the shop-floor by organizing a number of efficient and effective meetings. In production, this resulted in a significant drop in labor costs relative to the quantity produced, a marked reduction in the amount of waste and an increase in productivity (and hence the true capacity) of the equipment”
Is Operational Excellence a lengthy process?
Jansen: “Operational Excellence is not a fixed target. It is an expression of the continuous pursuit of excellence, which must be embraced and upheld by the organization as a whole. It cannot be implemented overnight; it is a continuous learning and growth process, a process of trial and error. This is why support by experienced experts and coaches is essential.
A little Operational Excellence won’t cut it. It is a long-term transformation encompassing several steps. You can take a few bigger ones initially but, in the longer term, it is about a succession of smaller steps, to fine-tune matters. And more importantly:  Operational Excellence calls for the long-term commitment of top management. The road of cooperation and improvement towards functioning self-managing teams is a lengthy one. This implies a strong commitment to the basic principles.”
Do you tend to assign one Essensys Operational Excellence consultant to your clients or an entire team?
Jansen: “The number of consultants involved in a project will depend on the scope, the lead time and the complexity of the assignment. And also on how much support a company can actually cope with. We normally charge a fixed daily fee for our services but, if the scope has been properly defined, we can also work on a fixed-price basis. Sometimes our fees are partially result-driven. Never fully, mind you, because then you run the risk of focusing on short-term KPIs while our aim is to foster sustained improvement.”
Are our companies sufficiently aware of the positive impact of Operational Excellence?
Jansen: “Operational Excellence is not an end product and has a different meaning for every business. The perspective varies greatly. Is it about boosting business performance by reducing costs? Is it about improving your quality to keep your clientele? Or is it about developing the organization so that it can keep pace with the growth in turnover? This is why companies are not always aware of the short and long-term benefits of Operational Excellence. And then you could have the odd CEO, of course, who is far too proud to admit that there is room for improvement, who is blind to the potential for improvement within his organization. Many people have heard of Lean or Sigma Six but are not too sure how to apply it. We meet that need, because the potential is enormous. Even with my twenty years’ experience I can still find myself marveling at the results of Operational Excellence. As CEO you must be prepared to embrace it together with your team.”
How do you convince companies who are contemplating Operational Excellence but are afraid to take the plunge?
Jansen: “We tell these companies: allow us to chart the (extensive) production process via a short audit. On the basis of that, we chart the potential for improvement and draw up a concrete plan of action to implement the suggested improvements. It is a modus operandi that not only works well for companies, but also for public authorities and for non-profit organizations, who have other problems to contend with like the processing time of files, for instance. Or a correct estimate of the number of employees required for certain activities. Our work is assessed on the basis of KPIs, improvement percentages or, where possible, via benchmarking. The objectives are defined in advance, even if they cannot always be measured precisely.”
Finally: what are the ambitions of Essensys Operational Excellence?
Jansen: “In the longer term, we want to establish a partnership with companies that fosters a culture of Operational Excellence and transformation together with the client and his team. We want to be recognized as a result-oriented group of experts who conduce to the conservation of the manufacturing industry in Belgium. Sure, labor costs are high here. And no, that shouldn’t be an excuse not to think about how to make the most of people and resources. There is always room for improvement. Cut out the hidden costs!”
Company profile
·       Founded in 2014
·       Managed by Partner Raf Jansen
·       Part of the Essensys Group
·       Works with practice-oriented senior experts
·       Focuses on SMEs and organizations who want to take full advantage of their potential
Operational Excellence according to Essensys
1.            Engage your staff and give them responsibility,
2.            Optimally organize, steer and implement the business processes,
3.            Give your customers maximum value (quality, availability, reliability, fair price)
4.            At the lowest possible operating costs (direct costs, overheads and working capital)

For more information, please contact:
Raf Jansen, info@essensys.eu, T +32 2 761 94 62