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Fleet Management

Operational Excellence: Definition And Best Practices

Want to improve the way your fleet works? Strive for operational excellence. Learn what that means and discover the best practices to make it a reality.

operational excellence

If you want to improve the way your fleet works, strive for operational excellence. This may seem like an obvious statement, but achieving that goal is about more than just controlling fuel costs or planning out the best routes for your drivers.

As we’ll discuss in this article, operational excellence is about building a mindset in your employees so that they can contribute to the success of your business whether they’re in the office, across town, or across the country.

Table Of Contents

What Is Operational Excellence?

Woman problem solving

Operational excellence (or OPEX for short) is defined as: A philosophy that embraces problem-solving, leadership, communication, and customer-focused activity as the key to continuous improvement.

While that may sound like every other formula for business success, OPEX isn’t just about perfecting those activities. Instead, it’s a mindset for which everyone in your business strives.

Once that mindset is active in your team, everyone will be able to see the flow of value that you provide to your customers and take steps to maintain it, improve it, or fix it if it breaks down.

Think of operational excellence like a work van and driver where the van is your business and the driver is your team.

Nine out of 10 drivers have a basic or even an advanced understanding of how the vehicle works and can operate it in such a way as to get from point A to point B without any problems. If something goes wrong, though, they’re stuck and have to call on someone for assistance.

With an OPEX mindset, all drivers are experts that can detect the first signs of trouble and have the knowledge and skills to tweak things before the problem gets worse.

If something goes wrong on their trip, they can fix it themself and get back on the road as soon as possible (they don’t have to call on someone for assistance).

If we extend that metaphor into the business world, we find that the vast majority of employees have an understanding of how your company operates and can work in such a way that your business is successful.

But, if something goes wrong, they don’t necessarily have the ability to fix it right away. Instead, they may have to first consult a manager and then involve other departments to solve the problem. All of that takes time — time during which the problem is still unresolved.

With an OPEX mindset, all employees are experts that understand the flow of value from your business to your customers — they can see under the hood, so to speak — and have the ability to solve problems when they find them.

For fleets, that translates into equipping all your team members — whether they work on the road or in the office — with the knowledge and skills to do whatever is necessary to make decisions on the spot and provide a positive customer experience.

The transition from your standard operating procedure to one that includes operational excellence doesn’t happen overnight, though. It takes time and training.

But you can take steps even now to transform the way your business works by implementing a set of best practices that facilitate the process.

Operational Excellence Best Practices

1) Learn From The Scientific Method

woman with operational excellence

Too often in business, improvement turns into a hit-or-miss activity — certain things might get better, but you really don’t know why or how to replicate the results. That’s where the scientific method can be invaluable.

The scientific method is a circular, ongoing process with distinct steps. Those steps are:

  • Observe
  • Question
  • Hypothesize
  • Experiment
  • Analyze
  • Conclude/Apply

When you use the scientific method to deal with the processes and problems in your business, you provide a strong foundation for constant improvement and create a system in which you always know why something did or did not work.

2) Focus On The Process

Things will go wrong in your fleet — unexpected breakdowns or accidents, speed bumps in the workflow, delays in providing the customer with what they need.

But, too often, fleet managers blame their employees for these errors without taking into account that the problem might lie in the process, not the person.

Even the best team members will have a hard time producing good results when they have to work within a bad operational framework. So, when a mistake occurs, don’t focus on the employee; focus on the process first.

If you find that the procedures are flawed, make adjustments to prevent the problem from happening again.

If you find that the procedures aren’t flawed, communicate with the employee and train them to avoid the issue in the future.

3) Organize Work To Reveal Problems

Managing a fleet requires a workflow made up of multiple layers of simultaneous action — drivers, mechanics, dispatchers, support staff, office staff, and more.

With all that activity, it’s easy to get lost in the details and miss the point where things go wrong. Does the root of the problem lie with the driver, the dispatcher, the customer service rep, or someone else entirely?

To prevent such obstruction from occurring, and to facilitate your OPEX goals, organize your workflow to reveal problems right away.

For example, if a fleet vehicle breaks down, a brief analysis of the available data should indicate whether it was driver error, a faulty safety practice, a mechanical issue that should have been addressed earlier, or something that was completely beyond anyone’s control.

This is where the previous entries on the list become important: focus on the process, apply the scientific method, and always strive for perfection.

Setting up the workflow for optimal transparency isn’t always easy — and it will take time — but the rewards are well worth the effort.

4) Avoid Waste And Inefficiency

Waste and inefficiency are the enemies of success — especially when it comes to operational excellence.

The goal of every fleet is to provide maximum service and value to the customers who engage with its services. And the only way to do that is to ensure your business’s processes and workflow operate continuously and without delay.

Interruptions create waste and inefficiency. Nowhere is that more true than in fleet activity.

A commercial vehicle that’s out of service for whatever reason means that your business can’t give customers what they need when they need it (usually, right away).

That sets up a vicious cycle of inefficiency and lost revenue that can seriously affect your fleet, and your business, for the worse.

Operational Excellence Bonus Tips

Man smiling next to a work van

1) Demonstrate Respect

As a fleet manager, when you first hear the words “demonstrate respect,” does your mind automatically fill in the words “for the customer?”

If it does, that’s OK. Demonstrating respect for the customer is an essential part of running a fleet. But, with operational excellence, you also want to demonstrate respect for your employees.

How can you do so to promote the right mindset in your team?

Involve them in the problem-solving and improvement process. They’re the ones who are going to be implementing said solutions and improvements, so get their input and make them feel like valued members of the business.

You can even get them involved in the problem-solving and improvement process for other departments so that everyone on your team knows how the various components work together to make your company successful.

2) Promote Humility

For an OPEX mindset to take hold and be successful, your business needs to promote humility at every level of the operation — from the brand-new fleet mechanic changing oil and checking tire pressure all the way up to the C-suite managers guiding the company.

By promoting humility, you encourage your team to:

  • Listen to others
  • Be open to suggestions
  • Acknowledge their own shortcomings
  • Look for the best solutions

Not only does this benefit the internal operation of your fleet, but it also benefits the external, customer-facing operation of your fleet.

3) Strive For Perfection

Many will argue that perfection is impossible. In most cases, they’re right. But that doesn’t mean your business can’t strive for it.

Though you may never actually achieve perfection, setting the bar high and reaching for that ideal creates an operational-excellence mindset in your fleet.

Keep in mind that “perfection” takes many forms. The perfect solution to a problem may focus on the long term rather than the short term.

Or, it may focus on simplifying the workflow without compromising quality rather than adding more layers of complexity to achieve the same goal.

Operational Excellence For Fleets

Expense management software for operational excellence

Operational excellence for fleets can be difficult because the vast majority of the work happens outside the view of management.

But by applying the best practices mentioned above and focusing on driver tracking and telematics, you can improve the way your business operates.

Coast is here to help. The Coast fleet and fuel card provides controls and visibility that work for your business, as well as an online expense management platform that empowers you with real-time information related to your fleet.

For more information on how Coast can help you manage your fleet better and continue on the road to operational excellence, visit CoastPay.com today.