International Research into Operational Excellence (Op Ex)

February 19, 2024

Working in collaboration with international jurisdictions including the US, Canada and Australia, ISBL aims, through a research initiative, to establish the applicability of Op Ex to education systems.

Operational Excellence (Op Ex) is the cultural transformation and technical enablement of an organisation that allows it to perform optimally and achieve its strategic objectives. At its heart, any organisation is about its people, its processes and how both are managed. By focusing on how people work, what they do and why they do it, it is possible to refine the execution of an operating model to greatly improve efficiency and effectiveness.

Op Ex is customer-centric; in the context of education, this means teachers and pupils. By supporting a school or trust to look at what its customers (teachers and pupils) value and need, Op Ex aims to enable the organisational strategy, operating model, people and processes to meet their requirements. Business processes inherently carry with them inefficiency and lead people to behave in a particular way. If processes are complex and indeed sometimes broken, then even the performance of the best people will be inhibited.

Operational efficiency often suffers when strategy and culture are misaligned. This causes unnecessary work, inhibits communication and leads to functional silos. It is not uncommon to see a disconnect between business operation functions and frontline teaching and learning (see Stephen Morales's research on barriers to joined-up leadership).

It’s also not uncommon to observe that despite clear broad agreement on the strategic direction, it becomes diluted as it filters down through the organisation. Often the challenge is at the senior and middle management levels, where agreed strategic priorities are not effectively communicated to the workforce. By deploying an Op Ex approach, it may be possible to better align operating practices and priorities to strategic intent.

Whilst it might be tempting to think that an organisation’s problems can be solved by investing heavily in technology, it is far more effective to look for a non-technical Op Ex solution first. If people aren’t working efficiently, or processes are not fit for purpose, technology alone will rarely solve the problem.

The Op Ex approach is well understood and often securely embedded in industry. However, clear evidence of Op Ex is much less common in the public sector. The NHS has made some progress in this area, and some hospital trusts have certainly benefited from deeper reflection on the subject of operational efficiency and effectiveness.

This research study aims to explore how deploying Op Ex might improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our education system and help ensure that critical resources (people, facilities, technology and learning materials) are made available to teachers and ultimately pupils at the right time, in the right place and every time.

The research is being led by Chris Hallmark, a leading authority on Op Ex, and is supported by a team of sector experts. We have also commissioned the University of Manchester to lead on a section of the research focused on governance and accountability. In addition, we have formed an Advisory Board with representatives from NGA, CST, FED and ESFA.

This initiative is being generously sponsored by some of our commercial partners including Stone King LLP, Towergate Insurance, MAC Construction Consultants, IMP Software, Holden Knight Group Ltd and Shakespeare Martineau LLP.

We will investigate Op Ex through the lens of a series of key domains including:

  • Impact on teaching
  • Process and quality
  • Resource planning and deployment
  • Performance management and action
  • Training and development
  • Human performance
  • Leadership/management capability
  • Risk
  • Productivity and cost control
  • Technology
  • Data
  • Integrated curriculum financial planning
  • Culture

Op Ex should underpin work on improving sector capability and support professional standards and continuous improvement at an individual and an organisational level.

OpEx blueprint

This research project will conclude in May with a launch event planned for the summer where sector experts will dissect the findings and share recommendations for system improvements. We will be opening launch event registration very soon.