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From Business Analyst to English Teacher: Applying Operational Excellence tools

Very few people reading this will know that before becoming and English teacher, I had a completely different job.

After I graduated, I worked in the manufacturing industry as a business analyst and later in HR. This experience gave me the expertise I use today in my corporate training courses and business English lessons. It also gave me many of the transferrable administrative skills I use every day to run my business, and I learnt a lot about managing a team too. Plus, I had my first taste of teaching whilst working in this industry through the training courses that I delivered.

It was during this time, that I first came across the idea of Operational Excellence, and it's this that I want to tell you about today.

So, what is operational excellence?

Operational Excellence is a business management concept developed by Joseph Juran during the 70s while he was helping business leaders in Japan to optimise their companies.

The concept focuses on systematically identifying and implementing best practices within an organization in order to deliver high-quality products or services.

There are several key methodologies associated with Operational Excellence and many useful tools. I'm going to share with you some of my favourites and how they help me.


Japanese for Continuous Improvement, this methodology is aimed at implementing positive, ongoing changes. Its guiding principles is that any process can be improved and that they key is with consistently making small changes to consistently move forward.

How do I use Kaizen?

  • After every project/course that I do, I conduct a rigorous review of what worked well and what didn't. During this process, feedback is collected from both staff and clients, information is recorded, and changes are implemented as necessary for the next time. This ensures that anything short of ideal is corrected and not repeated. I've worked on many projects for companies that do this and many that don't. For me, there is a clear distinction between those who are excellent and those that are not.

  • Frequently making small changes to teaching resources, exercises, and to my handbook to ensure that explanations given are as clear as they can be. I like to think of both my resources and course syllabus as highly refined.

  • Constantly seeking to improve the way I work. From invoicing systems to materials indexing, my aim is to streamline processes, save time, and improve the quality of the services I offer. Whilst perfection is hard (or impossible) to achieve, I always strive for 'better' and focus on long-term solutions.

Scientific Thinking

The concept of scientific thinking is about being openminded towards new ideas, to approach challenges objectively, and to draw conclusions from evidence. It advocates that innovation comes from constant experimentation and learning.

Having worked with a number of different businesses and schools, I've seen first hand what a stale environment looks like and I've seen what an innovative environment looks like. I have also learnt a lot from the very interesting and diverse professionals that I have taught during my career.

With an emphasis on flexibility, adaptability, and a commitment to quality in planning my courses, I can always be confident that they are dynamic, relevant, and responsive to the needs of the learners.

Sharpen the Saw

One of Stephen R. Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective people (read more here), 'sharpening the saw' is something I really believe in.

In a similar vein, there's this quote from Abraham Lincoln - "If I had 6 hours to chop down a tree, I'd spend the first 4 sharpening the axe."

Whilst Covey's 'saw' analogy looks more at investing time in personal development and self-renewal, the axe analogy focuses a little more on the idea of investing in preparation and planning before undertaking a task. They align in the idea of preparing for greater effectiveness.

For me, this is about designing templates to speed up repeated tasks, automating administrative transactions, and taking time to learn new skills myself that will make my work more efficient. It's about never accepting a sub-standard way of doing something, it's about not wasting time, and it's about working smarter, not harder.

The Eisenhower Matrix

Needing to manage both a teaching timetable and non-teaching workload, time management is absolutely crucial for me. I was introduced to the Eisenhower matrix (image below) some time ago, and I found it really helps. I try to allocate time in my diary every week for important but not urgent tasks, and in general, I'm quite self-disciplined in sticking to it. This means that my accounts are always up to date, my policies and risk assessments are spot on, I am diligent with student administration, and I plan all of marketing content in one fell (albeit painful) swoop. It also means that I make time to invest in my own personal development, and it means that when I'm not working, then I'm really not working.

Eisenhower Matrix
Eisenhower Matrix

Six Sigma

The term "Six Sigma" has its roots in statistics. The word "sigma" is a Greek letter (Σ) used in statistics to represent standard deviation. In the context of process improvement, Six Sigma refers to a level of performance that has a very low rate of defect. The concept of Six Sigma was first introduced and developed by Motorola in the 80s.

Six Sigma uses a data-driven approach. Using facts and data has always driven my decision making, and this is very helpful as a small business owner because sometimes it can be easy to let emotions get in the way of good decision making. I remember a old mentor of mine used to say 'you only need to be 51% sure, to make a decision' - and I think about that often - he's right - sometimes you just need to be assertive.

Did you know that you can do qualifications in six sigma with each level of expertise and responsibility represented by a belt colour (as in martial arts).

Process Mapping

The goal of process mapping is to provide a clear and detailed visual representation of how something works in order to enhance understanding and facilitate communication. This can be very useful in terms of managing a team because it helps to standardise ways of working and avoiding administrative chaos. However, I find this tool most effective for my students whose first language is not English, and for whom 'lost in translation' is a real and frequent problem.

SMART objectives / SMART actions

As a teacher, supporting students to set then work towards objectives is a fundamental part of my job. However, the concept of SMART objectives goes beyond my role as a teacher, and is something I also use myself and with my team.

Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound, the SMART acronym offers a framework that ensures goal-setting or task-setting is effective. Specific ensures that goals are well-defined and clearly articulated, providing a roadmap to follow. The measurability aspect allows for concrete criteria to assess progress which helps with accountability and motivation. Achievability ensures that objectives are realistic and feasible, preventing the setting of unattainable goals. Relevance ensures that objectives align with broader priorities, contributing meaningfully to overall success. Lastly, the time-bound nature of SMART objectives imposes a deadline, promoting a sense of urgency and preventing procrastination.

Have you tried SMART?

Lean Manufacturing

As a business analyst, Toyota Production System's famous concept of '7 wastes' was a big part of my day to day. The 7 wastes or, in Japanese, 7 'Muda' uses the idea that identifying and eliminating waste in 7 areas improves efficiency and increases profit. You can read more about this here. Nowadays, it's the subsequently added 8th waste that I'm most interested in. The 8th waste is often referred to as 'underutilized human talent' or 'unused employee creativity.' It emphasizes the importance of recognizing and harnessing the full capabilities, ideas, and skills of the workforce to enhance overall organizational performance. It's exactly this idea that drives my corporate courses which aim to unlock potential.


The concept of Operational Excellence, introduced during my time in the corporate world, is at the forefront of my working methods today. Using tools such as those mentioned above has allowed me to continuously refine and improve what I do. Each tool serves as a valuable asset in my commitment to delivering high-quality courses and efficiently managing both my teaching and administrative responsibilities. As I share these insights, my hope is that they inspire others to explore and adopt these practices, fostering excellence and continuous improvement in their own endeavors.


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