Operational definitions are a foundational principle in process excellence. They are a means of using language precisely to ensure a group of people can connect the meaning of a term to observable reality. If a measurement is generated, the operational definition specifies the procedure for doing so. Operational definitions are crucial in all scientific and process improvement approaches.
Terms that should be operationally defined include:
- Problems or Undesirable Results( UDRs)
- Units of production
- Qualification criteria
- Process steps (also called standard work)
Operational Definitions are the means of grasping reality. Here are two crucial things to realize about Operational Definitions:
First, they are not done once and forgotten. On the contrary, they need to be defined according to the purpose you are trying to achieve. It is quite common – indeed it is one of the profound effects of process excellence – that the definitions of important terms are improved as the team gains experience. These improvements in precision and accuracy enable measurements and the ability to reduce and eliminate waste – whether in a sales process, an administrative or transactional process, or in a manufacturing process.
Second, they enable everyone involved to learn what elements of the work they can control, and what elements they cannot control. No improvement can take place without learning this. It is what makes the difference between work that creates more output from less input, and work that is waste because it is process for process sake.
For examples of operational definitions of each of these the terms above, use the search box on this website to find the articles describing them.