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Operations Management For Dummies®

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Table of Contents


About This Book

Foolish Assumptions

Icons Used in This Book

Beyond the Book

Where to Go from Here

Part I: Getting Started with Operations Management

Chapter 1: Discovering the Fundamentals of Operations Management

Defining Operations Management

Getting beyond the smokestack

Seeing the relevance of operations management

Understanding the Process of Operations

Driving the business model

Recognizing the diversity of processes

Managing processes

Handling special situations

Meeting the Challenges

Chapter 2: Defining and Evaluating Processes

Mapping Processes

Distinguishing between operations and delays

Identifying waste

Developing a process map

Evaluating the Elements of a System

Checking productivity

Considering capacity

Clocking cycle time

Getting a handle on constraints

Talking thruput and takt time

Going with the flow time

Monitoring utilization

Accounting for variability

Chapter 3: Designing Processes to Meet Goals

Getting Started with Process Improvement

Planning Operations

Considering a serial process

Placing operations in parallel

Improving Processes According to a Goal

Reducing customer flow time

Increasing system capacity

Balancing the line

Utilizing flexible resources

Improving a process that has excess capacity

Managing Bottlenecks

Getting tripped up by overproduction

Increasing process capacity

Chapter 4: Dealing with Shared Resources, Batches, and Rework

Sharing Resources

Assigning a resource to more than one operation

Allocating resources to more than one process

Batching Parts and Setting Up Operations

Working with batches

Maximizing operation batch size

Optimizing transfer batch size

Optimizing batch size with operation setups

Managing Process Disruptions

Putting rework back in the process that created it

Pulling rework out of the main process

Chapter 5: Designing Your Process to Match Your Product or Service

Considering Costs, Standardization, Volume, and Flexibility

Balancing operating costs

Blurring the lines: Making standardized stuff customizable

Improving Face-to-Face and Back-Office Operations

Strengthening the customer interface

Improving efficiencies behind the scenes

Fulfilling Customer Demand: Making to Stock or Making to Order

Making to stock

Making to order

A tale of two companies: Making either method work

Designing for X: Designing Products with Operations in Mind

Part II: Managing Variability and Risk

Chapter 6: Forecasting Demand

Getting Savvy about Forecasts

Building a Forecast to Predict Demand

Recognizing demand variation

Looking to the past to predict the future

Lacking data: No problem

Acknowledging the Error of Your Ways

Hunting down the source of your error

Measuring how inaccurate you are

Chapter 7: Planning Capacity

Considering Capacity

Matching supply and demand

Timing adjustments just right

Balancing Capacity and Inventory

Producing to match demand

Producing at capacity

Increasing capacity

Addressing Wait Time for Services

Getting the why of waiting

Estimating waiting time with queuing theory

Altering customer perceptions

Chapter 8: Managing Inventory

Dealing with the Business of Inventory

Recognizing inventory’s purposes

Measuring the true cost of inventory

Managing Inventory

Continuous review

Periodic review

Single period review

Comparing the options

Getting Baseline Data on Performance

Assessing the inventory management system

Evaluating the quality of customer service

Reducing Inventory without Sacrificing Customer Service

Multitasking inventory: The commonality approach

Holding on: The postponement strategy

Managing Inventory across the Supply Chain

Keeping track of the pipeline inventory

Setting service levels with multiple suppliers

Chapter 9: Planning for Successful Operations

Planning from the Top Down

Determining corporate strategy

Preparing for success

Executing the plan

Exploring the Components of an Aggregate Plan

Putting together a plan

Creating the master schedule

Considering Materials

Gathering information for the system

Getting system results

Taking MRP data to the factory floor

Planning for Services

Seeing the difference in services

Establishing the service plan

Applying Information to the Entire Organization

Chapter 10: Managing the Supply Chain

Seeing the Structure of Supply Chains

Getting through the tiers

Linking in support services

Aligning the Supply Chain with Business Strategy

Defining product demand

Choosing the right supply chain strategy

Exploring the Bullwhip Effect

Finding the bullwhip triggers

Dodging the bullwhip

Improving Supply Chain Management

Communicating better

Outsourcing inventory management

Simplifying the chain by consolidating shipments

Part III: Improving Operations

Chapter 11: Becoming Lean

Evolving to Lean

Mastering the craft

Producing in mass

Trimming the Fat

Eliminating the waste

Involving everyone

Leveling production

Embracing your supplier

Focusing on quality

Implementing continuous improvement

Producing Just in Time

Knowing when to work

Differentiating the customer interface

Implementing pull

Knowing when to JIT

Seeking the Silver Bullet

Chapter 12: Managing Quality

Deciding What Matters

Recognizing the Value of Quality

Assessing the cost of failure

Detecting defects

Getting the perks of high quality

Preventing defects in the first place

Addressing Quality

Considering the customer

Getting all hands on deck

Sticking to the improvement effort

Designing for Quality

Starting with the end in mind

Cascading to production

Measuring Quality

Understanding variation

Measuring “goodness” of a process

Controlling processes

Chapter 13: Creating a Quality Organization

Reaching Beyond Traditional Improvement Programs

Multiplying failures

Raising the bar

Varying skill levels

Adding to the Tool Box

Defining the problem

Measuring the process

Analyzing the problem

Implementing a solution

Maintaining the gain

Overcoming Obstacles

Failing to focus

Prioritizing into paralysis

Avoiding the lure of magical solutions

Lacking employee involvement

Knowing what to do

Learning from the experience

Calling it a program

Giving up

Part IV: Managing Projects

Chapter 14: Using Communication and Leadership Skills When Managing Projects

Defining Success

Prioritizing criteria

Seeing the interaction of factors

Figuring Out Why Projects Fail

Laying Out the Project Management Life Cycle

Detailing the phases of the cycle

Deciding to go or not to go

Documenting the project

Leading a Project

Developing a project proposal with a team

Communicating with stakeholders

Keeping stakeholders in the loop

Managing the team

Chapter 15: Estimating and Scheduling Projects

Estimating Time and Cost

Compiling a list of tasks

Adding up the project costs

Timing: The critical path

Assigning tasks

Presenting the schedule

Working with Uncertainty

Estimating with ranges

Using historical data

Relying on expert knowledge

Putting It All Together

Avoiding the estimation dance

Accelerating the project

Chapter 16: Responding to Risks That Threaten Your Project

Tracking Project Progress

Assessing earned value

Earning value over time

Monitoring the metrics: Who’s responsible?

Realizing your project’s in trouble

Planning Ahead with Risk Registers

Knowing what can go wrong

Prioritizing risks

Developing a contingency plan

Responding Productively to Risk

Staying productive: Parkinson’s law

Recovering from delays: Brook’s law and Homer’s law

Delay the project

Sacrificing functionality

Part V: Scaling and Globalizing Your Operations

Chapter 17: Considering Outsourcing

Seeing the Upsides and Downsides of Outsourcing

Benefiting from the pros

Avoiding the cons

Getting Down to the Basics

Figuring out what to outsource

Choosing the right partner

Developing a lasting relationship

Integrating the product

Chapter 18: Scaling Operations throughout the Product Life Cycle

Managing Operations Age-Appropriately

Swooning Over the Baby

Dealing with low demand

Keeping capacity flexible

Minimizing inventory

Starting off with high pricing

Designing a supply chain for a new product

Defining a market with no competitors

Avoiding failure in incubation

Surviving the Awkward Stage of Quick Growth

Adjusting to growing demand

Increasing capacity

Maintaining enough inventory

Slowly decreasing your pricing

Growing your supply chain

Distinguishing your product from competitors’ products

Upping production to meet increased demand

Getting Comfortable with Market Maturity

Staying the course with steady demand

Exploiting predictable capacity

Reducing your inventory

Offering competitive pricing

Balancing a mature supply chain

Gaining market share over your competitors

Foreseeing the market’s decline

Preparing for the End

Adapting to decreasing demand

Repurposing capacity

Reducing inventory

Making the most of lower pricing

Consolidating the supply chain

Increasing sales as competitors exit

Emerging Anew


Making improvements

Changing the product portfolio

Managing Start-up Operations

Operating on a shoestring

Transitioning to growth

Part VI: The Part of Tens

Chapter 19: Ten Pivotal Operations Management Developments


Division of Labor

Interchangeable Parts

Scientific Management

Mass Production

Statistical Quality Control

Lean Manufacturing

Scientific Project Planning

Electronic Data Interchange

Supply Chain Management

Chapter 20: Ten Mistakes That New Operations Managers Make

Beginning an Improvement Journey without a Map

Running without Metrics

Creating Overly Complex Processes

Missing the Real Bottleneck

Managing Based on Utilization

Not Standardizing

Automating Bad Processes

Misdefining Quality

Not Doing Enough Project Planning Upfront

Not Focusing on the Customer

Chapter 21: Ten Traits of World-Class Operations

Knowing Thyself

Possessing Profound Knowledge of the Customer

Focusing Intensely on Quality

Adapting to Change

Getting Better All the Time

Appreciating Employees

Paying Constant Attention to Product Offerings

Using Relevant Process Metrics

Balancing Respect and Expectations for the Supply Chain

Avoiding Unnecessary Complexity

About the Authors

Cheat Sheet
End User License Agreement


We like to think of operations management as the neurological system of a healthy business. It coordinates the behavior and system functionality of living, breathing organizations to ensure that they continue to grow and thrive in the real world. The more complex the organization, the more vital it is for its operations management to be strong and in good working order.

Successful operations management leaders tend to be the well-organized and systematic types of the world. They fuss and arrange and then ponder and tweak. They see the wrinkles and iron them out to ensure that their companies make the most of what they’ve got. And many people think operations managers thrive on bringing order to chaos, but this shouldn’t be the case! In this book we show you how to plan operations and implement those plans so that your company’s operations run smoothly — chaos-free.

Maintaining order and efficiency is a fact of life — in business, families, personal relationships, and other human systems. And operations management is essentially the science of managing resources and behavior. But unfortunately, this important field of study is often explained in a way that makes it sound like an exercise in advanced math instead of a vital part of corporate governance and strategy development.

We wrote this book to help you get a handle on the fundamentals of operations management and to make your life more comfortable when dealing with operations. Whether you’ll actually be managing operations or just want to understand what goes on in operations, this book is for you. If you plan on taking an operations management course as part of your business major or MBA coursework, this book provides a foundation for your understanding. It will also be there for you when it’s time to apply the concepts in real situations as you advance your career!

About This Book

Like all other For Dummies books, Operations Management For Dummies isn’t a tutorial. It’s a reference book that, we hope, provides you with as much information as you need on the fundamental concepts of operations management to succeed in your coursework and your entry-level tasks in the real world. Use this book as you need it. That is, don’t feel pressured to read it cover to cover — although you’d no doubt be fascinated at every turn! You can jump right to the topics that are giving you nightmares, get the assurances you need, and be on your way with tips and insight that may not be available in your regular textbooks.

We’ve done our best to describe operations management concepts in a fun and lively way. We point out the most important theories, techniques, and ways of thinking about managing products, processes, services, supply chains, and projects without all the mind-numbing details, outdated examples, and complicated explanations that fill some other books on this topic. Here’s a glimpse of the topics in this book:

check.png Evaluating and measuring current performance

check.png Designing processes to meet your objectives

check.png Improving your processes

check.png Estimating and predicting demand

check.png Planning and managing capacity

check.png Determining the right amount of inventory

check.png Getting the right products to the right place at the right time

check.png Selecting and managing suppliers

check.png Getting the gist of Six Sigma and lean production

check.png Planning and managing projects

check.png Scaling operations for the life cycle of your product

Read the chapters in any order, and feel free to go straight to the subjects that interest you. You don’t need to bother with a bunch of stuff that you already know — although you may wonder how well you really know it. There is, after all, always room for improvement, right?

As you work your way through this book, keep in mind that sidebars and Technical Stuff icons are skippable. Reading these bits will certainly add to your understanding and appreciation of the topic, but you won’t miss anything crucial if you skip over them.

Foolish Assumptions

We’re well aware of the fact that you’re a one-of-a-kind person with countless unique attributes, but as we wrote this book, we had to make some assumptions about our readers. Here’s what we assume about you:

check.png You’re smart, resourceful, and interested in how the world works.

check.png You have a new interest in operations management. You may be currently taking an introductory operations management course as part of your business major or MBA studies and need help with some core concepts. Or you’re planning to take an operations management course next semester, and you want to prepare by checking out some supplementary material.

check.png You may have just been promoted into a position of operations management from another field (that has happened to all three of the authors), and you need to learn how to manage operations fast.

check.png You may be focused on a different field of study and have an interest in what those OM folks do, or you may find yourself promoted into a management position and realize that operations are important to every field; time to get up to speed on OM principles.

check.png You’ve had algebra and statistics and remember enough of the basics to get by with a few gentle reminders.

Icons Used in This Book

To make this reference book easier to read and simpler to use, we include some icons to help you home in on certain types of information.

remember.eps Any time you see this icon, you know the information that follows is so important that it’s worth recalling after you close this book — even if you don’t remember anything else you read.

technicalstuff.eps This icon appears next to information that’s interesting but not essential. Don’t be afraid to skip these paragraphs.

tip.eps This bull’s-eye points out advice that can save you time when establishing and analyzing processes.

warning_bomb.eps This icon is here to prevent you from making fatal mistakes in your operations management work.

Beyond the Book

In addition to the material in the print or e-book you're reading right now, this product comes with some access-anywhere goodies on the web. Check out the free Cheat Sheet at www.dummies.com/cheatsheet/operationsmanagement for helpful formulas and more.

Where to Go from Here

This isn’t a novel — although you may find as many twists and turns as there are in the best whodunit. But this book is set up so you can follow the information in any given section or chapter without reading it cover to cover. It’s possible for you to know what’s going on even if you skip around.

The book is divided into independent parts so that you can, for instance, read all about managing risk without having to read anything about project management. Take a look at the table of contents to see what topics we cover where.

If you’re brand-new to operations management, we suggest starting with Part 1. In this part you can find everything you need to know about processes. Regardless of your field or career path, this part can help you understand processes that affect everything you do.

If your interest is primarily related to quality, then you may want to start in Part III, which focuses on quality management and improvement and highlights the popular Six Sigma methodology. If you’ve recently been assigned to a product development team, then Part IV is likely to be your favorite; find the basics you need to get a solid start on your new job.

If you’re not sure where to start, no problem — that’s exactly what this book is for. Be vintage about it: Start at the beginning and read through to the end. We expect that you’ll gain useful knowledge from every page that you can use to ace your operations management course and advance your career.

Part I

Getting Started with Operations Management


pt_webextra_bw.TIF For Dummies can help you get started with lots of subjects. Visit www.dummies.com to learn more and do more with For Dummies.

In this part . . .

check  Get the lowdown on the fundamentals of operations management and understand why it’s so essential to successful businesses.

check  Learn how to document and improve your business processes in order to gain a decisive advantage over your comany’s competitors.

check  Figure out what you want to accomplish and then determine whether you have the processes in place to meet that goal. If your processes need improvement, find out how to improve them in a structured and systematic way.

check  Discover how to overcome common process management challenges, such as shared resources, batching, and rework to keep things running as smoothly and efficiently as possible.

check  Make your job as an operations manager easier by ensuring that you’re designing processes that create a product in the best way possible, keeping costs low and profit margins high.

Chapter 1

Discovering the Fundamentals of Operations Management

In This Chapter

arrow Understanding the function and value of operations management

arrow Getting a handle on business models and processes

arrow Facing key challenges in operations management

Operations — a set of methods that produce and deliver products and services in pursuit of specific goals — are the heartbeat of every kind of organization, from iron foundries and hospital emergency wards to high finance and professional services. Well-designed operations enhance profitability. Poor operations, at best, equal ineffective processes and wasted resources. At worst, poor operations can drive a company out of business. Therefore, managing operations with competence is vital to meeting strategic goals and surviving financially.

In this chapter we point out what’s part of operations and what isn’t. We also describe key concepts in the world of operations and tell you what you can do to improve operations in a business or any other type of organization.

Defining Operations Management

When most people think of operations management, if any picture comes to mind at all, an image of a large factory billowing smoke often emerges. And, yes, factories that billow smoke are indeed performing operations, but they’re only a small subset of everything that’s involved with operations management. Ultimately, operations determine the cost, quality, and timing of every interaction an organization has with the people it serves.

In this section we tell you exactly what operations management is — and what it’s not. Moreover, we point out why operations are such a critical part of an organization and why all departments must care about operations for an organization to be successful.

Getting beyond the smokestack

No job is so simple that it can’t be done wrong.

—Message in a Chinese fortune cookie

remember.eps Operations management is the development, execution, and maintenance of effective processes related to activities done over and over, or to one-time major projects, to achieve specific goals of the organization.

Operations management covers much more than smokestacks or manufacturing parts and products; it also encompasses services and all sorts of projects and initiatives that groups of people undertake together. From restaurants and fast-food joints to medical services, art galleries, and law firms, operations management ensures that organizations minimize waste and optimize output and resource use for the benefit of customers as well as everyone else with skin in the game, or the stakeholders.

warning_bomb.eps Doing something a little inefficiently one time is no big deal, but when you do something inefficiently over and over, hundreds or even millions of times per year, even little mistakes can add up to very expensive amounts of waste. Mistakes in an operation that result in defective products, even if they represent only 1 percent of total output, can alienate millions of customers. Similarly, if poorly designed operations result in habitually serving customers late, a company will eventually lose customers to better-functioning competitors.

In for-profit firms, operations management is concerned with the cost-effective operation and allocation of resources, including people, equipment, materials, and inventory — the stuff you use to provide goods or services for customers — to earn the big bucks and maximize your return on investment. Just look at the annual reports of big successful firms. Some, like ExxonMobil, take pride in their operational excellence. In the case of ExxonMobil, just 1 or 2 percentage points better energy efficiency or plant up-time can represent millions in additional profit.

In nonprofit organizations, managing resources is also vital. Here, operations management may be concerned primarily with maximizing a specific metric, such as people served while staying out of the red.

Seeing the relevance of operations management

Operations management is a fundamental part of any organization. In fact, Forbes magazine reported in 2011 that about three quarters of all CEOs came from an operations background. Not all these CEOs studied operations in school; only some of them did. Many majored in finance, marketing, information systems, or engineering and ended up in operations at some point in their careers.

Even if you don’t want to be a CEO or ever work in operations, you’ll probably have to work with operations people during your career. So consider these facts about the impact of operations on various business functions:

check.png Engineering: Engineers are notoriously great with numbers and focus. That doesn’t always translate to being great with operations. Operations analysis is both quantitative and intuitive, and engineers without operations training can — and do! — waste millions of dollars when tasked to oversee operations. For maximum benefit, you need to evaluate the individual process in the context of the overall system of processes it connects to. So some operations knowledge can help engineers place their analysis of an individual process into an overall context of the operations system.

check.png Finance: Corporate finance folks exercise oversight over budgets, so having some operations knowledge can help this team make good decisions. For instance, when an operations leader asks for money to de-bottleneck a process (check out Chapter 3 for information on bottlenecks), knowing what this means tells you the intent is to increase the capacity of an existing operation. This almost always makes more economic sense than building a new plant. It also makes it easier to evaluate costs and benefits of the investment. Otherwise, you may suspect it’s like spending money to put paint on an old jalopy.

check.png Information technology (IT): A big part of IT within some companies is to automate operations. Knowing the core principles of operations can help these folks build an operations superhighway instead of paving a cow path. Companies tend to easily accept the traditional way of doing things without question. There’s a great temptation to simply automate an existing process with imbedded inefficiencies. Some knowledge of operations may help IT professionals to more effectively partner with operations management people to truly create competitive advantage by improving processes while they automate.

check.png Marketing: When the marketing folks come up with a new product idea or promotions concept, they need to talk to operations to find out whether it can be produced profitably. If the answer is no — operations managers are sometimes a grumpy lot — persuading them to find a solution may be easier if marketing can speak the language of operations and understand their concerns.

Understanding the Process of Operations

The field of operations management isn’t always intuitive. Ultimately, the intent is to eliminate waste and maximize profitability. Depending on the type of organization and its specific goals, operations can be managed with a wide range of strategic approaches and techniques.

This section describes some of the major aspects of operations that often trip up people who study and work in this field.

Driving the business model

An organization’s business model should influence operations strategy; likewise, operations strategy drives the business model (see Figure 1-1). The business model — which identifies the target market, the product or service available for sale, pricing, marketing, and overall budget — is intimately entwined with operations.


Illustration by Wiley, Composition Services Graphics

Figure 1-1: The business model drives operations, and operations drive the business model.

In other words, operations determine the cost, quality, and timing of the value proposition that a company delivers to its customers. Operations determine the customer experience, whether it’s a service or a tangible product. If the customer experience is good, then financials also tend to be good — and there are always ways to further improve the business model (much more on continuous improvement later). If, on the other hand, operations and the customer experience are poor, then financials are also likely to be poor. This situation calls for a reevaluation of the business model, the operations strategy, or both.

In the pragmatic gray area of the real world, operations at a company may be independently good in some areas but out of alignment with the business model. For example, if the operations strategy emphasizes low cost, but the business model relies on using customization to obtain a higher markup from customers, then a company is functioning with fundamentally incompatible goals, making the “good” operations ineffective.

Recognizing the diversity of processes

Processes vary in thousands of ways for different kinds of organizations with different kinds of needs. Start-up firms need to scale up rapidly, and the restaurant business requires some artistry. Pharmaceutical companies must stay focused on strict regulations, and firms in the personal computer industry need to worry about their products’ shelf life (find details on the product life cycle in Chapter 18). To manage operations effectively, you need to understand a company’s processes in context of its business model and industry.

This section highlights some important characteristics of organizations that can help illustrate the nature of certain processes.

Customer interface

Processes vary quite a bit based on the amount of face time with customers they involve. Service processes that don’t directly interface with customers, such as reconciling checks, are more like manufacturing processes than processes that involve interaction with customers. After all, reconciled checks, like pizzas or widgets, don’t become upset if the resource processing them doesn’t smile. Nor do they get confused by poor signage, waiting in line, or bad process design.

The customer interface aspect of operations also differs based on whether the customer is the end consumer, known as a B2C relationship, or another business, or B2B relationship:

check.png B2C firms tend to market products to a lot of customers who each purchase a small quantity of units.

check.png B2B firms tend to deal with a small number of customers with high quantity demands that require heavy customization and significant customer service.

In general, business customers are much less forgiving of late deliveries than end consumers.


The scale of an operation definitely impacts operations. Producing thousands of parts or serving thousands of customers per hour is quite different from handling only a few. If a company is working by the thousands, then automation may make a lot of sense because the fixed costs of automation can be spread out over many customers. A low-volume operation typically requires more flexible processes, which may rule out automation.


If a company’s product or service is highly customized, then flexibility in processes is extremely important. Automation may not be practical. Producing products before a customer places an order is also impractical in many of these situations, and this may prevent a business from obtaining economies of scale, which refers to the fact that it becomes increasingly cheaper to produce a unit of something as unit volume grows. Customizing products usually means higher production costs per unit and higher prices for customers.

Customer priorities

Successful businesses know what matters most to their target customers: time, cost, or quality. If time is most important, you may try to produce the product before the customer orders it. If cost is the priority, maximizing economies of scale — possibly through level production runs or outsourcing (covered in Chapter 17) — is critical. An emphasis on quality may require more expensive materials and equipment to make the product.

Managing processes

Although processes vary in many ways, they also share some common characteristics that apply across a broad spectrum of operations.

remember.eps Nearly all processes in operations have three major components:

check.png Inventory: This includes not only the finished goods inventory (products that are complete) but also jobs (products or services) that are only partly complete in your process (known as work in progress, or WIP).

check.png Materials: These are the items needed to make a product or provide a service.

check.png Resources: The equipment, information systems, and people in an operation that make the product or provide the service are considered resources.

Assuming that the business model is aligned with operations strategy, effectively managing inventory, materials, and resources achieves the two goals of operations management: efficiency and risk management. Here are some ways to manage these laudable goals:

check.png Standardize the process and draw it out. Before you try to modify any process, standardize it and all the operations within it. Drawing a standardized process is the first step of process management (see Chapter 2). And don’t get hung up on making this perfect. Even a rough process drawing can help you spot trouble points in the process, and the drawing can be perfected later as you work to improve the process.

check.png Use resources effectively. The key to utilizing resources effectively is to find the bottleneck. The bottleneck is the resource that limits the capacity of a process, and it can be surprisingly hard to find. It’s not necessarily the biggest machine in a process or the most expensive person you employ; it’s simply that operation that is the slowest or most rate-limiting in the whole process chain.

tip.eps The best way to find the bottleneck is to determine which resource on average spends the most time working on each job (unit of product) that’s completed by your process (find more on bottlenecks in Chapter 3).

If you need more capacity, make sure to add it at the bottleneck; adding it anywhere else doesn’t help and just wastes it. For non-bottleneck resources, resist the temptation to utilize them 100 percent of the time on the same job (unit of product) because this just ends up creating WIP that builds up.

check.png Keep material moving. Try to minimize the amount of time a job waits around in the process. This is especially important in face-to-face services or when a product is made to order, but using material quickly also matters in standard manufacturing. WIP is essentially tied-up cash that could be used for better purposes (such as collecting interest!). (Flip to Chapter 3 for details.)

check.png Keep the process simple. One mark of a simple process is an easy-to-read process flow diagram (check out Chapter 2 for advice on how to draw a process flow diagram). Complex processes are hard to schedule and manage; they accumulate lots of WIP and hide defects (see Chapter 5 for tips on simplifying processes).

check.png Hedge against variability. Variability in demand is a big problem for process management. If the company sells tangible product from a finished goods inventory, a company can carry extra inventory to ensure that unexpected surges of customer demand are satisfied. However, big inventories are costly. (See Chapter 6 for how to forecast demand and Chapter 8 to set inventories.) Extra capacity to make more finished goods is another tool for managing demand variability and is particularly critical in face-to-face services and make-to-order businesses. But capacity, too, can be pricey. (Find details on capacity in Chapter 7.) Finding the right balance of tools to handle demand variability can provide one of the biggest paybacks from operations management.

check.png warning_bomb.eps Don’t fall in love with technology. Avoid the misdirected comfort of assuming that just buying the fanciest information system can solve a company’s slew of operational problems. The right technology and aggregate planning (see Chapter 9) can help, but these support tools are not cure-alls; they can’t compensate for a basic mismatch of capacity with demand.

check.png Manage the supply chain. A product or service is only as good as the weakest link in the supply chain, the network of suppliers that provide the materials, services, and logistics that support an organization (see Chapter 10). If a company can make suppliers into actual partners in the business and integrate them tightly into product development and productivity improvement efforts, profitability follows (see Chapter 11).

check.png Improve quality. Figuring out what the customer actually wants and delivering it is everything in business (flip to Chapter 12). Continuously improving the quality of processes is necessary to keep up with changing customer expectations. Better quality can also reduce waste and improve profitability. Chapter 13 covers quality improvements.

check.png Realize it’s a system thing. Operations aren’t about doing one thing right. They’re about doing a lot of things right — at the same time. This means using resources and materials efficiently, producing high quality goods, and maintaining a reliable supply chain while keeping things simple and managing risk. Got all that? Chapter 11 presents one especially effective way to achieve this: the lean process methodology.

Handling special situations

Operations managers must sometimes cope with a number of special situations. These range from one-off projects to outsourcing processes and may include managing immature or obsolete products. Here’s some advice on managing special situations.

One-off projects

Though most of this book concentrates on processes (things that a company does over and over), operations managers must often deal with projects that are executed only once. However, some projects are big enough and occur often enough that reusable processes for managing them can emerge (see Chapter 14).

Planning is important for any operation, but even more so for projects. Mistakes or failures in upfront planning can’t be gradually fixed through later tweaks the way they can be for routine ongoing processes. (For information on planning projects, see Chapter 15.) Another part of the problem is that, by definition, a one-time project hasn’t been done before, so upfront estimates need to be created without data from past performance. This is part of the reason that so many projects are completed late, over budget, or both. (Find more on project estimation in Chapters 15 and 16.) Allowing for estimate error and planning for contingencies are critical parts of project planning.

Good project management also requires aggressive risk management. Because projects aren’t repetitive processes, risks can be harder to identify and manage. Fortunately, a few good tools are available; among them are risk registers to help identify, mitigate, and track risks. (Check out Chapter 16 for more on risk.)


There are a lot of good reasons to outsource, but outsourcing isn’t a panacea for poorly considered business models and operations planning. Companies need to carefully identify what work to perform in-house and what to outsource. Then, after an outsourcing relationship is established, a structure to manage it effectively is vital. Be sure to figure out how to manage contracts, specifications, managerial and co-located personnel, and information-sharing structures. (Outsourcing is the focus of Chapter 17.)

Product life cycles

Operations must adapt to the product life cycle. For products at an early stage of the life cycle, companies need to put a premium on flexibility for processes. As the product or service takes off and enters its growth phase, operations become more about scalability. When a product is mature, reducing costs while maintaining quality is the main focus. And as the product declines, the challenge is to figure out how to reduce commitment to the product without alienating customers. (Find more about product life cycle issues in Chapter 18.)

Meeting the Challenges

The mountain of challenges to implementing good operations management may seem daunting, but a healthy dose of common sense and old-fashioned experience can help you chip away at them bit by bit. In this section, we describe some common operations management challenges and point out why it’s important to overcome them.


The field of operations management is packed with adrenaline junkies and pressure hounds. But crises provide a high potential for inefficiency, mistakes, and customer disappointment. The goal of an operations manager is to create processes that respond smoothly to pressure so crises don’t erupt.


Despite what many people may believe, automation and computerization aren’t the best answers to every problem in the world of operations. After all, an automated bad process is still a bad process. In fact, automation may make a bad process even worse because automating often hides problems and makes some issues more difficult to solve. Fix the process first and then automate it.

Similarly, enterprise management software (EMS) systems can’t improve a company’s processes. As with most data systems, garbage in equates to garbage out. An EMS system, no matter how expensive it is, can’t improve a bad process. So clean up the process and then bring in the information technology to help the new process along if appropriate.


People in various parts of an organization may assume that what happens in operations is simple. Operations managers may get resistance when they try to standardize, measure, or improve processes. A common retort to process improvement efforts is, “We’ve always done it this way, so why change?” But if a process is costing money for the firm to complete, then it’s worth trying to do it more efficiently and less expensively. If the process is sometimes done wrong, then it’s costing even more — money or maybe even customers. No business can afford not to take the time to standardize, measure, and improve processes.


For one reason or another, some organizations use performance metrics in ways that can be counterproductive to good operations. For example, utilization, or how busy your resources are, is often a defining metric in operations. Logically this seems to make sense, because who wouldn’t want the resources working as much as they could? However, over-utilization often leads to excessive inventory.

As a metric, utilization is a good idea — but sometimes only in the abstract. For example, labor utilization at a workstation measures how many hours a company is paying its people versus how many work hours are going into the parts at the workstation. When this metric is divorced from its context, real problems can emerge. Any non-bottleneck resource that’s working faster than the bottleneck is just going to create excess WIP that ties up cash, increases defects, and reduces material usage efficiency (see Chapter 3).

Say one workstation is already working faster (putting the wheels on toy cars, for example) than the next workstation (painting the toy cars in different colors) in the process. If you increase labor utilization at the wheels workstation, you’re just going to increase the pile of unpainted cars. So you want to move some of the workers from wheels to painting to improve the overall productivity.

remember.eps In short, any metric that’s stripped from its context may be lying to you. The only important question is this: Is the change you’re proposing going to make more money for the firm over the long run?


Possibly the most important source of information for improving operations is a company’s line workers and front-line staff. Curiously, these valuable people seem to be neglected in the process of designing processes and fine-tuning operations, yet they have the most accurate information about how things really work.

An operations manager may be better educated than the line workers, but no one knows the challenges and opportunities of producing a product or delivering a service better than those who actually do the work. That’s why every legitimate process improvement methodology leverages the line workers’ knowledge (see Chapter 13). And if a company ignores employees’ suggestions on how to improve its processes, it runs the risk of demotivating the very people who make the process run.


The idea that outsourcing everything and becoming a marketing company is a viable strategy is a very real challenge for operations professionals. Outsourcing can be a good way for a company to reduce cost and improve quality by leveraging the expertise of its supply chain. However, by outsourcing critical operations, a firm can lose its competitive advantage and open the market door to competitors. For more on how to decide what operations to outsource, see Chapter 17.