12 December 2010

What's Ops, Doc?

This week is finals week, but I’d much rather blog than study, so I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone by posting summaries for each of my classes in preparation for the final the next day.  First up: Operations Management.

Operations Management is a study of the systems whereby value is created.  My professor describes this as “taking inputs—labor, capital, equipment, and materials—and transforming them into outputs of greater value to the organization’s customers.”  

To be sure, at the start Ops looked like a whole lot of flowcharts and assembly lines, but what I loved about it was that at its core, Ops is all about continuous improvement—of taking something and tweaking it and making it just a little bit better.   We talked in terms of efficiency and optimization, bottlenecks and bullwhips, lags and leads, cells and batch sizes; but at the heart of it all was the idea that incremental progress eventually results in perfection, that failures are necessary for improvement and should be identified rather than punished, and that small, seemingly insignificant processes can have huge ramifications for an entire system.  (Toyota, who does operations better than anyone, has built an entire philosophy around these ideas: Kaizen.)

The other thing that I loved about Ops is that it has been one of those rare classes (Econ 110 being another standout) that has provided me with an entirely new framework by which to see the world.  I’m not sure I can adequately describe what I mean, but it has a lot to do with viewing change as a sum of its collective parts, and with seeing means and ends as inherently inseparable.

As a side note, Operations Management was my first entirely case-based course, meaning that every class session revolved around a real organization.  We learned Ops by reading about and discussing chocolatiers and cranberry co-ops, Threadless t-shirts and Benihana sushi.  All in all, I really liked this method; it’s a solid mix of practical and theoretical learning.

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