Here are my takeaways from Operations Management class: Five ways to keep your systems running efficiently, with less headache. Generalizable to most settings.
If you haven't read Part 1, start there 👇
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A system's capacity is usually determined by its weakest component: A single pinch-point can reduce throughput overall.
When inputs arrive faster than processing speed, buildups accumulate. Wait times increase. Performance suffers. By alleviating this constraint (or redesigning the system) its impact can be reduced.
- Locate the bottleneck: Distinguish root causes and symptoms. Ask why, a lot.
- Then, add capacity: Direct resources there.
Some changes are predictable. Others more random.
In either case, assume that things will go astray.
As Mike Tyson said: "Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth". But a resilient system will help you land on your feet.
- For predictable variability: Practice forecasting. Test and learn.
- For unpredictable variability: Learn from things that flourish under stress. Nature is full of adaptive systems. Some of these insights can be extended to organizations.
In services businesses, capacity utilization (X axis) and wait time (Y axis) have a non-linear relationship.
Simple example: If one waiter can serve up to 10 tables at once, a manager may be tempted to assume that she should always serve 10 tables. This creates vulnerability: Each customer who comes in after that will wait exponentially longer to be seated. Plus, if anything happens (someone spills ketchup, or changes an order), this maxed-out person has zero bandwidth to adapt.
The inverse is also true: By adding a bit of margin back into the system, you can quickly relieve pressure. A little "breathing room" actually makes a huge difference.
- Go slower and be patient: Humans and machines need downtime. Slack capacity helps absorb shocks upstream.
- Prioritize: Rest, when possible. There's value in trading some short-term output for long-term resilience.
Why do people hoard toilet paper? Why do stocks pop 500% in one day? What makes soccer goalies dive on penalty kicks, instead of staying centered?
Short answer = Humans are emotional creatures!
We extrapolate meaning from noise. We react, instinctively. We over-correct. These tendencies get us into trouble (myself included).
- Distinguish signal from noise: Slight over/under-estimations can create huge inefficiencies. There's a whole field that studies these effects.
- For more on System Dynamics, read about the "Beer Distribution Game".
Operations Management people love quantitative models. But no mathematical formula can tell you how to create a meaningful, authentic experience. These tradeoffs are as much art as science.
Beyond the heady concepts and jargon, my main advice =
- Hire decent people.
- Have a clear, motivating mission. And core values (real ones).
- For common, predictable stuff: Create systems that enable good outcomes with minimal effort. Remove annoying hindrances where you can.
- For everything else: Empower people to use good judgment.
Easier said than done!
What do you think?