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059: Operations (II)

Five ways to keep your systems running.

Jeremy Finch
Jeremy Finch
4 min read
059: Operations (II)

Here are my main takeaways from Operations Management class: Five tangible ways to keep your systems running efficiently, with less headache.

Generalizable to most settings.

This assumes you've read part I :

058: Operations (I)
What exactly is “Operations Management”?

Key lessons :

Table of contents  📃

Identify bottlenecks
Expect variability
Preserve slack capacity
Beware overcorrections
Invest in people

1  Identify bottlenecks

A system's capacity is determined by its weakest component: A single pinch-point can reduce throughput overall.

Bottlenecks exist everywhere: In roads, airport security queues, production lines, plumbing systems, supply chains, software architecture etc.

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 it first: Distinguish root causes and symptoms. Ask why.
  • Then, add capacity: Direct resources there.

2  Expect variability

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 can help you land on your feet.


3  Preserve slack capacity

In services businesses, capacity utilization (X axis) and wait time (Y axis) have a non-linear relationship.

In simple terms, this means :
Don't run a system at max capacity!

An 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 one 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 can actually make 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.

4  Beware overcorrections

Why do people hoard toilet paper? Why do stocks jump 500% overnight? 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).


5  Invest in people

Operations Management people love using quantitative models and math.

But no formula can tell you how to create a meaningful, authentic experience. These human tradeoffs are as much art as they are science.

Beyond the heady concepts and jargon, my main advice =

  • Have a clear, motivating mission. And some core values (real ones).
  • For common, predictable stuff: Create systems that enable good decisions with minimal manual effort. Remove annoying hindrances when possible.
  • For everything else: Empower people to use their own good judgment.

Easier said than done.


Related :

099: Parenting Thoughts
Reflections on becoming a dad.
063: Team Dynamics
A summary of “The Four Player Model”.
058: Operations (I)
WTF is Operations Management?
054: MBA - Intro
Curious what people learn in b-school?

Season 2BusinessCollaborations