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Guest Post: Soft Skills for Your OM Students in a Facebook World

January 20, 2019

Beverly Amer is Principal Lecturer in the W.A. Franke College of Business at Northern Arizona University. She is also author of a workbook for college students on practicing soft skills and director of the 45 videos we provide with our text.

Colleges have long been regarded as the preparation grounds for students to gain the necessary technical skills and knowledge required to enter meaningful careers, but not the “softer” side of working in a professional role. Until now. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, employers are putting more time and money into learning about the “soft skills” of job applicants: namely, communication skills, problem-solving aptitude, and just plain ability to get along with others on a team. Professional groups surveying their members have also found these skills much in demand.

So what are we, as OM educators, to do? Yes, the technical skill and knowledge we teach in our class is critical. However, employers are now looking to us for help to round out career readiness in our graduates. Yet if you have ever looked at your students while conducting class discussion, you have likely seen social media vying for your students’ attention (no, they are probably NOT taking notes, and yes, this is a breakdown in soft skills!). And most instructors are reluctant to add soft skills to their already “full” courses.

There are small steps that we can do to assist our students without affecting the course content already in place. For starters, try holding students accountable for deadlines, requiring thoughtful remarks in class discussion, demanding logical arguments in support of opinions, and making them do the dreaded group work. To address communication skills, provide students guidance on what you consider acceptable etiquette. For example, my students are told how to format a business email message, complete with opening salutation, respectful body, and proper closing.

For problem-solving and critical thinking skills, require those challenging individual assignments that go beyond simple matching of the exercises worked in class. Require students to take personal responsibility for meeting deadlines on computer-based homework. Teamwork skill can only be developed through practice, so in-class small group discussions and out-of-class larger projects will lead to valuable lessons in how to deal with different personalities and value systems. Use small groups regularly discuss this blog’s OM in the News events.

Will your students thank you? Not right now, perhaps. However, their employers will. And wouldn’t it be great if our students were considered first with recruiters because they have the entire package: both technical skills AND soft skills?


OM in the News: Life Cycles and the Smartphone

January 17, 2019

When Steve Jobs demonstrated the first iPhone in 2007, the audience was amazed by features we consider mundane today

“Steve Jobs took to a stage a dozen years ago this week to introduce a revolutionary new product to the world: the first Apple iPhone,” writes The Wall Street Journal (Jan. 16, 2019). That groundbreaking device, and the competitors that followed, changed the way people communicated, ordered dinner and hailed a taxi. The technology world reoriented around the smartphone, supplanting the PC, MP3 players, the digital camera and maps. The mobile economy was born.

Today, it looks like the era of smartphone supremacy is starting to wane. The devices aren’t going away any time soon, but their grip on the consumer is weakening. A global sales slump and a lack of hit new advancements has underlined a painful reality for the matured industry: smartphones don’t look so smart anymore. Wristwatches can now text emojis. Televisions can talk and listen. Voice-activated speakers can order diapers.

The number of “connected” devices in use that can stream music, clock mileage or download apps has more than doubled to 14 billion in the past 3 years. Now the universe has expanded to voice apps, car infotainment centers and wearable devices. Like the arc of the PC, smartphones may be engaged in a race downward. Titans Apple and Samsung risk seeing their high-end phones become commoditized, as Chinese rivals Huawei and Xiaomi prove capable of making similar devices at lower prices.

More than half of the world’s population now owns a smartphone. While that leaves billions of potential first-time buyers in poorer areas, they offer lower profits. Meanwhile, the market in the U.S. has become saturated, as the improvements in the devices become more incremental and many consumers have decided they don’t need to get each new upgrade. In developed markets, smartphone usage may be reaching its upper limits, as some consumers pull back amid acknowledgment their phones can be addictive, spur anxiety, distract drivers and cast a pall of silence over the dinner table.

Classroom discussion questions:

  1. Referring to the product life cycle curve in Figure 2.5, where does the iPhone fit?
  2. Do your students agree that smartphones are “in a race downward”?

OM in the News: Trucking the Last Mile for Home Furniture

January 15, 2019

J.B. Hunt Transport Services is snapping up another home-delivery firm as trucking companies compete to bring furniture, appliances and other bulky goods to consumers’ doorsteps, reports The Wall Street Journal (Jan. 9, 2019). The deal to buy Cory 1st Choice Home Delivery for $100 million deepens Hunt’s reach in a sector that has grown as shoppers get more comfortable shopping online for sofas, exercise equipment and other big objects that are too large for conventional parcel networks.

Hunt will gain 14 additional warehouses and access to a delivery network of more than 1,000 independent contractors, carriers and company drivers. As a result, the Arkansas carrier’s final-mile division will grow to 100 locations and more than 3.1 million square feet of warehouse and facilities space.  “We have high expectations that there will be a lot of demand for that heavy goods delivery,” says Hunt’s CEO. “That’s the two guys in a truck, appliances, furniture, things that the parcel guys don’t want to handle.”

Last year, UPS raised its fees for the largest items it delivers to $650 to discourage shippers from sending oversize items such as refrigerators through its parcel system. FedEx also has added surcharges for oversize shipments. The big-and-bulky delivery business also poses challenges for trucking fleets, whose main revenue typically comes from hauling goods to commercial loading docks. Furniture and appliance delivery often involves special services, such as assembly inside shoppers’ homes.

The growth of e-commerce has raised customer expectations. Delivery windows are shrinking, and shoppers want to be able to track the arrival of a new washing machine the same way they might other online orders. Last year, XPO Logistics, the largest provider of last-mile delivery for bulky goods in North America, rolled out services allowing consumers to track their shipments through Google Search or smart speakers such as Amazon’s Alexa.

Classroom discussion questions:

  1. How does this differ from Amazon’s “last mile”?
  2. What are the OM issues that Hunt faces?

OM in the News: Reverse Logistics Takes Over Now that the Shopping is Done

January 12, 2019

The holiday season brings a series of challenges to the supply chain industry — especially as e-commerce continues to grow. Companies have to efficiently ensure that customers’ packages will arrive in a timely matter, putting added stress on the warehouse and transportation sector. But the peak season doesn’t end once the holidays are over. In fact, reverse logistics makes the busy season last even longer as more people return unwanted holiday gifts. Here are 3 observations from Supply & Demand Chain Executive (Jan, 11, 2019):

1. Delivering hassle-free returns is critical to retaining customers, and consumers are looking to shop with brands that quickly provide refunds. Retailers must leverage tracking for returns and offer progress reports on the transaction, which requires an efficient supply chain.

2. Overly consumer friendly return policies encourage a costly rate of returns.  L.L. Bean ended its lifetime return policy this year because it led to “abusive” returns, costing the company $250 million in losses over the last 5 years. When particular items are consistently being sent back, inaccurate product descriptions or sizing can overburden reverse networks. While the push to use less packaging materials can reduce a company’s carbon footprint and costs, a delicate balance must also be achieved. If packaging fails to adequately protect merchandise during transit, it is more likely to arrive damaged, prompting items to be returned more frequently.

3. Some retailers are leveraging dedicated reverse networks to handle returns, grading out products to be entered back either into regular sales or second channel distribution. Designing facilities specifically for reverse logistics allows companies to process returns more efficiently and effectively.

A strategically designed reverse network allows retailers to shrink the time frame from the start of the return to when a customer receives a refund. Organizations that empower their brick-and-mortar stores to process online returns can reduce the stress of returns for customers and decrease the amount of time returned merchandise is in the reverse chain.

Classroom discussion questions:

  1. Why is reverse logistics important?
  2. Define a “closed loop supply chain.” (See Ch.11)

OM in the News: The Grocery Robot is Here

January 7, 2019


A Starship robot on its way to deliver groceries

The first time you encounter a fully self-driving commercial vehicle, odds are it will be delivering your groceries rather than ferrying you to your destination. There are a number of reasons things are trending this way, including laws, physics, the nature of existing infrastructure, and the size of the addressable markets. Autonomous delivery could transform all of retail, further accelerating the shift from stores to e-commerce. “With sufficiently inexpensive autonomous delivery services, we might stop going to the grocery store, or at least stop carrying our groceries home,” writes The Wall Street Journal (Jan. 5-6,2019).

In a demo that also took place in December, autonomous delivery company Nuro showed off a robot designed to drive on the street, at a maximum speed of 25 miles per hour. Half the width of a normal car, Nuro’s R1 robot is intended to sacrifice itself in the event of a crash with a cyclist, pedestrian or other vehicle. Making vehicles that don’t go too fast also allows these companies to make use of a regulatory loophole. A federal and state standard for “low-speed vehicles” has long allowed automakers to create vehicles that lack traditional safety features, as long as they move no faster than 25 mph.

Grocery delivery is especially ripe for disruption because at present it’s prohibitively expensive for most consumers. Between 2-4% of the $641 billion worth of groceries purchased every year in the U.S. are bought online. In 2017, Daimler invested in Starship, which makes a robot about the dimensions of a medium-size dog. The company’s robots are already making deliveries of both food and packages in the outskirts of London.

Classroom discussion questions:

  1. Why might delivery robots proliferate more quickly than driverless cars?
  2. What are some  of the disadvantages of autonomous delivery?

Video Tip: 45 Free Videos to Show in Class

January 3, 2019

We continue to offer adopters (and students using MyLab) our previous 41 Video Cases that cover Alaska Airlines, Orlando Magic basketball team, Frito-Lay, Darden/Red Lobster Restaurants, Hard Rock Cafe, Arnold Palmer Hospital, Wheeled Coach Ambulances, and Regal Marine. With our new edition, due out Jan. 15th, we have added five additional 6-10 minute videos featuring Celebrity Cruises. We take videos seriously and all of them are created by Jay, Chuck, and me to explicitly match text content and terminology.
Here is the complete list by Chapter (new videos in bold):

◆ Frito-Lay: Operations Management in Manufacturing (Chapter 1)
Celebrity Cruises: Operations Management at Sea (Chapter 1)
◆ Hard Rock Cafe: Operations Management in Services (Chapter 1)
◆ Strategy at Regal Marine (Chapter 2)
◆ Hard Rock Cafe’s Global Strategy (Chapter 2)
◆ Outsourcing Offshore at Darden (Chapter 2)
◆ Project Management at Arnold Palmer Hospital (Chapter 3)
◆ Managing Hard Rock’s Rockfest (Chapter 3)
◆ Forecasting Ticket Revenue for Orlando Magic Basketball Games (Chapter 4)
◆ Forecasting at Hard Rock Cafe (Chapter 4)
Celebrity Cruises Designs a New Ship (Chapter 5)
◆ Product Design at Regal Marine (Chapter 5)
◆ Building Sustainability at the Orlando Magic’s Amway Center (Supplement 5)
“Saving the Waves” at Celebrity Cruises (Supplement 5)
◆ Green Manufacturing and Sustainability at Frito-Lay (Supplement 5)
◆ Quality Counts at Alaska Airlines (Chapter 6)
◆ The Culture of Quality at Arnold Palmer Hospital (Chapter 6)
Celebrity Cruises: A Premium Experience (Chapter 6)
◆ Quality at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company (Chapter 6)
◆ Frito-Lay’s Quality-Controlled Potato Chips (Supplement 6)
◆ Farm to Fork: Quality at Darden Restaurants (Supplement 6)
◆ Alaska Airlines: 20-Minute Baggage Process—Guaranteed! (Chapter 7)
◆ Process Strategy at Wheeled Coach (Chapter 7)
◆ Process Analysis at Arnold Palmer Hospital (Chapter 7)
◆ Capacity Planning at Arnold Palmer Hospital (Supplement 7)
◆ Locating the Next Red Lobster Restaurant (Chapter 8)
◆ Where to Place the Hard Rock Cafe (Chapter 8)
◆ Facility Layout at Wheeled Coach (Chapter 9)
◆ Laying Out Arnold Palmer Hospital’s New Facility (Chapter 9)
◆ The “People” Focus: Human Resources at Alaska Airlines (Chapter 10)
◆ Hard Rock’s Human Resource Strategy (Chapter 10)
◆ Darden’s Global Supply Chains (Chapter 11)
◆ Supply Chain Management at Regal Marine (Chapter 11)
◆ Arnold Palmer Hospital’s Supply Chain (Chapter 11)
Inventory Management at Celebrity Cruises (Chapter 12)
◆ Managing Inventory at Frito-Lay (Chapter 12)
◆ Inventory Control at Wheeled Coach (Chapter 12)
◆ Using Revenue Management to Set Orlando Magic Ticket Prices (Chapter 13)
◆ When 18,500 Orlando Magic Fans Come to Dinner (Chapter 14)
◆ MRP at Wheeled Coach (Chapter 14)
◆ From the Eagles to the Magic: Converting the Amway Center (Chapter 15)
◆ Scheduling at Hard Rock Cafe (Chapter 15)
◆ Lean Operations at Alaska Airlines (Chapter 16)
◆ JIT at Arnold Palmer Hospital (Chapter 16)
◆ Maintenance Drives Profits at Frito-Lay (Chapter 17)
◆ Scheduling Challenges at Alaska Airlines (Module B)

If you choose to assign videos for students to watch on their own, there are 4 multiple choice discussion questions for each that can be assigned and graded by MyLab.

OM in the News: Going Green (and Light) for Amazon

December 31, 2018

“Amazon’s rise is forcing laundry detergents to shrink, writes The New York Times (Dec. 28, 2018). Tide and Seventh Generation have introduced redesigned laundry detergents that are several pounds lighter by cutting down on plastic in their packaging and using less water in their formulas. They’re making the changes to please Amazon: Lighter packaging means it costs less to ship the detergent to shopper’s doorsteps, making each sale more profitable.

Tide has cut down the plastic in packaging

For consumers, the new packaging has been designed to better survive shipping without leaking. The challenge, however, is getting online shoppers to buy detergent that looks nothing like the heavy bottles they are used to. Tide is putting its detergent into a cardboard box, making it 4 pounds lighter than its 150-ounce plastic bottles, but still able to wash the same 96 loads. Seventh Generation went with a compact plastic bottle that’s less than 9 inches tall, rectangular in shape and has no measuring cup.

Amazon may drop products from their website that cost too much to ship. Tide, owned by P&G, says its Eco-Box has 60% less plastic and uses 30% less water in its soap than its 150 ounce bottles. The boxed detergent doesn’t need to be packed in another box: online retailers can just slap an address on it. Seventh Generation, owned by Unilever, spent 3 years developing its smaller bottle. At 1.6 pounds, it is 5 pounds lighter than its standard 100 ounce bottle. It still washes the same 66 loads as the heavier one. The measuring cup was replaced with a cap that automatically squirts out the right amount of detergent needed for a single load of laundry. To make sure the new bottle could withstand delivery, it was sent to a laboratory that mimics the vibrations of Amazon’s warehouse conveyor belts, the bumps of a delivery truck and any accidental drops by warehouse workers.

Classroom discussion questions:

  1. Why is this an OM issue for Amazon?
  2. Why is product design an important part of sustainability?
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Andreas Wieland’s supply chain management blog for academics and managers

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Thoughts on continuous improvement: from TPS to XPS