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Teaching Tip: The 8 Minute OM Lecture

September 3, 2015

lectureFor decades, I taught operations management at Rollins College in classes that met once a week–in 3 hour time blocks for full time students, 4 hour classes for EMBAs. Yet numerous studies have demonstrated that students retain little of our OM lectures, with research on determining the “average attention span” congregating around 8-10 minutes (see Attention Span Statistics, 2015 or BBC, 2010). So maybe it is time to try a new approach, the 8-minute lecture, advocated in Faculty Focus (Aug. 31, 2015).

How to implement the 8-minute lecture
1. Prepare students – Explain your teaching methodology and your rationale for doing things a certain way. This helps manage students’ expectations. Many of our business students expect to mostly listen to lectures and take notes. They are less accustomed to an active learning environment that involves debates on readings (which this blog’s OM in the News articles provide for you to share with your class), small group discussions and report-backs, quick multiple choice clicker quizzes, problem sets, and short lectures.

2. Redesign/rewrite lectures – Review your lectures to identify natural breaks. Where can you pause without losing meaning? How can you use students’ knowledge from their homework and previous learning as a scaffold? For example, when covering Location Analysis (Chapter 8), your 1st lecture might be on global location decisions, 2nd on 1-2 quantitative measures, 3rd on service strategies, etc.

3. Look for areas in your lecture that instead can be learned from an image, video (there are 35 free 6-12 minute videos we have created to accompany the text), or interactive activity, and substitute accordingly. Cull through the content until you have eliminated 2/3 of your lecture material.

4. Once this topic is fully explored, give another 8-minute lecture, and then engage students in a new activity that teaches the next learning objective. At the end of class, test to ensure that the objectives had been met by asking students for a 2-to-3-sentence note card summarizing their learning.

Hopefully, the success of this method of interspersing mini-lectures with activities, discussions, and time for reflection will be validated by students’ final exam scores.

Good OM Reading: The Myth of the Ethical Supply Chain

September 1, 2015
Inside the Tazreen garment factory after the fire

Inside the Tazreen garment factory after the fire

The anti-sweatshop mania burst into the mainstream in the mid-90’s. Naked people chanted outside the opening of an Old Navy, Jennifer Love Hewitt led an anti-sweatshop protest, Kathie Lee Gifford cried in front of Congress. Nearly every major apparel brand was the target of a boycott campaign. In response, the companies adopted codes of conduct, banning workers under 16 and forced overtime—then expanding to health, safety, and environmental protection. Since 1998, Nike has followed U.S. clean air standards in all of its factories worldwide, while Levi’s gives financial literacy classes to some of its seamstresses. An entire ecosystem of independent inspectors sprung up.

However, it’s not the largest companies that are the issue. In the last 25 years, as the big brands were getting better at monitoring their supply chains, the entire global apparatus of manufacturing shifted. In the fast-fashion era, Western brands couldn’t afford the luxury of working with the same suppliers and ensuring that they meet the company’s standards. Most of them outsourced this coordination to megasuppliers: huge conglomerates that can take a design sketch, split the production between 1,000’s of factories, box up the goods and ship them to stores.

Recall that in 2012, as the fire alarm went off in a Tazreen garment factory in Bangladesh, over 1,200 workers were scrambling to complete orders for Western brands: Dickies, Wal-Mart, Disney. After 100 workers died, NGOs focused on how Wal-Mart was responsible for 60% of the clothing being produced there. But Wal-Mart never actually placed an order with Tazreen. A year before the fire, Wal-Mart inspected the factory and discovered that it was unsafe. By the time of the fire, it had banned its suppliers from using it. So how did its products end up at Tazreen anyway? Wal-Mart had hired a megasupplier called Success Apparel to fill an order. Success hired another company, Simco, to carry out the work. Simco—without telling Success, much less Wal-Mart—sub-contracted the order to Tazreen’s parent company, the Tuba Group, which then assigned it to Tazreen. Two other 4th and 5th tier contractors also placed Wal-Mart orders at Tazreen, again without telling the company.

This lengthy, but highly readable, article in The Huffington Post, is a perfect supplement to your discussion of SCM in Chapter 11.

OM in the News: The Psychology of Queuing at the Bus Stop

August 29, 2015

busAnyone who’s ever relied on public transportation knows that waiting can be the worst part. Even with apps that provide arrival estimates, riders can still find themselves at a loss—straining in hopes of seeing train lights in the distance, or checking phones while wondering what on earth is holding up a delayed bus. But a new study, reports The Atlantic (Aug. 18, 2015), suggests that the feelings of frustration associated with waiting can differ significantly depending on how filthy a station is, and that simple improvements could make wait time seem much shorter.

In general, the U. of Minnesota study found that riders typically overestimate shorter wait times and underestimate longer wait times (i.e. riders who waited for about 2 minutes felt like they’d waited for 5, but riders who waited for 10 minutes felt like they’d only stood around for 9.)

But that general principle was beholden to strong external factors: Riders who waited at stops where there was lots of pollution and traffic significantly overestimated their wait times. The effect was especially pronounced for those who were waiting for longer than 5 minutes, with those who waited for their rides for 10 minutes in areas that they felt were noisier and dirtier reporting that they had waited for over 12 minutes. Researchers also found a simple mitigating factor: trees. The presence of mature trees helped make wait times feel less painful, for both short and long waits, and even in areas where other negative factors were present.

Coping with tardy, inefficient, and dilapidated transit is the reality of commuters in many of America’s major metro areas. And in some places, things seem to be getting worse, not better. For instance, train delays increased 45% between 2013 and 2014 in New York City. Improving the experience of public transportation could start with something as simple as sprucing up aging and dilapidated stops, increasing their safety, and adding greenery. It might not lessen the queue time, but it may seem shorter.

Classroom discussion questions:

  1. Provide other examples of how a queue can seem to move faster.
  2. What else can operations managers do to lower the traveler’s frustration level?

Guest Post: Amazon vs. The New York Times

August 27, 2015

Our Guest Post today comes from Lawrence M. Miller, at

Last week the New York Times published an important article on Amazon and its very competitive, demanding culture. (Jay and Barry’s OM Blog summarized the issue on August 18th). I think the Times piece and the response to it from Jeff Bezos are important reading. Here is my take:

Amazon has grown in the highly competitive Internet and technology environment and is daily competing to bring new products and services to market. They have succeeded so far because of the intensity of their culture. They have been in the conquering “barbarian” stage of expansion and they are deliberately trying to hold on to that culture beyond the point at which it normally drifts into a more stable and comfortable state. Culturally, it is still a start up! And start-ups, fighting for their lives and to grab a piece of market territory that they can call their own, live at a level of intensity that makes many extremely uncomfortable. They are at war!

My guess is that Amazon is straddling the Barbarian and Builder/Explorer stage of my life cycle model. This is a good place to be in an external environment that is filled with rapidly emerging competitors and changing technologies. If you aren’t conquering you are probably about to be conquered!

Managing the culture of a company is like tuning a stringed instrument: over tighten and it makes a squealing sound; under tighten and it sounds dead. What is too much pressure for one person is not for another. If a company wants to grow, it needs to maintain that “creative dissatisfaction” that drives employees to innovate and perform at a high level. On the other hand, it wants a culture that does not drive away the most creative and capable. Amazon could not have succeeded as it has if its culture was driving away its most talented. It can’t be that bad!



OM in the News: Wendy’s Blackberry Supply Chain Troubles

August 26, 2015


It will have taken three years and a search involving more than 30 growers for Wendy’s to procure enough blackberries for a new salad it plans to offer next summer, reports The Wall Street Journal (Aug.19, 2015). “It’s been a slow, painful journey for us,” says the head of procurement. “We spent 14 months scavenging around the industry, looking at more suppliers than we ever have.” Wendy’s quest for the nearly 2 million pounds of blackberries it will need to embellish a seasonal salad at its 6,500 North American restaurants illustrates the challenges large chains are trying to digest as they seek to keep up with growing demand for fresh ingredients.

Wendy’s installed salad bars in restaurants in 1979, but the toppings have grown from simple tomatoes and croutons to include strawberries, blueberries, almonds and edamame. And it has accelerated the pace of product introductions, with seven new salads in the past two years. Fresh ingredients present a challenge for big chains because of their sprawling supply chains and rapid, repeatable preparation processes.

Adding blackberries posed Wendy’s most difficult supply-chain challenge ever. Most blackberries are sold to grocery stores, leaving little supply for restaurants. To meet Wendy’s needs, growers had to plant extra bushes, which take three years to produce mature fruit. Wendy’s normally reviews two to five suppliers for each type of produce it uses, but the company went through more than 30 before finding a pair that could supply enough blackberries. To maintain consistency, Wendy’s sends franchisees instruction cards dictating how the berries should be washed, cut and placed on the salads. Restaurants also need to ensure worker safety for all the slicing fresh produce requires—workers must wear chainmail mesh gloves—and to ensure the added prep work doesn’t slow service.

Classroom discussion questions:

  1. Are other fast food chains facing similar supply chain issues?
  2. Why are fruits and vegetables so important in fast-food restaurants today?

Video Tip: Starting Your Fall Semester With Videos

August 24, 2015

magicStarting about 20 years ago, with our 6th edition, Jay and I began developing a series of company video and cases. They have ranged  from manufacturers of potato chips, boats, and ambulances, to service firms like a hospital, an NBA team, Red Lobster, and Hard Rock.  The videos are brief (5 – 12 minutes) and tie directly to the content of a specific text chapter.  There may be as many as seven videos on one company (such as Arnold Palmer Hospital or Hard Rock Café) and students seem to like following one or two organizations throughout the text/semester.  We are very pleased, that over the years, our 35 videos have won many awards, including 2 Silver Addy’s for the best short video, selected from 10,000’s of entries each year. We are even up for an Emmy award for one of our Orlando Magic videos!

hard rockI have always started the first week of the semester with one or both of the following:  Hard Rock Café: OM in Services (8 minutes) and Frito-Lay:  OM in Manufacturing (7 minutes).  The first shows how a service firm that is known throughout the world approaches some of the 10 OM decisions around which we structure the text.  This firm is especially interesting because it is a lot more than a restaurant. We show that Hard Rock makes almost the same revenue from its small retail shops as it does from the food side of the house.

The second video provides a perfect contrast to Hard Rock and makes for a great class discussion on how manufacturers differ from service firms.  Frito-Lay is also a product everyone knows.  But this company does not let outsiders in to tour, and has proprietary processes that even we were not allowed to film.  This video reviews how Frito-Lay deals with all 10 of the decisions that OM managers have to make.

I hope our video series helps get your Fall, 2015 semester off to a successful start. And there is more to come, as we introduce five new videos featuring OM at Alaska Airlines in January, 2016!

OM in the News: Shell Oil’s Artic Project Gamble

August 22, 2015

shell oil“In a windowless conference room in Anchorage,” writes BusinessWeek (Aug. 5-12, 2015), “a dozen Royal Dutch Shell employees report on the highest-profile oil project in the multinational’s vast global portfolio.” Warmed by mid-July temperatures, Arctic ice in the Chukchi Sea, northwest of the Alaskan mainland, is receding. Storms are easing; helicopter flights will soon resume. Underwater volcanoes are dormant. “That’s good news for us,” said Shell’s top Alaska executive.

Overhead, a bank of video monitors displays radar images of an armada of Shell vessels converging on a prospect called Burger J. Company geologists believe that beneath Burger J—70 miles offshore and 800 miles from the Anchorage command center—lie up to 15 billion barrels of oil. An additional 11 billion barrels are thought to be buried due east under the Beaufort Sea. All told, Arctic waters cover 13% of the world’s undiscovered petroleum–enough to supply the U.S. for more than a decade.

Surprise lurks in the Chukchi, whose frigid waters span from Alaska to Siberia. Logistical and legal obstacles have repeatedly delayed the Arctic initiative, on which Shell is spending more than $1 billion a year—more than $7 billion so far and counting. The single well in Chukchi that Shell aims to excavate this summer could be the most expensive on earth, and it hasn’t yielded its first barrel.

Activists have sued; judges have intervened. In 2010, work stopped when the Obama administration temporarily suspended offshore drilling throughout the U.S. Back in action in 2012, Shell suffered a maritime fiasco when ship engines conked out and a massive drill barge ran aground, requiring a Coast Guard rescue. Even against this challenging economic backdrop, Shell won’t postpone or downsize its Arctic dreams. The offshore Alaska field has the potential to be multiple times larger than the largest prospects in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico. But to put it mildly, Shell is assuming immense project management operational risks to drill in the Arctic.

Classroom discussion questions:

  1. Why are project management tools so critical to Shell?
  2. Why is Shell carrying out such a vast project?
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