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Guest Post: A Class Exercise Relating Productivity and the Olympics

February 17, 2014
HowardWeiss2Howard Weiss is Professor of Operations Management at Temple University. He has developed both POM for Windows and Excel OM for our text
When I teach productivity, I like to explain to the students that while output/input seems simple, it can be difficult to assess.  The Heizer/Render textbook includes multifactor productivity (Chapter 1) where the multiple factors are all inputs, and I like to ask my students to take it a step further.

There are many web sites that list the Olympic medal count for any Olympics. I show my students the top medal-winning countries from one of the more recent Olympics, such as those listed at

When I am in the classroom I ask my students, “What information would you want in order to answer the question, “Which of the 5 countries shown below was the most productive in the 2012 Olympics?” This raises many interesting issues. Students will discuss the different inputs that might be used such as population, dollars spent training the Olympians and number of athletes competing. Some students will note that different outputs can be used. For example, outputs could be total medals or a weighted average of gold, silver and bronze medals. For the 2012 Olympics, I point out that based on the sorting in Wikipedia, it is using only gold measures, as its output measure as can be seen when comparing Great Britain and Russia or South Korea and Germany.

I also ask the students to find websites that list the countries in a manner that we would call productivity. This web site has a graph of the top 8 countries based on medals per athlete while this one includes the inverse of productivity in its table on athletes per medal.

The students generally find this to be a fun exercise and appreciate that inputs and outputs may not be as simple as one might think. In the course of searching for Olympic productivity on web sites, they also find sites that are interesting even though the site does not answer the productivity question. One example is this site, which explains that American workers are less productive during the Olympics. Finally, the exercise was very timely this past week since the Olympics are currently going on.

One Comment leave one →
  1. February 17, 2014 10:39 am

    This an excellent example of the complexities in determining the correlates of a particular variable, such as productivity. Thank you for the teaching tip, Prof. Weiss. Your exercise again illustrates that research is an art as well as a science.

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