What is: Operations Management

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IMG_3005Professor Barry Thomas likes to keep things lively for first-year MBA students in his Operations Management class, whether that’s by punctuating lectures with Star Wars references or sharing an awesome and relevant video of his in-class concepts in practice.

Wednesday’s class was focused on process improvement, but it was far from the lectures I’d experienced in my undergraduate Operations Management class.

Rather than sit through a boring lecture about manufacturing, we actually manufactured – and learned a lot about how to improve our process. Our task was to act as a manufacturing company of paper boxes. We divided up into 5 groups and assigned roles to each person.

There were stations for line drawing, labeling, folding, cutting and stapling our boxes together. To move our inventory between each station were “forklift drivers” – people who carried supplies in batches of 4 from one station to the next.

Quickly jumping into the task at hand, the groups began hastily making boxes. Students buzzed rapidly from station to station, and paper seemed to multiply, literally filling the room.

We were interrupted at the end of our 8-minute round and asked to count our work-in-progress (WIP), finished boxes and defects. This led to the discussion of product quality, as we discovered that all of the boxes we had made were defects.

Interestingly, product quality not only refers to the quality of the product itself, but also how that product fulfills the customer’s needs. After learning to ask lots of questions about what our “customer” wanted, we then had the chance to come up with innovative ways to improve our process of making paper boxes. Visual controls and other methods of process improvement were implemented into the manufacturing process; and while each group chose a different strategy, all of the outcomes were much better.

All in all, Wednesday’s class was a great way to learn the concept of process improvement in a real world application… Well a sort of real world application. Anyone want to buy a paper box?

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Sarah Arter

About Sarah Arter

Sarah is a first year MBA candidate in the Marketing Academy at Tippie School of Management. Previously, she worked in supply chain management at Alcoa in Davenport. Sarah majored in Marketing and minored in Art at the University of Iowa. She hopes to combine her passion for the arts with the business skills gained at Tippie into a successful career.