Operations Article

Venkatesh Shankar’s picture

By: Venkatesh Shankar

A quarter of a century ago, on July 5, 1994, a company that shared a name with the world’s largest river was incorporated. It sold books to customers who got to its website through a dial-up modem.

It wasn’t the first bookstore to sell online. (Books.com launched in 1992.) But it behaved like a local store, whose shopkeeper knew customers by name; a bell even rang in the company’s Seattle headquarters every time an order was placed.

Amazon’s founder, Jeff Bezos, set his sights on making it an “everything store.” The company would go on to become not just an everything store, but an “everything company.”

Today, 25 years later, Amazon has reshaped retailing permanently. It is one of the top three most valuable companies in the world, with a market capitalization hovering around $1 trillion, greater than the GDP of nearly 200 countries.

Ryan E. Day’s picture

By: Ryan E. Day

Industrial Custom Products (ICP) is a world leader in prototyping, developing, and manufacturing high-quality OEM and custom thermoformed and vacuum formed plastic components, as well as die cut and dieless knife-cut parts. What makes ICP unique among its competitors is its award-winning quality, on-time delivery rate of 99.5 percent, and a dazzling 22 ppm reject rate.

As an ISO 9001:2015 registered company, ICP is serious about quality. In fact, ICP has been awarded the Polaris Industries Award of Excellence a whopping eight times in a row. How does this company do it? One contributing factor is investing in appropriate technology and infrastructure to reduce bottlenecks that increase the cost of quality and reduce profitability.

Investing in infrastructure

Jesse Lyn Stoner’s picture

By: Jesse Lyn Stoner

Positive thinking can do wonders for your attitude. But it won’t make a difference in achieving your goals. Instead of just thinking positively (and vaguely) about what you want to accomplish, use mental imagery to ensure your success. These five tips show how to get the most from mental imagery.

The power of mental imagery

I first became aware of the power of mental imagery in 1976 when the USSR stunned the world by walking away with most of the Olympic gold medals. At first people suspected the athletes had been taking drugs, but it turned out that was not the case. They had discovered that when athletes supplemented their practice through visualization, not only were they better prepared to compete in a variety of conditions, but their motivation and self-confidence also increased.

Caroline Preston’s picture

By: Caroline Preston

There’s a lot of anxiety out there about robots gobbling up our jobs. One oft-cited Oxford University study predicts that up to 47 percent of U.S. jobs are vulnerable to automation. Other research suggests the share is much lower. But while the exact numbers may be debated, there’s little question that technology is changing quickly and reconfiguring the tasks many of us do.

As the labor market demands different and evolving skills, what does that mean for higher education? Is a four-year degree still the best way to obtain a well-paying job? And what subjects and experiences do students need exposure to while they’re in college?

Victor Prince’s picture

By: Victor Prince

If you work long enough, you will have a micro-managing boss or two. These bosses think they know your job better than you do. Maybe they had your job before they got promoted to management. They focus on how you do your job instead of on the results you produce. They think that because you are doing your job differently than they would, you must be doing it incorrectly. Micro-management is a big driver of dissatisfaction and attrition in the workplace.

Gwendolyn Galsworth’s picture

By: Gwendolyn Galsworth

We have been examining motion and moving without working, the footprint of the invisible enemy: missing information. Added up, motion—in all its thousand and perverse forms—can steal 10 percent to 30 percent of our usable workday. Its impact is huge. We know the cure: Replace recurrent questions with visual answers, and motion dissolves because information deficits disappear. Do this by implementing visual workplace technologies, and the gain is companywide.

Multiple Authors
By: Sameer Hasija, Vivek Choudhary

One fine morning in 1909, Henry Ford made a surprise announcement during a company meeting. In the future, Ford Motor would stick to a single car model, the Model T, in black only. No other choices, or as he said, “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black.” The lesser-known part of the story is the reaction of the sales executives present: They were livid.

As Ford put it in his biography: “I cannot say that any one agreed with me.” In fact, equally unimpressed with his decision that the car would be affordable, observers started wondering: “How soon will Ford blow up?”

Of course, we now know that Ford was onto something. The Model T sold for another 18 years, and additional colors returned only in the last year of production. Ford pioneered standardized mass production with its single-minded goal of minimizing operating costs. The Model T came in black because it was the hue that dried the fastest.

Jeffrey Phillips’s picture

By: Jeffrey Phillips

As Malcolm Gladwell and other business writers have found, it is entirely possible to write a compelling article around a rather obvious point, and still hold the reader’s attention. As an example I draw your attention to this article, titled “Why Corporate Innovation Is So Hard.”

The article was obviously written by a communications master because it has an attractive title that seems to address an intractable problem—and suggest an answer. It’s also based on a premise that seems inescapable: Too many companies fail to innovate because they trust their existing understanding and the existing perceptions of the way the world and the market work, while missing key signals that a disrupter finds, interprets, and implements.

Brian Lagas’s picture

By: Brian Lagas

‘Why are our changeovers taking so long?”

If you’ve asked this question on the shop floor, more than likely you were met with blank stares by your employees. Open-ended questions like this are overwhelming, so employees try to find quick answers that don’t really address the problem. They don’t have a starting point to form an answer.

But what if you asked a question with a specific, achievable goal, such as:

“What steps can we take to reduce changeover time by 15 minutes?”

You’ve then provided your employees with a measurable goal in the form of a question. Your workers may feel empowered to answer with some hands-on suggestions for incremental changes, such as reducing setup steps or combining workstations. This in turn could not only reduce changeover time, but also significantly eliminate wait times and inventories.

Knowledge at Wharton’s picture

By: Knowledge at Wharton

CEOs are stepping forward to confront public policy issues that often extend beyond their core business, in part at the urging of their employees, write Caroline Kaeb and David Scheffer in this opinion piece. Kaeb is co-chair of the Business and Human Rights Pillar and a senior fellow of the Zicklin Center for Business Ethics Research at Wharton. David Scheffer is the Mayer Brown/Robert A. Helman professor of law at Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law.

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