Filed under: Classes, Life at Rady, Transformational Thinking
Some argue that the value of an MBA is diminished by the fact that one can learn just about everything the MBA teaches by buying MBA-level textbooks from Amazon. However, the MBA isn’t just about learning. It is about immersion and transformational thinking. Let me give you an example.
My operations class has totally ruined (in a good way) my perceptions of the world around me.
The other day I found myself somewhere, bored and with my iPhone. I decided to hit the App Store on my phone and see if there were any free games to occupy my free time. I found this cool game called “Burger Queen.” Here’s a preview.
The basic gist of this game is to deliver a variety of fast food items to customers. You are rewarded with cash and tips based on the total orders you fulfill, the speed of delivery and the quality of the items delivered. At first, things run smoothly. You only produce one type of burger (no variety). The flow rate (Ri) of customers is constant and predictable. You can pretty much deliver using a just-in-time strategy. As you progress through the levels, Operations Management begins to rear its tiger teeth.
First, the game introduces more variety than just a regular hamburger. Customers start wanting cheeseburgers, cheeseburgers with lettuce and/or tomato, and then chicken sandwiches! It is manageable at first, but you soon discover you need to stack safety inventory as your restaurant goes from a continuous flow operation to a certified job shop.
Burgers and chicken sandwiches are pretty easy to manufacture. You can build them as fast as you can tap and you are the bottleneck. You can quickly build a safety inventory burger empire.
However, the game soon introduces processes that require more time. You’ve got a fryer that can make either French Fries or Onion Rings. Further, how long you leave the fries or onions in the fryer (process variability) will determine their quality. Leave them too long, and you’ve got product out of specifications (and wasted). You’ve got a soda machine that has cola, lime, and orange. The sodas take time to fill (even more process variability). How about a cold treat? Yep, there’s ice cream too. And then you have the ultimate in product variety: customers that demand “sets” of different items that must be packaged and delivered all at once to appease them…
Now, as I’m playing this puzzle game, I’ve got Ops homework in the back of my mind. Where’s my operations frontier? I want to be responsive, but with high variability my customers begin to queue. They get angry and leave! If I don’t meet my revenue targets, I’m done. But I’m not just seeing Ops in Burger Queen. I see Ops in Starbucks, at the grocery store, in traffic. And now I understand why In-N-Out keeps their menu so simple. It’s all about limiting variability to maximize throughput!
So, when Operations Management becomes a part of your everyday thoughts, you can start to see how an MBA’s transformational thinking can have a big impact on you. I think if I just bought the class’s “Managing Business Process Flows” book and read through it, I probably wouldn’t be applying Little’s Law at every opportunity.