As an organization develops plans and strategies to deal with the opportunities and challenges that arise in its particular operating environment, it should design a system that is capable of producing quality services and goods in demanded quantities in acceptable time frames. 


Designing the System

 Designing the system begins with product development. Product development involves determining the characteristics and features of the good (or service if engaged in a service-oriented industry) to be sold.  It should begin with assessment of customer needs and eventually grow into a detailed product design. The facilities and equipment that will produce the product, as well as the information systems needed to monitor and control performance, are part of this system design process. 

In fact, manufacturing process decisions are integral to a system’s ultimate success or failure. Of all the structural decisions that the operations manager faces, the one with the greatest impact on the manufacturing operation’s success is the process/technology choice.  This decision addresses the question ‘How will the product be made?’ Product development should be a cross-functional decision-making process that relies on teamwork and communication to install the marketing, financial, and operating plans needed to successfully launch a product. 


Product design is a critical task because it determines the characteristics and features of the product, as well as how the product functions. Product design determines a product’s cost and quality, as well as its features and performance.  These are important factors on which customers make purchasing decisions. 


Process design describes how the product will be made. The process design decision has two major components: a technical (or engineering) component and a scale economy (or business) component.  The technical component includes selecting equipment and selecting a sequence for various phases of operational production. 


The scale economy of business component involves applying the proper amount of mechanization (tools and equipment) to make the organization’s workforce more productive. This include: determining 1) If the demand for a product is large enough to justify mass production; 2) If there is sufficient variety in customer demand so that flexible production systems are required; and 3) If demand for a product is so small or seasonal that it cannot support a dedicated production facility.

Facility design involves determining the capacity, location, and layout for the production facility. Capacity is a measure of an organization’s ability to provide the demanded services or goods in the quantity requested by the customer in a timely manner. Capacity planning involves estimating demand, determining the capacity of facilities, and deciding how to change the organization’s capacity to respond to the demand. 


Facility location is the placement of a facility with respect to its customers and suppliers. Facility location is a strategic decision because it is a long-term commitment that cannot easily be inexpensively be changed. When evaluating a location, management should consider customer convenience, initial investment necessary to secure land and facilities, government incentives, and operating transportation costs.  In addition, qualitative factors such as quality of life for employees, transportation infrastructure, and labor environment should also be taken under consideration. 


Facility layout is the arrangement of the work space within a facility. It considers which departments or work areas should be adjacent to one another so that the flow of product, information, and people can move quickly and efficiently through the production system.


Planning the System

 Planning the system describes how management expects to utilize the existing resource base created as a result of the production system design. One of the outcomes of this planning process may be to change the system design to cope with environmental changes. For example, management may decide to increase or decrease capacity to cope with changing demand, or rearrange layout to enhance efficiency. 

Decisions made by production planners depend on the time horizon. Long-range decisions could include the number of facilities required to meet customer needs or studying how technological change might affect the methods used to produce services and goods. The time horizon for long-term planning varies with the industry and is dependent on both complexity and size of proposed changes. 


Typically, however, long-term planning may involve determining work force size, developing training programs, working with suppliers to improve product quality and improve delivery systems, and determining the amount of material to order on an aggregate basis. Short-term scheduling, on the other hand, is concerned with production planning for specific job orders (who will do the job, what equipment will be used, which materials will be consumed, when the work will begin and end, and what mode of transportation will be used to deliver the product when the order is completed). 


Managing the System

Managing the system involves working with people to encourage participation and improve organizational performance. Participative management and teamwork are an essential part of successful operations, as are leadership, training, and culture. In addition, material management and quality are two key areas of concern.

Material management includes decisions regarding the procurement, control, handling, storage, and distribution of materials. Material management is becoming more important because, in many organizations, the costs of purchased materials comprise more than 50 percent of the total production cost.  Questions regarding quantities and timing of material orders need to be addressed when companies weigh the qualities of various supplies.


Building Success With Operations

To understand operations and how they contribute to the success of an organization, it is important to understand the strategic nature of operations, the value-added nature of operations, the impact technology can have on performance, and the globally competitive market place.


Efficient organization operations are a vital tool in achieving competitive advantage in the daily contest for customers/clients.  What factors influence buying decisions for these entities? For most services and goods, price, quality, product performance and features, product variety, and availability of the product are critical. All these factors are substantially influenced by actions taken in operations. For example, when productivity increases, product costs decline and product price can be reduced. Similarly, as better production methods are developed, quality and variety may increase.


By linking operations and operating strategies with the overall strategy of the organization (including engineering, financial, marketing, and information system strategy) synergy can result.  Operations become a positive factor when facilities, equipment, and employee training are viewed as a means to achieve organizational objectives, rather than as narrowly focused departmental objectives. In recognition of this evolving viewpoint, the criteria for judging operations is changing from  cost control (a narrowly defined operating objective) to global performance measurements in such areas as product performance and variety, product quality, delivery time, customer service, and operational flexibility.


In today’s business environment, a key component of operational flexibility in many industries is technological knowledge. Advances in technology make it possible to build better products using fewer resources. As technology fundamentally changes a product, its performance and quality often increases dramatically, making it a more highly valued commodity in the marketplace.  But the growth in high-tech business applications has created new competitions as well, making it important for business to try to register advantages in any and all areas of operations management. 


Over time, operations management has grown in scope and increased in importance. Today, it has elements that are strategic, it relies on behavioral and engineering concepts, and it utilizes management science/operations research tools and techniques for systematic decision-making and problem-solving. As operations management continues to develop, it will increasingly interact with other functional areas within the organization to develop integrated answers to complex interdisciplinary problems. Indeed, such interaction is widely regarded as essential to long-term business success for small business establishments and multinational corporations alike.


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Bernard Taiwo

I am Management strategist, Editor and Publisher.

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