Knowing the right questions to ask is the key to developing strategies to improve a business.
“Simple questions can have a big impact. They help you see the wood for the trees. One is, ‘What is the main constraint, i.e., the bottleneck, I face in my business?’ Sometimes the answer is obvious, and it’s money or time. Once you identify it, then you can put energy into devising a strategy to alleviate it,” says Guillaume Roels, assistant professor at the UCLA Anderson School of Management.
Smart Business spoke with Roels, who teaches a core course on operations and technology management for the Executive MBA program, about the class and takeaways students have incorporated in the workplace.
What subject material does the course cover?
It’s mostly process management. The key is learning to view organizations as processes and streamlining those processes. You start by defining a strategy, and operations management delivers that strategy. If your goal is to be price competitive, operations will enable reduced costs. If the strategy is to achieve high quality, that will be the focus.
The analogy I use is the engine of a car; operations are the engine of the company and deliver value to customers.
Are students already familiar with operations management?
Students come from a broad variety of backgrounds — some are entrepreneurs, some work at big corporations like Cisco, Walt Disney and Amgen. To a certain extent, all have been in a process. But they may not have thought about this notion of process. Typically, people see the work they do, but they don’t see the bigger picture. An attorney in the legal department in the gaming industry may not realize he or she is part of a process of product development and what he or she does impacts product design or a release date. Looking at an organization from a global perspective can have a large impact on efficiency and quality.
Starting from strategy, the class looks at operations and tries to eliminate waste and identify improvement opportunities. It’s a very practical course; students can apply tools they learn right away. It also helps them think more strategically on how to turn operations into a competitive advantage.
Can you provide examples of students applying these concepts?
One tool is a process flowchart, which helps visualize how work is done in an organization. A student from a Saturday afternoon class said he went back to his organization on Monday and started drawing a process flowchart.
For many students, time is their main constraint. They all have families, school and high-level positions, so they have limited time. For them, operations management is time management. So they can self-apply the operations lessons to make the most efficient use of their time.
Entrepreneurs, in particular, are known for under-delegating — the classic example is the owner who signs off on every bill the company pays. When you realize the value of your time, it can be better spent meeting with prospective clients and trying to raise funds.
What’s different about taking this course at UCLA compared to another Executive MBA program?
The East Coast is much more corporate. There’s a different way of doing business on the West Coast, particularly in Southern California. It’s part of the culture and the high-tech industries here — aeronautics, biotechnology — very specific types typically not found on the East Coast. That’s reflected in the classroom; it’s very diverse, much more than a traditional school. They’re from a broad set of small and large companies, and it makes the discussion very rich.
Students develop lifelong relationships, and there’s a great feeling of community. Often, former students call and want to talk about a problem they’re experiencing at work. That problem usually doesn’t require any in-depth consultation; it’s a matter of making sure they’re asking the right questions and adopting a holistic perspective on the problem they’re trying to solve. ?
Guillaume Roels is an assistant professor at UCLA Anderson School of Management. Reach him at (310) 825-6749 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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