Designing an Operations Strategy


A business strategy gives the aims of your whole business. Each of the core functions without the business has its own functional strategy. Operations are the activities which are directly concerned with making a product, and the related long-term decisions form the operations strategy.

The operations strategy gives the link between more abstract business plans and final products. The business strategy describes general aims, while the operations strategy looks at the products and processes which will achieve these.

The operations strategy is concerned with matching what the organization is good at with what the customer wants. It answers questions like:

  • What type of products do we make?
  • How wide a range of products do we offer?
  • What types of process do we use?
  • What technology do we use?
  • How do we maintain high quality?
  • What geographical areas do we work in?
  • How can we plan capacity and get economies of scale?

Other core functions have their own strategies, these must be coordinated to contribute to the overall business strategy. An operations strategy of mass production, for example, must have an associated marketing strategy of mass sales, and a finance strategy of heavy capital investment.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, and my Lectures.

Shifting Attitudes


One of the most difficult issues facing many high-tech and industrial companies is how to overcome the lack of strategic thinking about market segments that has historically been a serious deficiency. For years, and in many cases generations, the management of these companies has looked for ways to strengthen R&D, sales, and/or production activities without a clear focus on defined market needs. Now these same managers must reorient their thinking first to define specific segments and then to determine what it takes to serve these segments more effectively than the competition. This attitudinal shift is much more fundamental than it sounds. For the many executives who have talked a good game of marketing without doing much different must now provide the leadership and direction to ensure that R&D, production, and sales activities are specifically geared to the requirements of selected market segments.

To change the corporation’s mind-set to strategic market segmentation, multiple-level and intensive management development programs are usually necessary. When managers have typically advanced through engineering and manufacturing or “operations,” a strategic market segment orientation is even more needed. These managers must learn that market segmentation and market selection are the starting points for all decisions and action programs.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, Lectures, Line of Sight

Strategic Decisions


There are three central characteristics of strategic decision making:

  1. Strategic decisions that affect the very survival of the firm;
  2. The effects of a decision last a long time, perhaps five to ten years;
  3. The long range effects of a decision are very hard to forecast.

Actually, the first characteristic is really the definition of a strategic decision. The other two characteristics follow from it. If we could correct a bad decision of any size within a year or two, then it would be less likely to harm the firm permanently. And it should be clear that any decision whose effects last for many years will be extremely difficult to forecast.

Difficulties of long-range forecasting include:

  1. Long-range forecasts are usually ill-structured; that is, it is impossible to make a really good mathematical model of what is being forecasted.
  2. Forecasting accuracy drops off rapidly as one looks further into the future. This is essentially because unforeseeable change accumulate as we peer further and further ahead.
  3. Forecasts need to mix subjective and objective information, since different kinds of information are being captured.
  4. The longer the horizon, the less objective information is available, the worse models will be, and the more we must rely on subjective forecasts.

Given that huge financial stakes are involved and that strategic decisions have a long horizon with poor forecasts available, it is hardly surprising that most Operations Management texts do not delve deeply into this problem. Many methods which are in practical use are not deeply quantitive, and are, in any event, difficult to describe and justify. Nevertheless, manufacturing executives do not have the luxury of ignoring strategic decision making and must be careful consumers of the best available methods.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, Line of Sight

Empowering People


Empowerment gives people more control over – and responsibility for – their work. It is based on the idea that those most closely involved with operations are in the best position to make decisions about them. So it delegates responsibility as far as possible, with people using their knowledge and abilities to manage the details of their own job, free from the instructions and control of a more remote supervisor.

 

You can see the difference when you go into a shop to exchange some garment. Marks and Spencer has empowered employees, and the first person you meet will happily refund your money or change the garment as you prefer.

 

There are five main types of management style:

  1. I decide and you do – which is the traditional authoritarian approach;
  2. We discuss and I decide – which involves some discussion but responsibility remains at the higher level;
  3. We discuss and we decide – which is more collaborative and has some real delegation of control, but ultimately authority and responsibility remains with the senior manager;
  4. We discuss and you decide – which delegates most control of the decision;
  5. You decide and I’ll help if needed – where the senior manager hands over control, and acts as a coach and consultant if needed.

 The last level is closest to empowerment and is the approach that is becoming more widely accepted. As Bill Gates says, ‘Empowering leadership means bringing out the energies and capabilities people have and getting them to work together in a way they wouldn’t do otherwise.’

 

Empowerment gives more authority to people lower down the organization, and it also puts more demand on them. They must be willing to accept this responsibility, be able to make good decisions, work without supervision and probably form part of a team which completes in identifiable part of the whole process.

 

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please contact www.asifjmir.com, Line of Sight

Increasing Knowledge Intensity


Knowledge (information, intelligence, and expertise) is the basis of technology and application. In the 21st Century competitive landscape, knowledge is a critical organizational resource  and is increasingly a valuable source of competitive advantage. Because of this, many companies now strive to transmute the accumulated knowledge of individual employees into a corporate asset. Some argue that the value of intangible assets, including knowledge, is growing as a proportion of total shareholder value. The probability of achieving strategic competitiveness in the 21st Century competitive landscape is enhanced for the firm that realizes that its survival depends on the ability to capture intelligence, transform it into usable knowledge, and diffuse it rapidly throughout the company. Firms that accept this challenge shift their focus from merely obtaining the information to exploiting the information to gain a competitive advantage over rival firms.

 

Conditions in the 21st Century competitive landscape shows that firms must be able to adapt quickly to achieve strategic competitiveness and earn above average returns. The term strategic flexibility describes a firm’s ability to do this. Strategic flexibility is a set of capabilities firms use to respond to various demands and opportunities that are a part of dynamic and uncertain competitive environments. Firms should develop strategic flexibility in all areas of their operations. Such capabilities in terms of manufacturing allow firms to “switch gears—form, for example, rapid product development to low cost—relatively quickly and with minimum resources.

 

To achieve strategic flexibility, many firms have to develop organizational slack. Slack resources allow the firm some flexibility to respond to environmental changes. When the changes required are large, firms may have to undergo strategic reorientations. Such reorientations can drastically change a firm’s competitive strategy. Strategic reorientations are often the result of a firm’s poor performance. For example, when a firm earns negative returns, its stakeholders are likely to place pressure on the top executives to make major changes. To be strategically flexible on a continuing basis, a firm has to develop the capability to learn. The learning continuously provides the firm with new and current sets of skills. This allows the firm to adapt to its environment as it encounters changes.

 

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please contact www.asifjmir.com, Line of Sight

Focusing Operations


At the heart of every organization are the operations that actually make goods and provide services. To put it simply, the operations describe what the organization does. When you talk about an organization’s performance, you are describing how well it does its operations. To improve performance, you have to improve the operations. This seems obvious, but managers often ignore this simple truth and try to find quick fixes that don’t involve any effort.

You can do great deals with the finances, spend a fortune on marketing, have the best working conditions, use the latest technology, but if your operations are no good you might as well shut the door and go home. The only real way of improving the performance of your organization is by doing the operations better.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please contact www.asifjmir.com, Line of Sight

Legal Fiction or Economic Reality?


Knowing the cost of your operations, however, is not enough. To compete successfully in an increasingly competitive global market, a company has to know the costs of its entire economic chain and has to work with other members of the chain to manage costs and maximize yield. Companies are therefore beginning to shift from costing only what goes on inside their own organizations to costing the entire economic process, in which even the biggest company is just one link.

The legal entity, the company, is a reality for shareholders, for creditors, for employees, and for tax collectors. But economically, it is fiction. Thirty years ago the Coca Cola Company was a franchisor. Independent bottlers manufactured the product. Now the company owns most of its botling operations in the United States. But Coke drinkers–even those few who know that fact–could not care less. What matters in the marketplace is the economic reality, the costs of the entire process, regardless of who owns what.

Again and again in business history, an unknown company has come from nowhere and in a few short years overtaken the established leaders without apparently even breathing hard. The explanation always given is superior strategy, superior technology, superior marketing, or lean manufacturing. But in every single case, the newcomer also enjoys a tremendous cost advantage, usually about 30 percent. The reason is always the same: the new company knows and manages the costs of the entire economic chain rather than its costs alone.

A powerful force driving companies toward economic chain costing will be the shift from cost-led pricing to price-led costing.

It will be painful for most businesses to switch to economic chain costing. Doing so requires uniform or at least compatible accounting systems at companies along the entire chain. Yet each one does its accounting in its own way, and each is convinced that its system is the only possible one. Moreover, economic-chain costing requires information sharing across companies, yet even within the same company, people tend to resist information sharing. Despite those challenges, companies can find ways to practice economic chain, costing now.

Whatever the obstacles, economic chain costing is going to be done. Otherwise, even the most efficient company will suffer from an increasing cost disadvantage.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please contact http://www.asifjmir.com

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