Category: Operations Strategy

Complex risk management--as seen on TV

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 1 month and 19 days ago

FV Northwestern

Reality TV is largely a wasteland of odd, meaningless drivel, in which business leaders rarely have the time (nor should they make the time) to invest watching. But within the very broad category, there are some meaningful glimpses of how people solve complex business problems. The stands-out show in this category might be  Discovery Channel's Deadliest Catch, which some herald as the "original" reality TV show.

For those not familiar with the show, now in its eleventh TV season, it focuses on a handful of boats fishing for crab in the Bering Sea off the coast of Alaska. And while many fans watch the show for the drama of the cold, vicious waters and the inherent danger in the job, others can glean some secrets for managing complex business operations. More than just entertaining TV, Alaskan red king crab (just one species caught and sold by the boats on the show) was valued at more than $90 million in 2012.

The title Deadliest Catch reflects the stark reality of the commercial fishing industry: since 1992, when the Bureau of Labor Statistics started publishing fatality rates by occupation, fishing has consistently ranked as the most deadly occupation. In 2006, the bureau found commercial fishing has an almost 75% higher fatality rate than that for pilots, flight engineers, and loggers (the next most deadly occupations). The fatality and injury statistics for Alaskan crab fisherman are even higher than the average for the industry, due to the dangerous conditions out on the Bering Sea.

When one watches the show with a discerning eye, it's apparent that crab fishing is, in fact, a very complex business. Each captain must manage multiple aspects of risk against hard deadlines, in real time. 

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Managing the seasonality of products

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 8 months and 14 days ago

The seasonality of products is an issue that manufacturers, distributors, retailers, and consumers are well aware of. We all know back-to-school advertising, products, and sales hit stores in July. Soon after, we see Halloween items. And before Halloween even arrives, we start to see Christmas advertisements and promotions. Getting ahead of the season has become standard operating procedure.

But when is it too early to issue a seasonal product? Many craft beer aficionados are beginning to argue that the practice of "seasonal creep" has gone too far. Simply put, seasonal creep is when a beer specific to a season appears on store shelves way before the season actually hits. The best example is the category of pumpkin beers.

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Can the cab industry innovate?

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 1 year and 23 days ago

Those of us who work and/or live in Cambridge are quite familiar with the controversies stirred up by the wildly successful business, Uber Technologies, Inc. Uber considers itself a technology company, offering a mobile app that connects riders with drivers. The company has taken an innovative approach to making it easier to get from one point to another, eliminating the need to hail a cab on the street.

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It’s time to rethink wages

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 1 year and 1 month ago

For the last year or so, there’s been a significant amount of news coverage around the wages paid to low-income earners, such as those working at fast food outlets and in retail stores. There have been public protests, calls for boycotts, and legislation to raise the minimum wage in some states.

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Process improvement—useful does not mean used

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 1 year and 1 month and 21 days ago

Lean production, high performance work systems, virtual communications, and collaboration applications are all examples of the latest tools, technology, and processes executives are encouraged to implement in efforts to improve productivity and efficiency. But why are there more useful tools and processes out there than there are organizations that use them?

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The need for supply chain flexibility

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 1 year and 2 months and 3 days ago

According to David Simchi-Levi, Professor of Engineering Systems at MIT Sloan, “a growing number of U.S. executives are moving some production operations back from overseas.” While there are a great number of factors driving that trend, one is the need for supply chain flexibility. Today’s global supply chain presents a significant amount of risk, mostly due to the combination of geographically diverse supply chains and Just-in-time (JIT) manufacturing that results in low inventory levels. 

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Clients and their perceptions can prevent successful diversification

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 1 year and 2 months and 18 days ago

Why is it that some organizations can successfully diversify, while others cannot? Some businesses can increase their complexity by expanding into new markets, creating new products or services for new audiences and succeed, while others seek to do so, and fail.

Ezra Zuckerman, Professor of Technological Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Strategic Management at MIT Sloan, claims that there are identity-based limits to diversification that have more to do with a client’s perception of the organization than the actual integrity of the services delivered by the organization. In other words, an organization can have superior talent, the best operations, and a delivery of new services or products that is top notch, but if somehow this new direction clashes with a client’s perception of the firm, they may lose the client. These factors should be closely examined prior to a company's diversification. 

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No substitutions allowed

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 1 year and 4 months and 6 days ago

One famous scene from the movie Five Easy Pieces shows Jack Nicholson ordering a side of whole-wheat toast with his omelet at a diner. He’s then informed that the system doesn’t allow sides of toast. So he orders a chicken salad sandwich on whole-wheat toast—without butter, lettuce, mayonnaise, and chicken.

Nearly everyone recognizes what’s wrong with the “system” in this scenario—the customer doesn’t easily get what he wants. But the traditional approach to “fixing” this might be to simply add more options for what the customer might want. That change would impact the diner’s ordering system, the inventory needed in the kitchen, and even how the kitchen staff cooks. So sometimes it’s easier to simply say, “the system doesn’t work that way,” or, in other words, “no substitutions allowed.”

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