MEM 412: Operations Excellence

Quarter Offered

Spring ; Mike Watson


This advanced operations course covers four recent and important topics:

  • Lean, Theory of Constraints, and Flexibility.  Lean techniques, pioneered at Toyota, have spread throughout the world of manufacturing and into other types of businesses.  Closely related, the Theory of Constraints provides some interesting insight and background ideas.  This area has continued to evolve by considering the impact of flexibility.
  • Operations Outside of Manufacturing.  Managers in services, construction, and healthcare industries have started to successfully apply advanced operations techniques and lean principles.
  • The Impact of Variability.  Related to Lean techniques, this topic also stands by itself and has powerful insights into the operations of a firm.
  • Advanced Supply Chain Techniques.  Traditional operations management techniques and lean principles have moved beyond the factory and into the supply chain.

Firms with deep operational capability run their businesses better and provide superior customer service.  These firms reap the rewards of larger market share, higher profits, and better returns.

For a career in engineering management, you need a deep understanding of operations.  As you advance towards and get to the executive suite, the strategic value of operations is too important to ignore.  This is true if you run the factory, manage a supply chain, manage customer facing operations, deliver services, or run the entire firm.

I will use a mix of technical and non-technical material to help us move beyond the buzzwords to really understand a topic, understand how it works in practice, understand the latest thinking about the topic, and how it fits into the strategic mission of the firm.  To ensure rigor, we will cover some of the theory behind the models (queuing, scheduling optimization, inventory theory, etc), but I assume most students have some grasp of basics.  To ensure practicality, we will put the theory to test by showing how it works in practice.  My goal is for you to understand why something worked so you can better apply it to the situations you will encounter.

In addition to the long term career benefits I hope you get from this course, I also want you to take away concepts you can immediately apply.  One student took the ideas from class and helped his firm avoid purchasing $700,000 of machinery and another that created a more efficient software development team.This course addresses the topics of systems engineering and architecture as technical disciplines. The scope of each is explored, and the tools and techniques of each are discussed, detailed, and then used to examine practical problems.

The course identifies methods for thinking about large, complex problems as an integrated whole, capturing the problem and documenting it systematically; then decomposing the problem into smaller units that can be designed, built, and integrated to achieve the desired result. Common sources of requirements are discussed along with a breakdown of the types of requirements that are often needed. Tools for storing and searching requirements are explored. Common architectural problem areas are then covered, and techniques for breaking down systems into components are discussed.

Sample Syllabus