Darden Diaries 9: How to “operate” like a manager!

Blue, green, yellow, red, black, white, orange, brown and pink. Brick 2 X 2, brick 1 X 2, angle bushe, connector, plate, brick 3X5, holder, knob, bow, arch, animals, peg, couple, axle, fence, flat tile…

If you still don’t know what I can talking about you have never played with Legos as a child! Every child’s first lesson in spatial concepts, motor skills, pattern recognition and most importantly, engineering. Legos were one of the primary reasons I chose to study engineering. As much as I liked playing with barbies, the sheer joy of building the LEGO truck with Mr. and Mrs. Lego driving in it was what childhood memories were made of.

So you can imagine my surprise when years later, half way across the globe, in a prestigious business school, all 330 MBA students stood in front of tables filled with LEGO blocks! Were the professors pulling a fast one on us??? Nope. This was an exercise in lean operations management. Concepts like takt time, demand, supply, throughput time and rate of a process, idle time, inventory management, hiring and firing excess workers, performing as a team and maximizing efficiency were being taught through this Lego game called “Gazogle”. A team consisted of 4 assemblers, inventory movers, supply manager, quality assurance and numerous others. We were given the process flow which had numerous flaws and we had to design a lean operation which ensured maximum profitability in the end. We could do anything from changing the lay out of the work tables, allocation of workers and processes to minimizing idle time, firing anyone who was redundant( this was obviously a lesson in people management!) and basically anything else that seemed best for our operations to flourish.

It was experiential learning at its best. Without actually being taught, we recognized, bottlenecks, capacity issues, long set up times with longer wait times and slacking workers etc. We knew instantly that we were being pushed to think like managers. Understanding the operations of a plant or a factory, drawing insights from the elements calculated, and making the right decisions as a manager will finally lead to higher margins. Little did we know that Legos and little’s law could lead to us becoming sound managers!

Which got me thinking about an MBA and education in general. No matter how old you get, you are always learning, and often playing with the toys you played with when you were toddlers, in the process learning how to “operate” like a manager! 



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