Trends in Production and Operations Management

8. What key trends are affecting the way companies manage production and operations?

What trends will impact U.S. production and operations management both now and in the future? Manufacturing employment has added one million manufacturing factory jobs since the end of the great recession, up to a level of 12.5 million in December 2017. U.S. exports have quadrupled over the past 25 years, and the integration of technology into manufacturing processes has made U.S. manufacturers more competitive. These statistics portray a U.S. economy that is steaming ahead.[1]

Yet rapid changes in technology and intense global competition—particularly from Asia—create anxiety about the future. Is technology replacing too many jobs? Or, with qualified workers predicted to be in short supply, is the increased reliance on technology imperative to the United States’ ability to compete in a global marketplace? Will the United States lose its edge in the ongoing war for leadership in innovation? And what should it be doing to ensure that today’s students are tomorrow’s innovators and scientists?

Recent surveys show finding qualified workers continues to be a major concern facing U.S. industry today. If the United States is to maintain its competitive edge, more investment—both private and federal—is needed for science and research. And what about the crucial role of technology? These are some of the trends facing companies today that we will examine.

U.S. workers no longer compete simply against one another but also against workers in less-developed countries with lower wages and increasing access to modern technology and production techniques. This is particularly true for manufacturers who account for the bulk of U.S. exports and compete directly with most imports. A more integrated global economy with more import competition and more export opportunities offers both new challenges and new opportunities to the United States and its workforce. To maintain its position as the world’s leading innovator, it is essential that the United States remain committed to innovation and the concerted development of a more highly educated and skilled workforce.

Looming Workforce Crisis Threatens U.S. Competitiveness

According to the latest National Association of Manufacturers Skills Gap Report, manufacturing executives rank a “high-performing workforce” as the most important factor in their firms’ future success. This finding concurs with a recent study by the U.S. Department of Labor, which concluded that 85 percent of future jobs in the United States will require advanced training, an associate degree, or a four-year college degree. Minimum skills will be adequate for only 15 percent of future jobs.

But the National Association of Manufacturers predicts that 3.5 million new jobs will be filled over the next decade, but two million jobs will go unfilled due to a skills gap. When asked to identify the most serious problem for their company, survey respondents ranked “finding qualified employees” above high energy costs and the burdens of taxes, federal regulations, and litigation. Only the cost of health insurance and import competition ranked as more pressing concerns.

As demand for better-educated and more highly skilled workers begins to grow, troubling trends project a severe shortage of such workers. U.S. employers already struggling to find qualified workers will face an increasing shortage of such workers in coming years. To make matters worse, trends in U.S. secondary education suggest that even those future workers who stay in school to study math and science may not receive globally competitive educations.

American Innovation Leadership at Risk

A recently released report shows the United States is in danger of losing its global lead in science and innovation for the first time since World War II. The report was prepared by the Task Force on the Future of American Innovation, a coalition of leaders from industry, science, and higher education. Although the United States is still out front of the world’s innovation curve, competing countries are climbing the technology ladder quickly, and the only way the United States can continue to create high-wage, value-added jobs is to climb the innovation ladder faster than the rest of the world.

The task force identified dwindling federal investment in science and research as a root cause of the problem. Federal research as a share of GDP has declined 40 percent over the past 40 years.[2] The U.S. share of worldwide high-tech exports has been in a 10-year decline since 2008, after a dramatic rise from $77 billion in 1990 to $221 billion in 2008. The latest data has the U.S. high-tech exports at $153 billion. Similarly, graduate science and engineering enrollment is declining in the United States while on the rise in China, India, and elsewhere. In addition, retirements from science and engineering jobs here at home could lead to a critical shortage of U.S. talent in these fields in the near future.[3]

So what needs to be done to reverse this alarming trend? More robust investment is part of the solution because federally funded, peer-reviewed, and patented scientific advances are essential to innovation. Such basic research helped bring us lasers, the World Wide Web, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and fiber optics. National Association of Manufacturers President Jay Timmons noted that, “Modern manufacturing offers high-paying, long-term careers. It’s a high-tech, sleek industry. It’s time to close the skills gap and develop the next generation of the manufacturing workforce.” [4]

Business Process Management (BPM)—The Next Big Thing?

The twenty-first century is the age of the scattered corporation. With an assortment of partners and an army of suppliers often spread across thousands of miles, many companies find themselves with global design, supply, and logistics chains stretched to the breaking point. Few firms these days can afford to go it alone with their own raw materials, in-house production processes, and exclusive distribution systems.[5]

“Business Process Management is the glue to bind it all together,” says Eric Austvold, research director at AMR Research. “It provides a unified system for business.” This technology has the power to integrate and optimize a company’s sprawling functions by automating much of what it does. The results speak for themselves. BPM has saved U.S. firms $117 billion a year on inventory costs alone. Defense contractor Lockheed Martin recently used a BPM system to resolve differences among the hundreds of businesses that it acquired, unifying them into a whole and saving $50 million per year by making better use of existing resources and data.

BPM is the key to the success of such corporate high-flyers as Walmart and Dell, which collect, digest, and utilize all sorts of production, sales, and shipping data to continually hone their operations. So how does BPM actually work? When a Dell system is ordered online, rather than waiting for a person to get the ball rolling, a flurry of electronic traffic flows back and forth between suppliers so that every part arrives within a few hours and the computer’s assembly, as well as software loading and testing, are scheduled. Production runs like a well-oiled clock so customers get their computers quickly, and Dell can bill them on shipment. A well-thought-through BPM system can even reschedule production runs, reroute deliveries, or shift work to alternate plants. The key, says Byron Canady of Dell, is “to stay close to customers and the supply chain.”[6]

The amount of available data—business intelligence (BI), enterprise resource planning (ERP), customer relationship management (CRM), and other systems—is staggering. “Companies are flooded with information,” says Jeanne Baker, chair of the industry support group Business Process Management Initiative (BPMI) and vice president of technology at Sterling Commerce. “The challenge is to make sense of it all. How you leverage the value chain is the true competitive advantage of the 21st century.” According to Baker, “BPMI drives growth through the automation of business processes, particularly the processes that integrate organizations. These provide the best opportunities for growth. Studies have shown companies that have good collaborative processes experience 15 percent less inventory; 17 percent stronger order fulfillment; 35 percent shorter cash-to-cash cycles; 10 percent less stock outs; 7 to 8 percent increase in revenues from savings; and overall sales increases.”[7]

Key Takeaways

  1. Describe the impact of the anticipated worker shortage on U.S. business.
  2. How are today’s educational trends affecting the future of manufacturing?
  3. What is business process management (BPM), and how do businesses use it to improve operations management?

Summary of Learning Outcomes

  1. What key trends are affecting the way companies manage production and operations?

Data show the U.S. economy steaming steadily ahead, but dramatic advances in technology, predicted worker shortages, and global competition create challenges for the future. How will companies balance their technology and workforce needs? Will the United States maintain its lead in the ongoing war for leadership in innovation? And what should it be doing to convert today’s students into tomorrow’s innovators and scientists? Surveys indicate that finding qualified workers continues to be a major concern facing U.S. industry today. If the United States is to maintain its competitive edge, more private and federal investment is needed for science and research. And what of the increasingly crucial role of technology? These are some of the trends facing companies today.

Preparing for Tomorrow’s Workplace Skills

  1. Tom Lawrence and Sally Zickle are co-owners of L-Z Marketing, an advertising agency. Last week, they landed a major aerospace manufacturer as a client. The company wants the agency to create its annual report. Tom, who develops the art for the agency, needs about a week to develop the preliminary report design, another two weeks to set the type, and three weeks to get the report printed. Sally writes the material for the report and doesn’t need as much time: two days to meet with the client to review the company’s financial information and about three weeks to write the report copy. Of course, Tom can’t set type until Sally has finished writing the report. Sally will also need three days to proofread the report before it goes to the printer. Develop either a Gantt chart or a critical path diagram for Tom and Sally to use in scheduling the project. Explain why you chose the method you did. How long will it take Tom and Sally to finish the project if there are no unforeseen delays? (Resources, Systems)
  2. Look for ways that technology and automation are used at your school, in the local supermarket, and at your doctor’s office. As a class, discuss how automation affects the service you receive from each of these organizations. Does one organization use any types of automation that might be effectively used by one of the others? Explain. (Interpersonal, Information)
  3. Pick a small business in your community. Make a list of the resources critical to the firm’s production and operations. What would happen if the business suddenly couldn’t acquire any of these resources? Divide the class into small groups and discuss strategies that small businesses can use to manage their supply chain. (Resources, Information, Interpersonal)
  4. Broadway Fashions is a manufacturer of women’s dresses. The company’s factory has 50 employees. Production begins when the fabric is cut according to specified patterns. After being cut, the pieces for each dress style are placed into bundles, which then move through the factory from worker to worker. Each worker opens each bundle and does one assembly task, such as sewing on collars, hemming dresses, or adding decorative items such as appliqués. Then, the worker puts the bundle back together and passes it on to the next person in the production process. Finished dresses are pressed and packaged for shipment. Draw a diagram showing the production process layout in Broadway Fashions’ factory. What type of factory layout and process is Broadway using? Discuss the pros and cons of this choice. Could Broadway improve production efficiency by using a different production process or factory layout? How? Draw a diagram to explain how this might look. (Resources, Systems)
  5. As discussed in this chapter, many U.S. firms have moved their manufacturing operations to overseas locations in the past decade. Although there can be sound financial benefits to this choice, moving production overseas can also raise new challenges for operations managers. Identify several of these challenges, and offer suggestions for how operations managers can use the concepts in this chapter to minimize or solve them. (Resources, Information)
  6. Team Exercise Reliance Systems, headquartered in Oklahoma City, is a manufacturer of computer keyboards. The company plans to build a new factory and hopes to find a location with access to low-cost but skilled workers, national and international transportation, and favorable government incentives. Working in teams, assign tasks, and use the internet and your school library to research possible site locations, both domestic and international. Choose a location you feel would best meet the company’s needs. Make a group presentation to the class explaining why you have chosen this location. Include information about the location’s labor force, similar manufacturing facilities already located there, availability of resources and materials, possible local incentives, political and economic environment in the location, and any other factors you feel make this an attractive location. After all teams have presented their proposed locations, as a class rank all of the locations and decide the top two Reliance should investigate further. (Interpersonal, Information)
  7. Your teacher has just announced a huge assignment, due in three weeks. Develop a Gantt chart to plan and schedule more effectively.
    • Break the assignment down into smaller tasks: pick a topic; conduct research at the library or on the internet; organize your notes; develop an outline; and write, type, and proofread the paper.
    • Estimate how much time each task will take.
    • Across the top of a piece of paper, list all the days until the assignment is due. Along the side of the paper, list all the tasks you’ve identified in the order they need to be done.
    • Starting with the first task, block out the number of days you estimate each task will take. Include days that you won’t be able to work on the project.
    • Track the actual time spent on each task.

After you complete and submit your assignment, compare your time estimates to the actual time each task took. How can these findings help you with future assignments? (Resources, Systems)

Ethics Activity

A recent spate of mine disasters that caused numerous fatalities refocused national attention on the question: is management doing enough to protect employees on the job? Recent serious Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) violations resulting in the deaths of two workers from falls due to the lack of harnesses or guardrails suggest there is still a long way to go.

Companies are responsible for providing a safe workplace for employees. So why do accidents like these continue to happen? In a word—money. It takes money to purchase harnesses, install guardrails, and otherwise ensure a safe and healthy work environment. And even more is needed to employ the staff necessary to enforce company safety policies. It is often less costly for a company to just pay the fines that are levied for violations.

As a supervisor at a company with frequent violations of OSHA regulations, you worry about your employees’ safety. But each time your company needs to implement a new safety feature, end-of-year employee bonuses get smaller. The money has to come from somewhere, management claims.

Using a web search tool, locate articles about this topic, and then write responses to the following questions. Be sure to support your arguments and cite your sources.

Ethical Dilemma: Do you report safety violations to management in the hope they will be corrected before someone gets hurt, or do you stage a total work stoppage to force management’s hand, knowing that either way you risk losing popularity at every level, and very possibly your job? Or, of course, you could say nothing and hope for the best. It is not a problem you created, and you’re just there to do a job, after all.

Sources: George Avalos, “PG&E Violated Safety Rules, Was Late on Thousands of Wine Country Electricity Inspections and Work Orders,” The Mercury News,, October 25, 2017; Barry Meier and Danielle Ivory, “Worker Safety Rules Are Among Those Under Fire in Trump Era,” The New York Times,, March 13, 2017; Kenneth Cheng, “Senior Managers Could Be Taken to Task for Workplace Safety Violations,” Today Online,, March 7, 2017.

Working the Net

  1. Use the Google search engine,, to conduct a search for “supplier information,” and visit the websites of several firms (for example, Walmart, Northrop Grumman, Verizon, etc.). Compare the requirements companies set for their suppliers. How do they differ? How are they similar?
  2. Visit Site Selection magazine, Click on Area Spotlights for information about the manufacturing environment in various U.S. locations. Pick three to four areas to read about. Using this information, what locations would you recommend for firms in the following industries: general services, telecommunications, automotive manufacturing, and electronics manufacturing? Explain.
  3. Manufacturers face many federal, state, and local regulations. Visit the National Association of Manufacturers at Pick two or three legislative or regulatory issues discussed under their Policy sections, and use a search engine such as Yahoo! ( to find more information.
  4. Using a search engine to search for information about technologies such as ERP, CAD/CAM systems, or robotics. Find at least three suppliers for one of these technologies. Visit their websites, and discuss how their clients are using their products to automate production.
  5. Research either the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award or the ISO 9000 Quality Standards program on the internet. Write an executive summary that explains the basic requirements and costs of participating. What are the benefits of participating? Include a brief example of a company that has participated and their experiences. Include a list of relevant website links for further reading.

Creative Thinking Case

Innovation and E-mail Rules

This chapter provides insights into how manufacturing and service organizations can implement processes and controls to increase efficiency, manage expenditures, and increase profits for the organization. For companies such as General Motors that need to manage suppliers and make sure that all components are procured on time and at the best costs to ensure the final assembly runs efficiently, and for service organizations such as Marriott, which wants to have clean rooms and an efficient check-in process when guests arrive, the main lessons of this chapter are readily apparent.

All companies, however, need to innovate continuously to improve their products and services. Automobile companies such as General Motors have to constantly measure customer tastes and needs and provide products that meet and exceed their expectations. Likewise, Marriott needs to cater to the needs of business and leisure travelers in a variety of locations.

Perhaps no company in recent years has captured the attention of the public more than Tesla and SpaceX, both headed by CEO Elon Musk. Tesla is named after the inventor Nicola Tesla, a contemporary of Thomas Edison, who designed the first electric engine. SpaceX is a company that is known for innovation such as reusing rocket launchers to reduce costs. While Tesla and SpaceX still manage their operations with all the processes covered in this chapter, their constant innovation requires new processes.

Perhaps no aspect of modern business has had a bigger impact than the proliferation of e-mail. No longer confined to the desktop, e-mail messages are delivered via mobile devices, and managers must find ways to manage the proliferation of communication to keep on top of things.

Elon Musk communicated the processes and rules for communicating at Tesla in this e-mail to all employees.

Subject: Communication Within Tesla

There are two schools of thought about how information should flow within companies. By far the most common way is chain of command, which means that you always flow communication through your manager. The problem with this approach is that, while it serves to enhance the power of the manager, it fails to serve the company.

Instead of a problem getting solved quickly, where a person in one dept talks to a person in another dept and makes the right thing happen, people are forced to talk to their manager who talks to their manager who talks to the manager in the other dept who talks to someone on his team. Then the info has to flow back the other way again. This is incredibly dumb. Any manager who allows this to happen, let alone encourages it, will soon find themselves working at another company. No kidding.

Anyone at Tesla can and should email/talk to anyone else according to what they think is the fastest way to solve a problem for the benefit of the whole company. You can talk to your manager’s manager without his permission, you can talk directly to a VP in another dept, you can talk to me, you can talk to anyone without anyone else’s permission. Moreover, you should consider yourself obligated to do so until the right thing happens. The point here is not random chitchat, but rather ensuring that we execute ultra-fast and well. We obviously cannot compete with the big car companies in size, so we must do so with intelligence and agility.

One final point is that managers should work hard to ensure that they are not creating silos within the company that create an us vs. them mentality or impede communication in any way. This is unfortunately a natural tendency and needs to be actively fought. How can it possibly help Tesla for depts to erect barriers between themselves or see their success as relative within the company instead of collective? We are all in the same boat. Always view yourself as working for the good of the company and never your dept.



Critical Thinking Questions
  1. Why would an e-mail rules memo like this work better at an innovation-driven company such as Tesla rather than at a manufacturing-driven company such as General Motors?
  2. What are the potential problems that could arise out of this approach to e-mail?

Sources: Justin Bariso, “This Email From Elon Musk to Tesla Employees Describes What Great Communication Looks Like,” Inc.,, accessed February 20, 2018; John F. Wasik, “Tesla the Car Is a Household Name. Long Ago, So Was Nikola Tesla,” The New York Times,, December 30, 2017; Ken Costlow, “Ground Broken on New General Motors Supplier Park,” Arlington Voice,, June 19, 2017.


business process management (BPM)
A unified system that has the power to integrate and optimize a company’s sprawling functions by automating much of what it does.

  1. National Association of Manufacturers, “Top 20 Facts About Manufacturing,”, accessed February 20, 2018.
  2. Matt Hourihan and David Parkes, “AAAS Appropriations Roundup,”, September 16, 2016.
  3. World Bank, “High-Technology Exports,”, accessed February 20, 2018.
  4. National Association of Manufacturers, “Manufacturers Strive to Close Skills Gap,”, accessed February 20, 2018.
  5. Benjamin Brandell, “What Is Business Process Management? A Really Simple Introduction,” Business 2 Community,, August 18, 2016.
  6. Dave Blanchard, “Dell Reinvents Its Supply Chain,” Industry Week,, December 16, 2010.
  7. “Business Value of Process Standards,”, accessed February 20, 2018.