FROM THE BOOKSHELF
McIntire School of Commerce,
A NEW TRADITION IN INTRODUCTORY POM TEXTBOOKS?
by John P. Leschke, McIntire School of Commerce, University of Virginia
In the past year, two textbooks have come out that diverge from the conventional approach to conceptualizing the field of operations management, one from the Dryden Press by the author pair of Finch and Luebbe and the other from Irwin by Hopp and Spearman. These two books appear to follow in a new tradition exemplified by Schmenner and Schonberger and Knod. Although their approaches differ, each of these books attempts to capture the dynamic and integrated nature of operations management that the authors feel is lacking in traditional survey-style introductory POM textbooks. Below I describe the ways POM has historically been presented and then discuss how these four books represent an alternative to the traditional POM framework.
The traditional approach to teaching POM is to work through a list of quantitative techniques as they apply to manufacturing-oriented decisions. This particular bent can be traced to the field's roots in management science and operations research. However, over the past twenty years, as the field has matured, many new, more management-oriented topics have been added, including manufacturing strategy, just-in-time (JIT), service operations, and quality management. Over the same period, as more students took the introductory POM as part of the core business curriculum, the issue of a majority of non-POM majors populating the course became critical. Therefore, textbook developers have had to identify ways to combine these new and traditional topics into a coherent and integrated framework that appealed to a broader audience. Three popular frameworks have emerged. The first splits topics into strategic and tactical decision categories. The second organizes topics by management activities (e.g., planning, organizing and controlling), and the third type involves grouping these same topics into alternative decision categories (e.g., by quality, inventory, workforce and capacity; or by life-cycle stage).
All three of these traditional approaches have the advantages of simplicity and parallels to other management concepts. In this respect, they help students comprehend the scope and breadth of operations management. In addition, there has been a corresponding shift in how textbook material is presented with the more quantitative material being relegated to chapter supplements or replaced by discussions of the managerial aspects of production decisions. Nevertheless, it is debatable whether these frameworks effectively capture the dynamic nature of operations decisions or the relevance of operations to other management functions. The synchronicity and interconnectedness of operations decisions is not evident in the one dimensional or chronological frameworks. These frameworks act more as typologies than as unifying themes that would show how an operation truly functions. Despite these concerns, the vast majority of introductory POM textbooks adhere to these types of frameworks.
by Byron J. Finch and Richard L. Luebbe Dryden, 1995
Finch and Luebbe explicitly recognize that most students enrolled in the introductory POM course will ultimately assume managerial positions, but not necessarily in operations. Thus, they structure their text around themes of competitiveness and cross-functional integration in order to facilitate a holistic view of operations. The text is composed of four parts. Part I discusses the foundations of operations management (e.g., process technologies, layouts and methods). It describes operations in both manufacturing and service environments and establishes operation's importance to strategic objectives. One unique aspect of this approach is the use of material and information flows to illustrate the dynamic nature of operations and the integration among management functions.
Part II continues the holistic theme by describing three new directions in operations management: total quality management, just-in-time and constraint management. Describing these systems early in the text allows for more integration of these new approaches with the more traditional topics that follow, as well as to start students thinking of operations in a systems perspective.
Parts III and IV discuss the traditional planning and operating decision categories, respectively, but explicitly and deliberately discuss the functional cross-links as they arise in each chapter. Thus, the authors intend that students begin with a view of operations as a system of inter-related decisions and how these decisions can affect an entire firm before they ever see the details of how specific decisions are made. In this way, Finch and Luebbe directly address the integration issue while maintaining the traditional topical coverage.
by Roger W. Schmenner
Prentice-Hall (formerly Macmillan), 1993
Schmenner proposes an ``inside out'' approach that is intended to mimic the way most managers learn about operations. That is, most managers deal with small-scale process-oriented decisions before they become involved in more long-term, strategic decisions. Therefore, Schmenner begins with a discussion of general process types to illustrate the variety of manufacturing and service environments. In this context, he identifies the various categories of operations decisions, eventually leading to the introduction of the product-process matrix. Thus, early on, Schmenner defines the scope and breadth of the field, the major strategic notions of fit and focus, as well as provides a tangible model with which students can conceptualize the need for different production systems without formally introducing the concept of operations strategy.
Next, Schmenner proceeds to describe process and information flow diagrams. These tools are critical to Schmenner's concept because they help students visualize the dynamic and integrated nature of the operations function. Schmenner integrates the product-process matrix framework with the process and information flow diagrams by providing extensive, descriptive plant tours. There is a plant tour for each major process type, and each narrative includes a process and information flow diagram so that students can see how that particular business really works and how the flows and certain operations decisions differ across process types.
Following this introduction to operations fundamentals, students are led through the traditional subjects of production planning, materials management, and shop floor control. These chapters are followed by a discussion of just-in-time manufacturing that emphasizes the differences between conventional manufacturing and JIT philosophies.
Finally, and only after students have been given the opportunity to see how a business operates from the inside out, Schmenner formally introduces strategy-level decisions such as facility location, product and process design and operations strategy. Like Finch and Luebbe, this textbook establishes the systems aspect of operations early, but does so in terms of the process and information flow diagrams. Thus, students have a valuable tool to document and visualize the diversity of production systems and, hence, compare and contrast these systems. Although the narrative tours allow students to compare different production systems, Schmenner does not provide a generalized process or information flow framework, leaving students to discover one on their own. As a result, Schmenner's conceptual framework may be too subtle for many students, leaving them unsure of their grasp of operations management, or how it all fits together.
by Richard J. Schonberger and Edward M. Knod, Jr., Irwin, 1991
Schonberger and Knod have chosen to integrate operations management with the rest of the firm using the theme of serving the customer. The text is organized into five parts. Parts I and II describe operations management and how customer needs and expectations need to met. Part III combines the traditional forecasting, production planning, and materials management topics under the theme ``Translating Demand into Planned Orders.'' This structure emphasizes the link between operations and the customer to show how the different topics fit together. Part IV, entitled ``Translating Planned Orders into Outcomes,'' compares how batch, job shop, repetitive, continuous, and project type operations are managed. Like the other non-traditional frameworks, this particular section attempts to pull operations topics together by discussing them in terms of how they appear as systems in practice.
The final part, ``Areas for Continuing Improvement,'' provides another opportunity to discuss operations in integrated terms. For example, activity-based costing, performance measurement and maintenance management are discussed, all of which are given an integrated flavor.
The book contains several other threads designed to unify the material. One device is a list of 17 principles of operations management that are highlighted wherever they apply throughout the text. Another device is a ``functional model of operations management'' diagram which is intended to show how the functional activities of operations management are related. The activity names are similar to those found in traditional frameworks (e.g., planning for facilities, planning for labor, executing resource plans, and monitoring outputs). Unfortunately, these multiple frameworks may confuse students because no one framework dominates or provides a clear unifying theme. Thus, although students are likely to appreciate operation's role in competitive advantage, and that it is integral to the firm, it is likely students will finish the book with the sense that operations is a loosely organized series of concepts and techniques.
by Wallace J. Hopp and Mark L. Spearman, Irwin, 1996
Factory Physics by Hopp and Spearman represents the most radically non-traditional approach to examining POM. The text is organized into three parts. Part I, ``The Lessons of History,'' provides a discussion of manufacturing in America from the Industrial Revolution to the JIT Revolution. Although many other texts include an historical perspective, this text is unusual in that it devotes 180 pages to it! The additional bulk comes from in-depth coverage of the evolution of lot-sizing models, the MRP crusade, and the JIT revolution. All three of these topics are placed in their historical context so that students can understand why they evolved as they did, and why they made sense at the time.
Part II, ``Factory Physics,'' discusses the fundamental principles that underlie ``basic plant behavior.'' For example, Hopp and Spearman, use a single line queuing model to explain the behavior of production lines and factories. By varying different model parameters, they are able to demonstrate fundamental relationships between throughput, work-in-process inventory, and cycle time. In turn, they are able to illustrate the effects that variability, setup time, machine failures, bottlenecks, lot sizes, transfer batches, line imbalances and other manufacturing realities have of production lines. According to the authors, this approach helps to build ``intuition about basic manufacturing behavior, as a means for identifying areas of leverage and comparing alternate control policies.''
Part III, ``Principles in Practice,'' describes how and where the principles of Part II are applied in practice. Situations include total quality management, shop floor control, production planning and scheduling, inventory management and capacity management.
Although this book is intended for manufacturing management students, and the scope is limited to discrete production, it offers several insights for designing an introductory POM course. First, this approach suggests a basic theoretical model as a means to understand a broad range of systems. For example, if one understands the dynamics of discrete production with disconnected flow, then it is not too much of a leap to appreciate the issues in managing job shops, or continuous or repetitive manufacturing. Second, from a pedagogical standpoint, the way that the MRP and JIT production systems are juxtaposed, showing how the two approaches are intended to address many of the same problems, helps students understand both systems at a higher level than if the two systems are treated independently.
These four non-traditional frameworks share several differences with the traditional frameworks. To some extent, each non-traditional framework employs material and/or information flows to highlight the interconnectedness of operations activities and functions. Factory Physics goes the furthest, presenting a discrete production flow line as an essential model of factory behavior then suggesting that different production systems are variations of this general model.
Another shared difference is that the non-traditional textbooks introduce students to operations as a system of decisions and activities by describing various operating environments. For example, Finch and Luebbe describe JIT and synchronous manufacturing systems, Schmenner provides plant tours, Schonberger and Knod contrast job shop, batch and repetitive manufacturing environments and Hopp and Spearman compare MRP and JIT.
This structure has two significant benefits. First, students learn about operations as a dynamic whole rather than as a collection of loosely connected chapters. Second, students can see the similarity of operations problems and solutions across environments. Hence, students can begin to develop their own conceptual model of managing an operation, as well as to think more critically about different operating systems.
Finally, all four non-traditional frameworks target the non-POM audience by highlighting functional cross-links. By way of contrast, textbooks built upon traditional frameworks seem to downplay the quantitative material and highlight the management-oriented material as the principal method of reaching out to non-POM majors.
Although the non-traditional perspectives represent an important step toward helping non-POM majors understand how operations fits together, they exhibit a number of weaknesses. Most significant is their lack of a general model of operations that ties all of the various POM subjects together, while at the same time allowing students to understand a variety of environments. Such a model would allow a student to observe any operation and begin to understand how that operation really runs by comparing the specific operation with the general model. Students would also have the foundation to begin to understand how a system could be improved by either moving the existing operation closer to the theoretical model or deviating from it under certain conditions.
Another significant weakness is that, despite the considerable effort made to highlight cross-functional linkages, none of the alternative frameworks fully describes how accounting, finance, marketing and human resources interact with the operations function. Although students will see that functions are clearly linked, they will still be left wondering how this integration is accomplished.
The final concern with the alternative frameworks is that there is not a visible or tangible construct that defines each framework. These frameworks take the form of a path of discovery imbedded in the sequence and content of the material that, if followed, leads to an appreciation of the dynamic nature of operations management. Not all students will discover the patterns and relationships implied by the sequence and content of the topics.
Thus, the need remains for a more tangible model unifying the various decisions and activities in managing operations. The traditional models fail to make clear the interconnectedness and dynamism inherent in operations management, and the non-traditional models lack a generally applicable framework. Perhaps there exists a framework that combines the best of both traditions. If any readers have suggestions or comments, please write and share your ideas with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
JOHN P. LESCHKE (email@example.com) is an Assistant Professor at the University of Virginia's McIntire School of Commerce, where he teaches quantitative analysis and operations management to non-POM majors. He earned his Ph.D. from the Darden School and a M.B.A. and B.Mech.Eng. from the University of Minnesota. He worked in industry for six years and his research emphasizes bridging the gap between operations theory and practical applications. Currently, he is working in the area of setup reduction. Dr. Leschke's work has appeared in the Journal of Operations Management, Production and Inventory Management Journal, and will appear in Production Operations Management. He is a member of the Decision Sciences Institute and APICS, where he is on the national Production Activity Control Exam Committee.
Dr. Andrew Ruppel