Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Slamming to a Stand Still

I finished my exams on Tuesday, December 4th.  Classes don't start again until January 22nd.  That's SEVEN full weeks of vacation.  I haven't had this long a break from school or work since the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of college when I left finding a summer job until the last minute and ended up spending my time off learning to knit instead.  I'm close to being at a loss for what to do.  I even started reading my cases for next term.  (If anyone has suggestions for a good book to read, I am clearly in need...)  After barely having enough time to eat during the first three terms of school, having this much free time is just weird.  I've ended up getting a little slap happy.

But I'm aware that talking about how bored I am won't make for a very good blog post. Especially, I would imagine, for prospective students reading this who are still slaving away at work and feeling a bit murderous towards someone complaining about having too much free time.

So...I'll spare you the view into my internal dialogue in which I debate with myself about getting off the couch and going for a run or doing the myriad of life administration chores I've been putting off since August.

Instead, I'll tell you about the one week during this break when I was plenty busy.  During the second week of December, eleven other Darden first and second year students, one operations department professor, and I went down to Miami to Beckman Coulter, one of Danaher's operating companies.  Danaher invited us to participate in a kaizen event, as they have 12 other times in the past several years.  For the uninitiated, a kaizen event is a week long activity to analyze a process, come up with recommendations to improve it, and implement the changes, involving everyone from management to the people who perform the process on a daily basis.  (Check out wikipedia for a more comprehensive/eloquent explanation.)  This was a fantastic opportunity for us students to apply some of the concepts we had learned in our Operations class, and also learn more about managing and improving operations in real life. 

Beckman Coulter develops and manufactures blood testing machines for academic research and medical applications.  My team of five students, two operators, a team leader, and a few Danaher kaizen experts was tasked with analyzing and improving the assembly and testing of a sub-component within one of the blood testing machines.  I learned a ton during the week, but the biggest thing I learned really surprised me.  When an operator is performing a process over and over again, they don't have much time to stop and think about what the best way is to organize tools, parts, and process steps.  But when you  have a kaizen event, it gives everyone involved in the process the opportunity to think through how to do it best.  What I learned during this week is that small organizational changes like how you organize tools and parts at a work station can drastically improve productivity. Yeah, ok, seems simple, but I'm not talking about small changes to productivity.  I'm talking about massive increases. Like 50%-reduction-in-cycle-time increases.

And this is where my nerd-ness takes over.  I am OBSESSED with organizing.  No really.  I got binder clips for Christmas (one of my favorite presents).  I get beyond excited going to The Container Store.  At my last job, I created an organization system that a coworker told me was seizure-inducing it was so comprehensive.  My aunt used to invite me to her house just to clean her closets.  My family actually calls me the "Organizer Bunny"...

So when I had the opportunity to organize this assembly work station, I went for it.  I won't go into all the details of what we ended up doing, but I will tell you that I thoroughly enjoyed it and that, as I mentioned before, it dramatically increased the operator's productivity.

I initially applied to participate because I felt that understanding operations better would make me a more effective HR professional.  However, the experience also made me realize that a career in operations would be really interesting, as well.  So all in all, it was a really fun and productive week.  And as a result, I want to be sure to thank the Danaher University Relations team and the team at Beckman Coulter for the time and energy they put into making this a learning experience for us so outstanding.

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