Quality Education in the Benedictine Tradition.


Saint Vincent College Faculty Blog

Santa Claus Practices Operational Excellence

Posted by Michael Urick on Thu, Dec 5, 2019 @ 15:12 PM

I believe in Santa Claus. And I believe that he practices Operational Excellence. After all, embracing Operational Excellence (OE) is the only way that he would be able to fly around the world delivering presents in one night!

At Saint Vincent, we offer a Master of Science in Management focused on OE and a minor in that area as well. Operational Excellence is a philosophy that focuses on continuous improvement, waste reduction and problem-solving. Santa likely believes in each of these aspects of OE. Taken together, these components of OE seek to provide the quality and timing demanded by one’s customers. For Santa, his “customers” expect the presents that they asked for under the tree when they awake on Christmas morning (assuming that they are on the “nice list,” of course).

One reason that I believe Santa practices OE is that he likely must always continuously improve. He has been managing the production of toys and traveling around the world delivering presents every Christmas Eve for quite a long period of time. Through the years, I am sure that he has updated his technology to help decrease the number of defects in his elves’ toy-making processes and to respond to the changing customer demands for types of toys over decades. I would also guess that he’s implemented some equipment for his sleigh to help aid the reindeer in pulling it around the world. Also, Santa likely had to adjust his approach to delivering his presents to respond to changes in the world’s population and house architecture (not everyone has a chimney for him to climb down, after all!) among other changes that occurred in societies over the years. In other words, Santa has needed to change quite a bit over time, and he would likely only be willing to do so if he thought that these changes would bring improvements.

Santa also believes in waste reduction. Movement and time are both considered wastes because unnecessary motion and unproductive seconds/minutes/hours do not add value to those expecting presents on Christmas morning. Santa only has a very limited amount of time to travel around the world (just one night!) so he has to do so in a most efficient manner. One tool that OE professionals use (known as a “spaghetti diagram” because the initial drawing of this tool often looks like a bowl of noodles) maps out someone’s movement in their workspace (in Santa’s case, the world!). Once his or her current path is examined, she or he remaps a more efficient route (which looks much less like spaghetti) so that this person makes the necessary stops in a manner that minimizes his or her motion (and time). Santa probably uses this or a similar tool so that he can make sure he visits every “nice lister” around the world in one night. 

Lastly, Santa engages in OE because he is an effective problem solver. To keep things efficient at the North Pole, I would assume that he and the elves have many clearly documented processes for making toys and loading the sleigh. By clearly documenting the current state through the collection of accurate data, Santa can tell when something goes wrong. Through such standardization practices, quality checks would occur at the source (i.e. where the toys are being assembled or loaded onto Santa’s sleigh) and Santa will be able to tell if the standard was not met through visual examination. When problems such as deviations from a standard would arise, Santa and his team would know how to address them. Additionally, legends highlight that Santa thinks “outside the box” in his approach to solving problems. For example, he likely used an OE problem-solving tool (such as an A3, Five Whys or Fishbone Diagram) to determine the root cause of a visibility issue he encountered one particular Christmas Eve. From his understanding of the problem, he was able to implement an appropriate countermeasure of having Rudolph guide his sleigh with his glowing red nose to light the way.

Do you believe in OE (and Santa)? How have you used OE principles in your daily life and work? Share your thoughts with me at michael.urick@stvincent.edu and connect on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/urickmj/) and LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/michael-urick-05b775a3/). Or leave a comment below.

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and Happy Holidays!

Dr. Mike Urick


Topics: Saint Vincent College, SVC, Michael Urick, Operational Excellence, SVC faculty, blog, saint vincent professor, Faculty Blog, mike urick, Dr. Mike Urick, svc blog

About the Authors

Michelle Gil-Montero is an associate professor of English and director of creative writing at Saint Vincent College. She runs the visiting writers series on campus, oversees the student literary magazine, and serves as guru to aspiring poets on campus. She received her MFA from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop in 2007, and she has been on the Saint Vincent faculty since that year. She is an active poet and literary translator from Spanish. She is spending part of the 2016-17 school year travelling to Argentina on a Howard Foundation fellowship and Fulbright grant. 

Dr. John J. Smetanka has been a member of the full-time faculty since 1997 and currently serves as the Vice President for Academic Affairs and Academic Dean of Saint Vincent College, a position he has held since January 2008. Dr. Smetanka has taught courses in Physics, Astronomy, Chemistry and Geology as well as interdisciplinary seminars. He has published scientific research articles in physics and astrophysics journals, numerous conference proceedings and also works in science education reform and the interaction between science, technology and theology.

Jim Kellam is an associate professor of biology at Saint Vincent College and our resident ornithologist. He received his Ph.D. from Purdue University in 2003, and is taking this semester as a sabbatical. What does that mean? He'll explain in his blog posts.

Dr. Michael J. Urick is Graduate Director of the Master of Science in Management: Operational Excellence program, and Associate Professor of Management and Operational Excellence at the Alex G. McKenna School of Business, Economics, and Government. Dr. Urick teaches courses related to organizational behavior, human resources, culture, leadership, diversity, conflict, supply chain, operations and research methods. Professionally, Urick serves on the board of the Institute for Supply Management (Pittsburgh) and belongs to the Society for Human Resource Management and APICS. For fun, Urick enjoys music and, since 1998, has led and performed with Neon Swing X-perience, a jazz band that has released multiple albums and toured portions of the US. He enjoys watching movies, is an avid reader of fantasy and science fiction, and also likes to fence.

David Safin, C'00, has been a lecturer in the communication department since the Fall of 2003, and has served in a variety of administrative roles since the summer of 2004. Currently, he teaches multimedia in the communication department as an assistant professor. 

Dr. Michael Krom received his Doctorate in philosophy at Emory University in 2007 and is currently the chair of the philosophy department at Saint Vincent. He has authored a book on religion and politics and continues to publish works in Catholic moral and political thought. Dr. Krom also directs the Faith and Reason summer program every summer. 

Subscribe via E-mail

Schedule a visit today

Request Information

Apply now to become a bearcat

Latest Posts

Join the Community