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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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