Keeping Operations Out of the Critical Path

I remember in college, which was longer ago than I care to admit, studying a technique called PERT. PERT stands for Program Evaluation and Review Technique. It is a method for controlling and analyzing a system or project using critical path analysis. Usually there are multiple paths through a project, with each step of each path requiring a certain amount of time and money.

Think of building a house. There is framing, plumbing, electrical, finishing etc. One of the paths takes the longest and is thus known as the critical path. Unless you shorten that specific path, you don’t change the completion date of the overall project. Managing the critical path is the key to improving the results of the process or project.

To me, a key objective of Operations is to not be in the critical path. Operations should not be the element that delays performance for customers. By creating and maintaining a flexible, Lean, effective Operation and Supply Chain, some other area of the organization becomes the critical path. Ideally, it should be Sales. That way, revenue and profitability can be maximized. So, a key objective for Operations is to be as flexible and effective as possible thus keeping Sales in the critical path.

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