Archive for May, 2012

It’s Finally Here!: The 1st Smith Strategy and Operations Case Competition

May 14th, 2012 by under Consulting, Supply Chain and Ops. No Comments.

After seven months of work and planning, we finally held the Smith Strategy and Operations Case Competition!

I had been working on this project with my classmates in the Supply Chain and Operations Club, the Healthcare Business Association, and the Business Enterprise Technology Association for a very long time.

The Process

In October 2011, my classmate and I approached USAID to ask if they would like to be the subject of a national case competition.  USAID was excited about the idea and we worked with them to identify a current challenge they are facing for which MBAs could propose solutions: cost control and service level improvement for their global condom supply chain.  Condoms are a critical health commodity because of the role they play in preventing the spread of infectious disease and enabling family planning.  Both of these metrics are closely tied to economic development.

Beyond helping USAID solve this challenge, this was also an opportunity to engage business students in global health issues.  75% of the participants didn’t have any experience in the health care industries and none had experience in global health.  This was a chance to show business students how their skills could be used to make a difference to improve a field that traditionally draws from students and practitioners in public health and the nonprofit sector.

After developing a scope of work and agreeing on a contract with the Agency, I led a small group of MBAs to write a case analysis to be the basis of the competition.  I enjoyed my supply chain coursework and this was an opportunity for me to put it to real world use!  Working with USAID and its partners from John Snow, Inc., we sifted through thousands of shipment and inventory records to write the case report and create a data file that participants could use in their analysis.

My classmates also managed the marketing, communications, logistics, and fundraising for the event.

Learning from Experience

Having participated in at least five case competitions (I’ve lost count!), it was really fun to take the best practices I had seen in other competitions and apply them to our own competition.  In particular, I recognized that participants really value a high level of service from hosts.  At the Hult competition, each team had their own liaison to escort them between rooms, get water, food etc.  We didn’t provide nearly that level of service (we didn’t have enough people), but we tried to make sure the communication and on-site process was free of complications that would distract the participants.  We also made sure to keep the team and judge identities anonymous throughout the competition.  Judges were drawn from academia, consultancies, USAID, and USAID’s contractors.

There were hiccups, of course – like a table of wine collapsing, spilling alcohol everywhere! – but I think we performed admirably given this was our first time handling the competition.  It’s definitely an experience next year’s club leaders can use to improve the competition in the future.  I’m proud of how we came together as a team to make the experience relatively seamless.  In the end, USAID seemed happy with the way the event went.

Outcomes and Debrief

There were very impressive recommendations from the 1st Round and Finalist teams.  My personal favorite came from the the team from the Kellogg School of Northwestern University, who suggested publishing a “dashboard” summary to consignees to give them feedback on whether their orders were fitting parameters (e.g. frequency, size, time to desired delivery date) that improved the overall supply chain.  This would be published to all consignees with a list of Best and Worst consignees.  This would provide some social pressure on poorly performing consignees to change their ordering behaviors.  I thought this was an elegant solution because it was low cost, relatively simple to implement, and hit at what I think is the key problem: influencing behavior in the absence of a price mechanism.

The winners of the competition were: 1) MIT Sloan; 2) Northwestern Kellogg; and 3) The Ohio State University Fisher.

After the competition, we will synthesize the best proposals in a debrief meeting with USAID and present some of our own proposals.  It would have been unfair for my research team to enter the competition and we are really glad to be able to present our own solutions to USAID as well.  We used what we learned this year in spreadsheet modeling to model the placement of regional distribution centers and create an improved demand forecast.  I also applied my interest in public policy to suggest changes to the choice architecture of consignees and suggest minimum order quantities that would make better operational sense for USAID.

It’s been a fun project, but I’ll be relieved when this engagement is finally done!

Congratulations to all the competing teams and to my fellow competition organizers! Thank you to all the professors, staff, and professionals who supported us to create meaningful output for USAID!



Preventing Scurvy, or: Smith School Business Summit brings together Practitioners, Students, and Thought Leaders

May 7th, 2012 by under Economics, Leadership and Managing Human Capital, Strategy. No Comments.

Last Friday, I attend the inaugural Smith School Business Summit.  One of the best things about the Smith school is that its multiple campuses (College Park, DC, Baltimore, and Shady Grove) tap into the resources and talent of industries all over the DC, Maryland, Virginia area.

Located at the University of Maryland BioPark in Baltimore, the Summit is the first of what will be regular retotating symposia between the campuses.

How to Prevent Your Organization from Getting Scurvy

The evening was opened by a speech by Prof. Oliver Schlake, who is renowned at the Smith School for captivating presentations and story telling.  Prof. Schlake used the example of overcoming scuvy in the British Navy to explain how organizations do not bother to innovate during good times and then spend lots of energy on innovation when times are bad.  When times are good, organizations lack the urgency to transform themselves because they are too focused on incremental changes and current operations; in difficult times, the need to innovate becomes an imperative.  However, the organizations that are innovating during good times are able to weather difficult times more robustly.

Captain James Cook succeded in circumnavigating the globe without losing a single sailor to scurvy, a significant and unsual accomplishment for the time!

Captain James Cook attempted to overcome organizational inertia within the British Navy by experimenting and bending the rules to influence sailor behavior.  Through trial and error, he came to the belief that eating limes and sauerkraut and preventing sailors from eating fat from the bottom of cooking pots prevented scurvy.  At first, he tried stockpiling limes for his voyages, but was prevented by the Admiralty.  Then he tried to get his sailors to eat sauerkraut; however, sauerkraut was considered a poor man’s food at the time and sailors disdained it.  Captain Cook used reverse psychology by having sauerkraut served only to the officers and making it public that only officers may eat sauerkraut.  His crew objected and demanded to eat the sauerkraut!  He also used punishment to discourage scriping the bottom of pans.

Cook’s intution was right, even if he didn’t know why: 1) lime and sauerkraut contain the ascorbic acids that allow the body to produce collagen; and 2) the iron from cooking pots prevents the absorption of ascorbic acid!

Cook’s experience demonstrates how innovating in an organization with a lot of inertia requires experimentation, perseverence, and tacitcs to change behavior and culture.

Envisioning Outcome based Medicine

Prof. Schlake’s keynote was followed by a series of panels on finance, health care, organizational culture, sustainability, and product life cycles.

The health care panel I attended had a diverse group of panelists, from medical device makers to insurance carriers, to health care financers, to international development executives.  The panelist discussion mostly revolved around the differences between paying for services and paying for outcomes.  Currently, US healthcare costs are based on services used (labor, equipment use, diagnostics run, etc.).  Theoretically, the panelists argue, using health outcomes as a price/cost basis instead would incentivize new arrangements of care that would lower costs and improve outcomes.  An example of this would be increased coordination and communication between primary care providers and specialists.  This could be encouraged by giving primary care providers a bonus for improved outcomes for patients that see specialists.

However, such a system would require not only new incentives and ways to communicate, but also new ways to evaluate and track outcomes.  For example, if each care provider could see the total cost of caring for a patient across all providers, then each of them could be incentivized for lowering total costs.  The growth of Accountable Care Organizations is an example of the way the industry is shifting toward outcome based medicine (a.k.a. value based purchasing a.k.a. paying for wellness).