Is That cake?


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My friend Elena Miller is a very talented cake baker. She started baking cakes in high school as a hobby and people saw potential in her and encouraged her to take it serious.  So she decided to work for a bakery, and in less than a year she became very well-known in Chicago area and had many other offers. A couple years after graduating high school she moved to Austin Texas and opened her shop there. She currently makes customized cakes; she pretty much can make anything from realistic looking pets, car models, favorite alcoholic drink, and castles  anything you can think of upon request.

A very hard working woman she works about 70 hours per week and has a staff of three other talented bakers all this is excluding client meetings and other industry related obligations. I decided to observe her operations the flow structure of the process used to make, and deliver of her cakes in timely manner, facility lay out and other work methods. Broadly characterized her operation can be classified as job shop.  A job shop process uses general purpose resources and is highly flexible.


Layout:  In the job shop, similar equipment or functions are grouped together. In her shop the rack oven, deck oven and proofer are at the entrance of the kitchen while the cooler and other dry martial inventory storage is at the other opposite end.  Working “clean” area is in the middle with different size tables, slicers, and molders.

Employees:  In a job shop employees are typically highly skilled craft employees who can operate several different classes of machinery. These workers are paid higher wages for their skill levels. Due to their high skill level, job shop employees need less supervision.  Everyone at the shop is very responsible and accountable for each task. All of them know how to operate the heavy duty ovens. The key activity in a job shop is processing information.

Information: Information is the most critical aspect of a job shop. Information is needed to quote a price, bid on a job, route an order through the shop, and specify the exact work to be done she gets lots of customer’s word of mouth has tremendously helped her business.  Here is the basic procedure, clients come in and order their specific cake. Then she gives them a quote after that she creates a blue print. This is where she allocates the cost of production i.e labor and raw material.


My final analysis in correspondence with process strategy is that in her operation  flexibility is high as they make very detailed and highly customized cakes that take lots of hours. Volume is low labor content and skill are very high and finally capital investment  is low.


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Telecommuting and its advantages

Imagine this, you wake up in the morning take shower, if you’re lucky you might grab a quick a breakfast and head to work.  According to USA Today, about 8% of workers in the USA have commutes of an hour or longer, and nearly 600,000 full-time workers endure “megacommutes” of at least an hour-and-a-half and 50 miles, according to new U.S. Census data on commuting.  So, we generally waste two hours in just commute during the day.  So, now you are finally at work and adjust to start your day. What if I tell you that working from home was a better solution to have better performance, and reduction to cost.

James Liang, cofounder of the Chinese travel website Ctrip conducted an experiment. They gave the staff at his company’s call center a chance to work from home for nine months. Half of the workers were allowed to telecommute while the other half remained in the office as a control group. Performance data was collected as well as survey. When results were compiled it showed in comparison with the employees who came into the office, the at home workers were not only happier and less likely to quit and more productive.

The study showed   the increase in productivity, employees working more hours. They started on time, unhampered by a delayed commute; they took fewer breaks (less talk about last night affairs) and had fewer days off sick. The other productivity increase was because they took more calls per minute. Their quiet working environment allowed them to concentrate more.

What’s more impressive is that, employees who worked from home reported higher job satisfaction and were 50% less likely to leave than their colleagues who stayed in the office.  But interestingly, after the 9-month trial, half of those who’d worked from home chose to go back to the office. Clearly, the peace and quiet of working from home feels like isolation for some. Or it could be more of a cultural aspect as the east is more community oriented and they probably felt isolated the main thing here is choice. Once employees could choose where to work, the performance impact of working from home more than doubled.

I can definitely see this trend grow in the near future as more and more companies are tech geared  access and opportunity to work from home will be more readily available. I see more advantage such more flexibility, less distractions, proximity to home and family and more importantly a better balance of work/life and health. What would you do, If you had the option to work from home? Would you take it? Do you think you can be more productive and perform better? Or do you prefer to work from office and see your coworkers?