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Author's profile photo Christian Reinboth

Operations Management Basics: The concept of responsiveness

Responsiveness is the ability of a system or process to complete tasks within a given time frame. E.g. how quick can a business respond to customer demands? If customers are made to wait, they are turned into inventory, potentially resulting in a unpleasant customer experience. Any customer waiting time is also an indicator of a mismatch between supply and demand.

Concepts for solving waiting time problems can include increasing the capacity of the resource at the bottleneck as well as increasing process flexibility in order to ensure, that capacity is available at the right time. It has, however, to be kept in mind that waiting times are most often not driven by either the capacity or the flexibility of a process but rather by variability. Variability in the process flow (e.g. customers arriving at random) can lead to unwanted waiting times even when the implied utilization is clearly below 100%. If analysis builds solely on averages and fails to consider process variability, it can thus be wrongfully concluded that there is no waiting time, when, in fact, there is.

To solve this problem, new analysis methods are needed when dealing with process variability. It is noteworthy, that those methods are only requisite when a process has more capacity than demand – if demand exceeds capacity, it can be safely concluded that there will be waiting time even without looking at the process variability.

These lecture notes were taken during 2013 installment of the MOOC “An Introduction to Operations Management” taught by Prof. Dr. Christian Terwiesch of the Wharton Business School of the University of Pennsylvania at

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