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Challenges Faced by Operations Managers

Operations management is one of the functional fields of business that also includes marketing, accounting, human resources management, and finance (Collier & Evans, 2010). It can be defined as the design, operation, and enhancement of the firm’s systems that create products and services. Operations managers perform a crucial role in ensuring the stability of the firm’s procedures and policies across different areas of business. Operations management applies the five-P’s concept that denotes the people, parts, plants, processes, and planning. These are components that are involved in transforming inputs into outputs. There is a variety of challenges that operations managers experience in performing their functions. This paper discusses the challenges operations managers experiences in areas including sustainability, competing business practices, technology, changing customer, and worker demands, and globalization

Challenges for Operational Managers

Operations management is constantly changing. Managers ought to stay abreast of the challenges that have the potential to alter and define the future workplace. These include globalization, technology, changing customer expectations, and sustainability.


Technology is one of the prime influences on the development of operations management beginning from the 20th century (Mahadevan, 2010).  Microprocessors are ubiquitous in most industrial processes and consumer products. The advances in the design and manufacture of goods and innovations in information technology to improve services provide the ability to develop goods and services that were impossible a few decades ago. The technological advances also enable managers to manage and control complex operations more effectively and efficiently. Therefore, operations managers need to stay abreast with innovations in technology as relates to operations management. MTR Foods is a market leader in processed foods, both in India and globally (Mahadevan, 2010). In addition to commitment to quality, and recipe expertise in vegetarian food, MTR uses enhanced technological capability to provide complete authentic meal solutions to today’s demanding consumer.


The other challenge for the operations manager relates to globalization (Collier & Evans, 2010). This phenomenon has changed the way that firms do business and manage their operations. Advances in transportation and communication have caused a shift from the traditional era of large regional factories and close community ties to an era of borderless markets. Japanese products are no longer manufactured exclusively in Japan. For example, the famous Mazda Miata was designed in California (U.S.), financed in Tokyo (Japan), assembled in Michigan (U.S.), and produced in Japan using components designed in New Jersey. This is an example of how globalization has created challenges for the operations manager, who no longer has to manage operations in one location.

The Changing Customer Expectations

Expectations of customers are rising constantly and dramatically (Mahadevan, 2010). Customers demand an increasing variety of products and services, with enhanced features that meet their needs that are in a dynamic change. They demand products that are durable, reliable, defect-free, and have high performance. In addition, they also expect excellent services for the products they purchase. For example, they expect short waiting and processing times, consistency, responsiveness to problems, accuracy, and courteous treatment. For example, Virgin Trains had to respond to the changing demands of passengers in areas including entertainment, reading materials, healthy meals, access to the internet and emails, in order to satisfy customers and maintain a competitive edge

Demands of the Worker

The modern worker is different. They demand meaningful work and higher levels of empowerment. Today’s work requires constant learning and dynamic thinking. In addition, it requires on-the-spot decision making. The environment in which work occurs is also constantly changing. The puzzle for the operations manager is to adapt to dynamic changes in the work environment as relates to operations management. AFLAC, an insurance company based in Columbus, Georgia, runs an alternative work schedules for its workers where workers choose schedules that suit their individual and family needs.      

Competing Business Practices

One of the principal challenges for the operations manager involves ensuring a balance between competing practices within the organization, which impact competition among firms in the industry (Mahadevan, 2010). Firms compete on four dimensions. These are cost, quality, speed of delivery, and flexibility. In several industries, where there is little difference between one good and the other, the winner is the firm that keeps its production cost the lowest. In relation to quality, customers are only willing to pay for products or services that meet their expectations, in terms of function or value. In relation to the speed of delivery, the firm that gets its goods in the hands of the customer before other companies do is the winner. Flexibility is the other area of competition which involves tailoring products or services to the needs of the customer. Therefore, the ultimate aim of the operations manager is to strike a balance in ensuring appropriate production cost, quality, flexibility, and speed of product or service delivery. Although this management occurs within the organization, it is a vital determinant of competition among firms in the wider industry.


Nearly all organizations face the challenge of sustainability (Collier & Evans, 2010). Sustainability is the organization’s ability to address the current business needs strategically and successfully develop a long-term strategy that embraces opportunities and manages risks for all systems, products, processes, and supply chains to preserve resources for future generations. There are three dimensions of sustainability. These are economic, environmental, and social. Social responsibility entails that firms continually assess their products and operations for impacts on society. This ought to be part of the firm’s general corporate responsibility strategy.  For example, some companies have created a zero carbon footprint product. Environmental sustainability relates to operations management activities including waste management, energy conservation, and remanufacturing.

For example, Wal-Mart has adopted a green supply chain where supplies are monitored to ensure that their practices are environmentally friendly. In relation to economic sustainability, operations managers should make sound financial and operational judgments or decisions with respect to technology, resource acquisition, knowledge, workforce capacity or capability, facilities, work systems, and equipment. The activities mentioned are closely related to operations management, making sustainability a crucial issue.


Operations management is fundamental for the realization of competitive advantage, regardless of whether the firm is in the services or manufacturing industry (Collier & Evans, 2010). The goal of operations managers is to address questions that the firm faces in the choice products and manufacturing technology, maintenance of quality, utilization of capacity, sourcing of materials, customer-handling, and costing. Operations managers face challenges in areas including sustainability, technological changes, globalization, changing customer demands, and competition. In order for their firms to stay ahead of the rest, operations managers must solve puzzles related to these areas of challenges.  


Collier, D.A. & Evans, J.R. (2010). Operations Management. Mason, OH: Cengage

Mahadevan, B. (2010). Operations Management: Theory and Practice (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education

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