Thursday, October 27, 2011

A (Wednes)Day in the Life

One thing I've come to realize while at Darden is that the Darden work week is not the traditional work week. As a first year student, I attend classes Monday through Thursday. Each school day consists of three classes. Logically, I spend a good part of my day before class preparing cases for those classes. So while many Americans view the work week as Monday through Friday, at Darden I've adjusted my routine to reflect a Sunday through Thursday work week. (This does not mean that Fridays are official Darden Student Holidays. If anything, I've found Fridays to be just as packed, but with club meetings, conferences, visits to professors' offices to clarify course material, and networking events).

With this adjusted work week, I've quickly come to identify Wednesday as my new favorite day of the week. Wednesdays are my favorite day because I know that when I go to bed that evening, there are only three cold calls standing between me and the start of the weekend. But more recently, my Wendesdays have demonstrated how much fun business school can be.

Two Wednesdays ago, I found myself playing with Legos in my Operations class. My initial reaction? I was confused. I thought that demonstrating sufficient competence in the area of interlocking plastic bricks was a requirement for graduating first grade, not an MBA program. But this wasn't just playing with Legos - this was a lesson in continuous improvement. Kaizen, a Japanese term for improvement, was the topic for our Lego workshop. For the duration of the class, we were manufacturing a specific product (called a Gozogle). In the span of less than two hours we simulated many "months" of operations, and after each month, discussed ways to improve the process and operate more effectively. Undoubtedly, this class gave new meaning to the Lego description "appropriate for children ages 5 and up."

Later that evening, I participated in a networking event with one of the consulting firms. Continuing with the Japanese theme, interested first year students were invited to a local restaurant where we were divided into teams as part of an Iron Chef competition. Each team was given access to a table of ingredients and given 30 minutes to prepare a winning dish. The company representatives then evaluated the dishes across a spectrum of criteria and announced the winner (I'm still convinced my team finished a close second). The event was a fantastic way to interact with a potential employer in a more informal setting and serves as yet another example of the lively environment at Darden.

Fast-forward to this past Wednesday. Instead of our normal three-class routine, our class was divided into groups for company visits. The objective was to take the in-class learning on continuous operational improvement and see how it applied in manufacturing facilities in the area. The facility I visited had one of the most sophisticated automated processes I have ever seen. Some of the machinery was operating so fast that to the naked eye, it appeared motionless. It was readily apparent that this manufacturing company had been practicing the kaizen principles we applied through our Lego workshop the previous Wednesday. With two rounds of final exams at Darden under my belt, I think it's fair to say Wednesday is winning.

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