Photo: Volunteers

Through the Eyes of an Operations Management Academic

Posted on March 11, 2022 by Joni S. Steinberg, PhD., consultant with The Patterson Foundation

Editor's Note: Dr. Joni S. Steinberg manages The Patterson Foundation’s (TPF) Advancing Philanthropic Leadership (APL) initiative. In collaboration with Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, the APL initiative encompasses innovative efforts to strengthen the capabilities of emerging philanthropic leaders. This initiative includes TPF’s Fellow’s Program and TPF lead teaching roles in Lilly School of Philanthropy graduate course offerings.  


In the early 1900s, Frederick W. Taylor’s documented approaches to factory setting efficiency launched broad recognition of the benefits of applying “scientific management” tools to a range of organizational settings. Taylor is considered the father of industrial engineering, which has evolved over the last 100 years to be required studies in management and engineering programs. We see evidence of such tools contributing to competitive advantages for businesses all around us. Where would Domino’s, Amazon, and the auto industry be without applying operations management tools to streamline logistical processes?

TPF’s Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading initiative (SCGLR) periodically takes on a process role and benefits from an efficient assembly line. As five-year-olds across the Suncoast region prepare to start kindergarten next fall, SCGLR contributes Kindergarten Readiness Bags for spring Kindergarten Round-Ups at elementary schools in Charlotte, DeSoto, Manatee, and Sarasota counties. In recent weeks, TPFers volunteered to assemble bags of reading preparedness materials for distribution.

The bags include:

  • Two packages of flashcards
  • Literacy charts
  • Magnetic lowercase alphabet letters
  • Magnetic uppercase alphabet letters
  • Drawing paper
  • Jumbo crayons
  • Kindergarten Readiness Checklists
  • Information packets about Attendance WorksVroomMind in the Making, and Stronger Me, Stronger We
  • Josh the Baby Otter book
  • Magic Postcards

In total, TPF will contribute 6,100 bags to Title 1 public and charter schools and assemble bags for non-Title 1 schools through partnerships with Rotary Club of Sarasota Foundation and Community Foundation of Sarasota County in three of the four counties.

On Saturday morning, March 5, eighteen TPFers (across multiple initiatives) plus their friends and family members gathered at the Crossings at Siesta Key to assemble this rich collection of items for Manatee County Title 1 elementary schools to support beginning reading skills for incoming kindergarteners. The goal for the three-hour shift was to pack over 1,500 bags for 20 Manatee County Title 1 schools.

There are strategies for assembly line processes – individuals can perform the repetitive task of placing the same item into a bag as each bag is passed from one person to another. The alternative is for each individual to walk a bag down the line, inserting one item at a time, dropping the bag off at the end, and returning to the starting point to repeat with a new bag. The team chose the latter approach, which probably resulted in greater job satisfaction and an active morning of 5,000-steps for three hours of assembly-line work.  

Occasionally TPFers shared process improvement recommendations and opportunities to innovate — saving unnecessary steps and movements, improving ergonomics through better positioning of supplies, and stuffing the first (large, awkward) item by the same person. 

Beyond efficient methods, volunteers could change roles at will, most times looking for variety in tasks or opportunities to strengthen the assembly process. Active, joyful chatter contributed to the fun of working together. We chuckled a couple of times, recalling the iconic I Love Lucy episode in which Lucy and Ethel were challenged by an assembly line in a chocolate factory, where the moving conveyer belt delivered chocolates faster than they could wrap them.


This efficient assembly of bags required preparation to make these deliverables. 

Boxes were moved, opened, and unpacked before volunteers started, and TPFers replenished supplies along the way. After bags were filled, a parent instruction envelope was inserted, and the bags were batched into boxes to match the anticipated needs of each elementary school. From beginning to end, this process and our work were well-managed and well-designed to make the best use of volunteer time while reaching the goal of meeting county needs and providing a fun collegial opportunity for TPFers, some of who had never previously met.

Although we never pulled out a stopwatch as Frederick Taylor might have to evaluate alternative approaches, I suspect he would have endorsed what seemed like a quite efficient approach. The successful execution of this process and the efficient use of our time clearly benefited from significant pre-planning by Beth Duda and her SCGLR team and their long history of assembling early reading materials in the past. We wish the incoming kindergarteners a loving boost to their beginning reading skills.   

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