Backward schedule your Christmas turkey (under finite resources)

In this week’s blog, Dr Nicola Bateman, Associate Professor Operations Management ( uses operations management to get all the bits of your Christmas dinner on the table at the same time.


For Christmas this blog is a bit less serious and is about bringing Operations Management into your kitchen.  Operations Management (OM) is a subject taken by many business students and done (often unknowingly) by just about all managers. It addresses the area of managing everyday operations and typically this is scheduling, forecasting (with a bit of help from operations research), managing capacity, inventory and quality.  As such we all tend do this in our everyday lives – meeting deadlines and juggling our resources.


As a lecturer and researcher in OM I often apply the skills and tools I have to  help me both in my job and home life, and the Christmas dinner backwards schedule (under finite resources) was one of these occasions. In 2014 I found myself hosting Christmas dinner having been a guest for several years previously, and the whole thing seemed a bit overwhelming.  So I looked for help on line and found several versions of planners but they were not visual enough or based on sound OM principles, so I developed my own in spreadsheet and Gantt chart format.


It is based on a backward schedule – familiar to all cooks – whereby you set the time of delivery (serving) and work backwards to know when you should start cooking. This is the backward schedule shown here on a spreadsheet, and the link to that is here.


If you leave it there you are assuming you have infinite resources i.e. a giant oven and a massive hob. In my case I have four rings (coded in green) so I cannot steam the pudding, make gravy, cook pasta (fussy eaters), boil brussels and make mashed potato all at the same time. So I have made the mash earlier and will reheat in the microwave at the last minute. I also know I need to make sure I can fit a Turkey, roast potatoes, parsnips, carrots, stuffing and baked red cabbage all into my two ovens at the same time (coded orange).


This is all set up on the spreadsheet, feel free to download and use yourself. Cell Q2 is my serve time, if you change it, all the other cells will adjust accordingly.  I have used a time bucket of 30 minutes (cell R1) again if you change all the timed cells will adjust accordingly. For times less than 30 minutes I have put them in the left hand column. You can add or remove items as you please and set your own timings (probably sensible unless you have the same size turkey as me).


If you are an experienced cook then this schedule is something you already do in your head – but if you have not cooked a Christmas dinner or have an unfamiliar kitchen it might be of help. I have used it a few times as have my friends.


Good luck and Happy Christmas!

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Martin Parker

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Professor of Culture and Organisation.

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