Ho-Ho-How Santa's Workshop Manages Christmas

Santa Claus: one of the most well-known, eagerly anticipated, and incredibly successful entrepreneurs in history. Each year he oversees the production and distribution of toys to every single child on his Nice List — and with over 1.9 billion children on Earth, that's a lot of toys! He hasn't missed a year yet, but that's not to say it's all sunshine and snow angels.

I met Mr. Claus for a cup of hot cocoa and he shared a few tips about how he runs the most successful toy workshop out of the North Pole. Not surprisingly, the big man has taken some project management training courses

From the jolly good fellow himself, here's how Santa's workshop manages to pull off Christmas:

Plan and evaluate every day leading up to the Big Give.

We always start our new year of toy production by outlining the requirements and scope for pulling off a successful Christmas. That means outlining all 365 days leading up to the finale, not just the 12 days that everyone sings about. It's a long process, but it sets the workshop up for another successful year. Our planning meetings are supplemented by many glasses of milk and platters of cookies to get all the elves excited.

  • We review "The List" from years past to see how many gifts we gave, and predict how many children will make the Nice list this year. 
  • We do some market research to guess what toys will be high in demand this year. Yes, even Santa goes online!
  • We set up benchmarks to hit throughout the year. How many dolls will we make by February, March, April, etc.?
  • We also calculate the projected workload compared to how many elves we have employed this year, and then see if we need to hire additional help to meet our goals.

Santa's Crumb of Wisdom: Take time to plan out every step of your project, and make sure you have the resources necessary to fulfill your goals.

Consider every voice, big or small.

I get letters from children all over the world 365 days a year. Billy wants a puppy; Jane wants a Princess Elsa doll. Since they take the time to send me their wishes, I read what they have to say and take their letters into consideration. If we're already making Princess Elsa dolls, I will certainly give one to Jane — why not please her when it's easily within my power? Billy is difficult though, since we typically let parents give out the new pets. Sometimes I have to upset a few children by deciding to say no, but I always make sure to listen first before rejecting their ideas. 

Santa's Crumb of Wisdom: Hear and actually consider what everyone — especially every customer — has to say, and THEN make your decision.

Prepare for changes to The List.

The real challenge at my workshop is managing fluctuations of "The List." Wishy-washy children have a tendency to change what they want ("I don't like Princess Elsa anymore, I want Olaf!"), or jump back and forth between Naughty and Nice, and the number of toys we need to produce changes accordingly. Every year we further refine our Nice-to-Naughty List algorithm, but it is still impossible to control these outside influencers! Our solution has been to insert some padding into our toy production timeline so that we don't miss our benchmarks even when the children are unpredictable.

Santa's Crumb of Wisdom: Analyze your project risks and plan how you will deal with them ahead of time.

Clearly communicate processes — from who's in charge to how to wrap a gift.

My Head Elf manages the whole project, from start until Christmas Day. She's responsible for closely tracking our project progress. Accordingly, she dictates what's on the production lines each day. If we need more bricks or dolls, the elves in those departments hear it from her, no one else. 

Personally, I check in with her weekly to get a progress update, and I let her know if there are any changes to The List via our project management tool so she can properly adjust the toy production plan.

Santa's Crumb of Wisdom: Set up communication guidelines in advance so everyone knows whom to go to with questions or problems.

Schedule snow days.

I think it's important to reward my elves with well-deserved breaks. It builds loyalty to the workshop so that they'll come back again next year.

  • Cookie breaks: We frequently take cookie breaks together for a mid-day sugar rush of productive energy and some bonding time — which is important when you spend so much time together.
  • Celebrating achievements: When we hit our half-way benchmark last year, the elves celebrated with a huge snowball fight that lasted over 4 hours! I did not win — those elves are nimble!
  • Holiday breaks: After we've finished our delivery, December 26th until January 1st is always a company-wide holiday as a thanks for 360 days of hard work. Every elf is encouraged to relax, spend time with their families, and go reindeer-back riding.

Santa's Crumb of Wisdom: If you want to keep your team happy, make sure they know you appreciate them! Actions speak louder than words; group outings make for fun bonding time.

Ho ho ho! Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Don't want to rely on Santa to bring everyone gifts this year? Read this next: 34 Holiday Buys for Productivity Junkies (Gift Guide)

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