Industrial Engineer Engineering and Management Solutions at Work

December 2014    |    Volume: 46    |    Number: 12

The member magazine of the Institute of Industrial Engineers

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Editor's Desk

By Michael Hughes

The numbers racket

I always loved numbers.

Back in the day, I collected baseball cards. My favorite cousin and I put together teams and kept stats. Rolls of the dice decided whether players scored hits, homers or struck out. When Dad took me to see the Charlotte Orioles (a Baltimore Orioles’ minor league affiliate), I charted the plays and kept stats. In 1980, future Hall of Famer Cal Ripken led Charlotte to the Southern League title with 25 home runs.

Numbers also played an important role in another hobby: Strategic war games, where building, managing and maneuvering massive forces of “men” could carry the day. It was my initiation into the importance of the supply chain.

But numbers alone don’t count for much. Sure, maybe the French outnumbered the English at Agincourt. But King Henry V had a better plan, an army wellstructured for the soggy, compressed field and, later, a decent speechwriter in William Shakespeare (For details, see “Henry V,” penned nearly 200 years later).

Brandon Theiss knows how data can deceive. In “Numbers Are Not Enough,” which starts on Page 28, he details cases where data that was incorrect, incomplete or that measured the wrong thing led to manufacturing mishaps. Data accuracy can be compromised by a culture where employees fear speaking the truth, through poorly designed and overly complex collection procedures or a host of other things.

The input numbers must have a relationship to the desired outputs, and they must be analyzed systematically. A baseball team needs system players who get on base and advance the runners so the home run hitters can drive them in. And these days, Theiss argues, manufacturers fail to take advantage of new technologies that allow real-time access to important data. Enterprises that make the right investments and cultivate the right conclusions from data are tomorrow’s leaders, he writes.

IIE gives you two upcoming chances to invest in the right conclusions. First up is the Engineering Lean and Six Sigma Conference, scheduled for Sept. 12-14 in Atlanta. Next in line, also in Atlanta, is the Enterprise Transformation Conference on Oct. 4-5. Find out more at www.iienet.org/conferences.

Get your data in order. And get your enterprise transformed. With a little luck, a playwright might immortalize your exploits.

Michael Hughes is managing editor of IIE. Reach him at mhughes@iienet.org or (770) 349-1110.