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18 Realities Every Engineer Must Understand (or Struggle)

Posted by Jon Santavy on Mar 31, 2016 10:49:00 PM
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As an industrial engineer our goal, every day, is to sell change.

We find ways to do things better, and we engineer processes that improve quality and efficiency.  However, those new processes will never become reality, unless we can sell the change.  Whether you're a consultant or an employee of a company, we all face the same challenges: selling our ideas to leadership, and cross selling them to every impacted department.

Prior to implementing any change the Arena team uses simulation to evaluate the impacts of that change. We have found that simulation is not only part of the engineering process, but is a vital part of the selling process.

Getting buy-in from all stakeholders is an uphill battle because most companies are resistant to change – sometimes it’s the cost of change, sometimes it’s the time to change, and sometimes it is “because we’ve always done it that way”.  Regardless, as engineers we must be prepared to address these objections in "selling" the change.  By doing so we can successfully sell our ideas.  This is where simulation becomes really valuable. It allows a team to see the "as-is" compared with the "to-be", helping to eliminate the preconceived bias inherent in every stakeholder.  Simulation helps bring objectivity to the decision-making process.

So how do we prepare to sell an idea?  Understand what's important to the stakeholders.  Make sure you’ve considered all of the possibilities and positions before a meeting, because you’re bound to be pressured on the spot.  It's also important to check for "blind spots".  What things might have been overlooked?

Dr. Kenneth McKay, University of Waterloo, has more than three decades of experience with simulation and industrial engineering methodologies, and he was happy to share what he recognized as the most important things to prepare for when working on a project and selling an idea to a leadership team.

He’s put together 13 important steps while building a simulation model and 5 steps before the sell. 

The Simulation Journey

  1. You will never have enough time to do the project ‘right’, or by the textbook.
  2. You will never have all of the data you need.
  3. The data is never ‘good’ enough – complete, error free, or have the level of granularity you desire.
  4. You will always need to make assumptions – you should test key ones for sensitivity in case the assumption is wrong.
  5. You need to have a real world sanity check for key characteristics – e.g., capacity, run rates.
  6. To catch modeling and running errors, you should understand theoretical limits of what is possible.
  7. You should look for patterns in the input drivers – sequence dependent setup, what can be done by smarter sequencing, scheduling; sometimes the problem is upstream, not feeding an appropriate stream for what you are studying.
  8. Always try to understand what a bottleneck is – find it (them), analyze from upstream and downstream - do not starve, do not block.
  9. Try to test with predictive results – e.g., put 1’s everywhere, run for 100 look at the stats – easy to see ‘errors’.
  10. Also test data access accuracy – e.g., put a different number in every field, ensure you are getting what you want on every data reference.
  11. Ensure that replications and experiments make sense – what should have the same random seed/stream for each experiment? What should vary? What should remain constant?
  12. Run longer than the math suggests for warm up, replication length, # of replications – and test/analyze data to ensure steady state was reached, no discontinuity exists.
  13. Ensure inputs patterns (e.g., orders) are varied enough to be realistic

Case Process – Practice For The Real World

  1. Someone at a meeting will have read your report, ran some numbers, pick on any ‘big’ numbers to drill into.
  2. Someone at the client will have a bias that is not friendly; they will pick out anything odd, will challenge.
  3. The client will know their basic rates and their limits – they will ask hard questions, test your confidence, test your quality – if you cannot explain or rationalize, you have a problem.
  4. Ensure that you know something about the domain and do some homework about what you are modeling.
  5. A client will sometimes speculate on something that does not make sense or changes an assumption to see how much you know and how much you have thought about the situation – you will be tested in many ways – they are spending $ and resources, they want value and suitable results.

Whether you’re a young engineer or have over 30 years’ experience, Ken’s advice will help you to prepare and sell your ideas, so that you can find ways to do things better, and engineer processes that improve quality and efficiency.  I recommend checking out Ken's new book -Manufacturing Excellence – in which a retired production planner with an outside view tells the story of a factory’s journey, capturing the leading practices in progressive and proactive management through commonsense concepts embodying the philosophy of collaboration, shared fate, mutual respect, and leveraging intellectual capital.

How do you prepare and sell change in your organization?

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