Friday, August 28, 2009

Blood Donation Delays Trickle Away with Lean Methods at Red Cross

While donating blood yesterday, A Red Cross administrator described a few ways they were implementing Lean methods to improve the donation process - for both the donors and the workers. Some highlights follow:

Big self-qualification poster at the entrance that can save a potential donor time waiting in line to sign-in and read the comprehensive qualification manual just to find out they can’t donate because they are on antibiotics, or travelled to Africa recently. About 12 common disqualifying reasons are listed.

Red Cross Name Tag Red or Green name tags indicated if the donor is a first time or repeat donor. That can sometimes be an indicator if they might have more questions or they may not be familiar with the process.

in-use Ready, In-use, and Open signals to indicate to the workers when the donor is done with the computerized screening questionnaire, or the screening area is occupied or ready for another donor.

Work area re-layout to minimize worker walking distances, but still maintain confidentiality.

The administrator I spoke with was very positive about the improvements which indicates she believed the methods would allow them to better serve the donors while making their jobs easier as well.

“In other areas where they have implemented these changes, they have trimmed 10 to 17 minutes off a
blood donor’s process.”

According to the August 2009 Central North Carolina Red Cross newsletter

I ended up waiting 45 minutes to get my blood drawn even with an appointment, so there is obviously room for improvement, but it was encouraging to see the progress. This was a mobile team so they have several other challenges to overcome that frequently slow or hinder progress:

  • every day they work with a different team of people coming from neighboring counties and states
  • they have to tear down and rebuild their work areas daily, sometimes multiple times per day
  • located in different venues with different floor plans, sizes, and entry/exit paths

Just knowing they are working on saving time for donors shows respect and makes me feel better about the Red Cross.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Data Tells a Story, but are You Reading the Whole Story?

spc_chart Eighteen years ago I learned an important lesson about the intersection of data and people. The data alone rarely tells the whole story.

The engineering manager was preparing his weekly report for the staff meeting. He asked me, the intern, to investigate a SPC (Statistical Process Control) chart gone wild and summarize my findings. The chart graphed several “critical” dimensional characteristics of a headlight reflector for one of the highest selling vehicles at the time. This was a simple task.

Injection molding is a complex process, so the machines were instrumented with several sensors to monitor and record important process parameters. I strolled down to the production floor control room and pulled up the historical data from the data acquisition system for the previous week. I saw a dramatic change in several readings which were consistent with the dimensional hiccup on the SPC chart. Based on the readings and my knowledge of the injection molding process, I could predict which process settings were probably changed by the technician.

Ahh, the Story is developing.

I went out to the machine where the parts were being made and checked the Process Deviation log to verify my predictions and see if the technicians documented any changes. For the most part they did, and I was correct in my analysis of which process settings were changed. I also verified the gage at the quality check station was calibrated and working properly; it was.

I summarized my findings in a report based on data I collected in the control room, the shop floor, the quality check area, and the SPC chart. Unfortunately, I was missing one source of data from my findings... the technician who made the changes.

When the manager’s weekly report came out with a small reference to the Dimensional problem, the 2nd shift technician was upset because he felt like he was being unfairly criticized for deviating from the standard approved process and for causing the problem. He left a “See me” note on my chair.

And now the rest of the Story

The technician “kindly” explained to me that the reason for the dimensional problem was that the mold, which is normally water cooled, developed a crack in the steel that caused water to pour out of the mold (bad). Normally the mold would be taken to the tool room to get repaired, but the part it was making was for one of the highest selling cars and the other duplicate mold was already in the tool room for routine maintenance.

In order to keep the mold cool and maintain a safe work environment (no water all over the floor and machine), they ran compressed air through the water lines. This required numerous changes to the machine settings to keep the dimensions in the functionally acceptable range. The dimensional variation was much different from normal, but was still acceptable for assembly and to the customer.

Now regardless of whether or not it is consistent with best practice to run the mold in the non-standard condition, it was obvious the technician was doing his best to work in the interest of the company. Unfortunately, by neglecting to check with the person responsible for making the process changes, my report left the impression the technician was just not doing what he was supposed to do – something others might assume to be evidence of bad intent, laziness, or some other negative trait. This could have been avoided by applying the following advice:

“In order to understand why somebody does something, you’ll find the answer faster if you look for what’s right about their behavior, rather than what’s wrong.”

Craig Henderson

The above quote was taken from the presentation Nobody Likes Bad Change by Craig Henderson. This is a philosophy that has guided my work since that day - long ago.

Friday, August 14, 2009

“Cash for Clunkers” - a Typical Sales Campaign?

monster truck A caller on the radio was commenting that the “Cash for Clunkers” program should have included used cars because the people with the least fuel efficient cars can’t afford a new car - even with a $4500 credit. I don’t know if that statement is true or not, but it got me thinking about the real objective behind the program.

Was the program designed to:

  • get the worst offending gas guzzlers off the streets (environment/ecology)
  • incentivize people who planned to buy a new car, but were waiting for one reason or another to buy now to shore up the Automotive sector and consumer confidence (quick temporary sales increase)
  • provide a unique opportunity to someone who normally could not afford a new car (grow the market)
  • a combination of the above
  • none of the above

One had to meet specific qualifications to take advantage of the program, so was this program designed like any other marketing/sales campaign that targets one or more specific demographics to improve the likelihood of meeting the objective? Should it have been?

Regardless, the advances in technology and availability of data, as a partial owner of the automotive sector, provided the opportunity to use data mining and fact-based analysis to determine the optimum market to target to achieve the program objective. The charts below are an example* of a few types of information that could have been used if this program were treated like a typical sales campaign using data mining to determine who to target and how.

Cluster Descrimination for Demographic Comparison

Naive Bayes Attribute Profiles for Profit Categories

Naive Bayes Attribute Characteristics for High Profit

* The charts are prepared from customer and sales data from a fictional bicycle company, AdventureWorks. The objective of the data-mining in the charts was to determine the characteristics of a customer and their purchase patterns that indicate the probability for a high profit sale.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Remembering a Friend

This post is dedicated to an old friend and former co-worker that passed away. Jim wrote this poem about me that I have carried in my wallet for the last 13 years.


One day in May
in the year of 1993
came a young man
with Zach and Christy.

Still wet behind the ears
but out to make his mark.
An lo and behold
he comes to our industrial park.

He tackled every job
with great diligence.
eventually we decided
he had some intelligence.

We sent him to Atlanta
for some additional training.
Lunch at the Three Dollar Cafe
really caused some eye straining.

We did our best to guide him
but couldn't stop his meeting fun.
His dress we tried to improve
but a belt to him was none.

He demonstrated great ability
in almost every area of exposure
but financial expertise was lacking
according to Chuckie's disclosure.

The decision to leave us now made.
We'll not try to change his mind.
We're sure he has made the right choice
and someone else has made a great find.

Farewell to him we must say
and put all our sorrows aside.
The loss will be ours for sure
but we'll just have to roll with the tide.

Just knowing you, young Mr. Willson,
has been an experience to behold.
The limit of your bright future
by only your mind is controlled.

We wish you the best forever
and hope you don't miss Alabama.
Go north young man with family
Back home again in Indiana.