Posts about management

Nobel Prize Winner Criticizes Role of Popular Science Journals in the Scientific Process

Randy Schekman, 2013 Nobel Prize winner in physiology or medicine has written another critique of the mainstream, closed-science journals. How journals like Nature, Cell and Science are damaging science

Mine is a professional world that achieves great things for humanity. But it is disfigured by inappropriate incentives. The prevailing structures of personal reputation and career advancement mean the biggest rewards often follow the flashiest work, not the best. Those of us who follow these incentives are being entirely rational ”“ I have followed them myself ”“ but we do not always best serve our profession’s interests, let alone those of humanity and society.

We all know what distorting incentives have done to finance and banking. The incentives my colleagues face are not huge bonuses, but the professional rewards that accompany publication in prestigious journals ”“ chiefly Nature, Cell and Science.

There is a better way, through the new breed of open-access journals that are free for anybody to read, and have no expensive subscriptions to promote. Born on the web, they can accept all papers that meet quality standards, with no artificial caps. Many are edited by working scientists, who can assess the worth of papers without regard for citations. As I know from my editorship of eLife, an open access journal funded by the Wellcome Trust, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Max Planck Society, they are publishing world-class science every week.

Just as Wall Street needs to break the hold of the bonus culture, which drives risk-taking that is rational for individuals but damaging to the financial system, so science must break the tyranny of the luxury journals. The result will be better research that better serves science and society.

Very well said. The closed access journal culture is damaging science in numerous ways. We need to stop supporting those organizations and instead support organizations focused more on promoting great scientific work for the good of society.

Related: Fields Medalist Tim Gowers Takes Action To Stop Cooperating with Anti-Open Science CartelScience Journal Publishers Stay StupidHarvard Steps Up Defense Against Abusive Journal PublishersThe Future of Scholarly Publication (2005)The Trouble with Incentives: They WorkWhen Performance-related Pay BackfiresRewarding Risky Behavior

Add Over-Fishing to the Huge Government Debt as Examples of How We Are Consuming Beyond Our Means

Fish are hidden under the water so the unsustainable harvesting isn’t quite as obvious as the unsustainable government debt but they both are a result of us living beyond our sustainable production. You can live well by consuming past wealth and condemning your decedents to do without. That is the way we continue to live. Over-fishing a century ago was not as obviously dangerous as it is today. But we have witnessed many instances of overfishing devastating the fishing economy (when the fishing is unsustainable the inevitable result is collapse and elimination of the vast majority of the food and income that previous generations enjoyed).

The normal pattern has been to turn to more aggressive fishing methods and new technology to try and collect fish as over-fishing devastates yields. This, of course, further devastates the state of the resources and makes it so recovery will take much much longer (decades – or more).

New research shows the existing problems and the potential if we apply science and planning to manage fisheries effectively.

Using new methods to estimate thousands of unassessed fisheries, a new comprehensive study provides a new view of global fish stocks. The results show that the overall state of fisheries is worse than previously thought. Unassessed stocks, which are often left out of global analyses because of a lack of data, are declining at disturbing rates. When these fisheries are taken into account, the results indicate that over 40 percent of fisheries have crashed or are overfished, producing economic losses in excess of $50 billion per year.

The good news is that this decline is not universal: fisheries are starting to rebound in many areas across the globe and we can learn from these examples. Recovery trends are strongest for fisheries where data on the status of the fishery exists, and in which managers and fishermen have made science-based decisions and stuck with them in the face of political pressure.

The amount of fish brought to shore could increase 40 percent on average ”“ and double in some areas – compared to yields predicted if we continue current fishing trends.

The management solutions to overfishing are well known, tested and proven to work. While these solutions are not “one-size-fits-all” for fisheries, there are common themes. Specifically, managers and fishermen must: 1. Reduce fishing to allow stocks to rebuild; 2. Set catches at a sustainable level that is based on the best available scientific and economic information rather than short-term political pressures; and 3. Prevent dangerous fishing activities that destroy habitat, wildlife, or breeding fish.

The over fishing problem is difficult because our nature is to ignore problems that are not immediate. But the costs of doing so are very large. If we don’t behave more wisely our children will pay the price. And, in fact, this problem is so acute now that those of us that expect to live a couple decades can expect to pay the price. In rich countries this will be tolerable, a bit less fish at much higher prices. In rich countries food prices are a minor expense compared to the billions of those not living in rich countries. They will suffer the most. As will those that have jobs directly dependent on fishing.

Related: Fishless FutureEuropean Eels in Crisis After 95% Decline in Last 25 yearsLet the Good Times Roll (using Credit)SelFISHingRunning Out of FishThe State of the Oceans is Not GoodChinook Salmon Vanish Without a Trace

Cutting the Boarding Time of Planes in Half

I thought I wrote about this several years ago, but I guess I didn’t (I can’t find it, if I did). Experimental test of airplane boarding methods:

The Ste en method, on the other hand, orders the passengers in such a way that adjacent passengers in line are sitting in corresponding seats two rows apart from each other (e.g., 12A, 10A, 8A, 6A, etc.). This method trades a small number of aisle interferences at the front of the cabin, for the benefit of having multiple passengers stowing their luggage simultaneously. Other methods, such as Wilma and the Reverse Pyramid also realize parallel use of the aisle in a natural way as adjacent passengers are frequently sitting in widely separated rows.

We have seen experimentally that there is a marked difference in the time required to board an aircraft depending upon the boarding method used. The evidence strongly supports the heuristic argument from Ste en that methods that parallelize the boarding process by more efficiently utilizing the aisle (having more passengers stow their luggage simultaneously) will board more quickly than those that do not. The relative benefit of the application of this theory will grow with the length of the aircraft. Here, we used a 12-row mock airplane, but a more typical airplane with twice that number of rows will gain more by the implementation of parallelized boarding methods.

How this improvement scales with the cabin length is different for each method. For the Ste en method, the benefit will scale almost linearly. If the airplane is twice as long, the time savings will be nearly twice as much since the density of luggage-stowing passengers will remain the same and the boarding will still be maximally parallel. For Wilma and random boarding the benefit will not be as strong since the benefits of parallel boarding are randomly distributed along the length of the cabin instead of being regularly distributed.

I am not optimistic that airlines will even test out this method. People tend to think companies apply sensible, proven concepts and methods. But that is much less likely to be done than people think. The failure of many places to use simple queuing theory improvement (customers should form one line and be served the next available person not form many individual lines) is one example of failures by companies to apply decades old proven better methods. The poor adoption of multivariate designed experiments is another. Applying better ideas is a process that is not done very efficiently in business, health care, education or even science and engineering – in fact in any human endeavor. This is a waste that impacts each of us every day. It is also an opportunity for you to gain advantages just by applying all the good ideas lying around that others are ignoring. You need to test the ideas out in your setting (using the PDSA cycle in an organizational context a good method).

Related: Engineering the Boarding of AirplanesSuccessful Emergency Plane Landing in the Hudson RiverChecklists Save LivesImproving Engineering Education

Soren Bisgaard 1951-2009

photo of Soren Bisgaard

Soren Bisgaard died earlier this month of cancer. Soren was a student (Ph.D., statistics) of my father’s who shared the commitment to using applied statistics to improve people’s lives. I know this seem odd to many (I tried to describe this idea previously and read his acceptance of the 2002 William G. Hunter award).

Most recently Soren Bisgaard, Ph.D. was Professor of technology management at Eugene M. Isenberg School of Management at the University of Massachusetts – Amherst. He was an ASQ Fellow; recipient of Shewart Medal, Hunter Award, George Box Medal, among many others awards. Soren also served as the director of the Center for Quality and Productivity Improvement at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (founded by William Hunter and George Box) for several years.

I will remember the passion he brought to his work. He reminded me of my father in his desire to improve how things are done and provide people the opportunity to lead better lives. Those that bring passion to their work in management improvement are unsung heroes. It seems odd, to many, to see that you can bring improvement to people’s lives through work. But we spend huge amounts of our time at work. And by improving the systems we work in we can improve people’s lives. Soren will be missed, by those who knew him and those who didn’t (even if they never realize it).

The Future of Quality Technology: From a Manufacturing to a Knowledge Economy and From Defects to Innovations (pdf) by Soren Bisgaard. Read more articles by Søren Bisgaard.

Related: The Work of Peter ScholtesMistakes in Experimental Design and InterpretationThe Scientific Context of Quality Improvement by George Box and Soren Bisgaard, 1987 – William G. Hunter Award 2008: Ronald Does

Obituary Søren Bisgaard at ENBIS:
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S&P 500 CEO’s: Engineers Stay at the Top

2008 Data from Spencer Stuart on S&P 500 CEO (link broken so it was removed, it is so sad that companies still pay people to manage web sites that don’t even understand basic web usability principles such as web pages must live forever) shows once again more have undergraduate degrees in engineering than any other field, increasing to 22% of CEO’s this year.

Field
   
  
% of CEOs
2008
   
2007
   
2006
   
2005

Engineering 22 21 23 20
Economics 16 15 13 11
Business Administration 13 13 12 15
Accounting 9 8 8 7
Liberal Arts 6 6 8 9
No degree or no data 3 3

In 1990 Engineering majors accounted for 6% of the bachelor’s degrees in the USA (1970 5%, 1980 7%). Business accounted for 23% of the majors in 1990 (1970 14%, 1980 21%). Liberal arts 3% in 1980 (1970 1%, 1980 2%).

The report does not show the fields for the rest of the CEO’s. 39% of S&P CEOs have MBAs. 28% have other advanced degrees. The University of Wisconsin-Madison and Harvard tied for the most CEO’s with undergraduate degrees from their universities at 13. Princeton and the University of Texas had 9 and Stanford had 8.

While the CEO’s have engineering education backgrounds the work they have done is often in other functions. The top function that CEO’s that have worked in during their careers: Operations (42%), Finance (31%), Marketing (24%), Sales (17%), Engineering (11%).

Data for previous years is also from Spencer Stuart: S&P 500 CEOs are Engineering Graduates (2007 data) 2006 S&P 500 CEO Education StudyTop degree for S&P 500 CEOs? Engineering (2005 study)

Related: Another Survey Shows Engineering Degree Results in the Highest PayScience and Engineering Degrees lead to Career SuccessThe Future is Engineering

Controlled Experiments for Software Solutions

by Justin Hunter

Jeff Fry linked to a great webcast in Controlled Experiments To Test For Bugs In Our Mental Models.

I firmly believe that applied statistics-based experiments are under-appreciated by businesses (and, for that matter, business schools). Few people who understand them are as articulate and concise as Kohavi. Admittedly, I could be accused of being biased as: (a) I am the son of a prominent applied statistician and (b) I am the founder of a software testing tools company that uses applied statistics-based methods and algorithms to make our tool work.

Summary of the webcast, on Practical Guide to Controlled Experiments on the Web: Listen to Your Customers not to the HiPPO – a presentation by Ron Kohavi with Microsoft Research.

1:00 Amazon: in 2000, Greg Linden wanted to add recommendations in shopping cards during the check out process. The “HiPPO” (meaning the Highest Paid Person’s Opinion) was against it on the grounds that it would be a bad idea; recommendations would confuse and/or distract people. Amazon, a company with a good culture of experimentation, decided to run a small experiment anyway, “just to get the data” ”“ It was wildly successful and is in widespread use today at Amazon and other firms.

3:00 Dr. Footcare example: Including a coupon code above the total price to be paid had a dramatic impact on abandonment rates.

4:00 “Was this answer useful?” Dramatic differences occur when Y/N is replaced with 5 Stars and whether an empty text box is initially shown with either (or whether it is triggered only after a user clicks to give their initial response)

6:00 Sewing machines: experimenting with a sales promotion strategy led to extremely counter-intuitive pricing choice

7:00 “We are really, really bad at understanding what is going to work with customers”¦”
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Toyota Develops Thought-controlled Wheelchair

Toyota has developed a thought-controlled wheelchair (along with Japanese government research institute, RIKEN, and Genesis Research Institute). Honda has also developed a system that allows a person to control a robot through thoughts. Both companies continue to invest in innovation and science and engineering. The story of a bad economy and bad sales for a year or two is what you read in most newspapers. The story of why Toyota and Honda will be dominant companies 20 years from now is their superior management and focus on long term success instead of short term quarterly results.

The BSI-Toyota Collaboration Center, has succeeded in developing a system which utilizes one of the fastest technologies in the world, controlling a wheelchair using brain waves in as little as 125 milliseconds (one millisecond, or ms, is equal to 1/1000 seconds.

Plans are underway to utilize this technology in a wide range of applications centered on medicine and nursing care management. R&D under consideration includes increasing the number of commands given and developing more efficient dry electrodes. So far the research has centered on brain waves related to imaginary hand and foot control. However, through further measurement and analysis it is anticipated that this system may be applied to other types of brain waves generated by various mental states and emotions.

Related: Honda’s Robolegs Help People WalkReal-time control of wheelchairs with brain wavesToyota Winglet, Personal TransportationToyota RobotsMore on Non-Auto ToyotaHonda has Never had Layoffs and has been Profitable Every Year

Cardiac Cath Lab: Innovation on Site

photo of Cath LabPhoto of John Cooke at the Cardiac Catheterisation Labs at St. Thomas’ hospital in London

I manage several blogs on several topics that are related. Often blog posts stay firmly in the domain of one blog of the other. Occasionally the topic blurs the lines between the various blogs (which I like). This post ties directly to my Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog. The management principles I believe in are very similar to engineering principles (no surprise given this blog). And actual observation in situ is important – to understand fully the situation and what would be helpful. Management relying on reports instead of seeing things in action results in many poor decisions. And engineers doing so also results in poor decisions.

Getting to Gemba – a day in the Cardiac Cath Lab by John Cooke

I firmly believe that it is impossible to innovate effectively without a clear understanding of the context and usage of your final innovation. Ideally, I like to “go to gemba“, otherwise known as the place where the problem exists, so I can dig for tacit knowledge and observe unconscious behaviours.

I didn’t disgrace myself and I’ve been invited back for another day or so. What did I learn that I didn”™t know before? The key things I learnt were:

  • the guide wire isn”™t just a means of steering the catheter into place as I thought. It is a functional tool in it”™s own right
  • Feel is really critical to the cardiologist
  • There is a huge benefit in speeding up procedures in terms of patient wellbeing and lab efficiency
  • Current catheter systems lack the level of detection capability and controllability needed for some more complex PCIs (Percutaneous Cardiac Interventions)

The whole experience reminded me that in terms of innovation getting to gemba is critical. When was the last time you saw your products in use up-close and personal?

Related: Jeff Bezos Spends a Week Working in Amazon’s Kentucky Distribution CenterToyota Engineering Development ProcessMarissa Mayer on Innovation at GoogleBe Careful What You MeasureS&P 500 CEOs are Often Engineering GraduatesExperiment Quickly and Often

Eric Schmidt on Google, Education and Economics


Eric Schmidt, March 6th, 2009 interview by Charlie Rose:

  • “From our perspective, I think the YouTube acquisition and the Doubleclick acquisition, which are the two large acquisitions we did last year, and the year before, have been phenomenally successful.”
  • He also mentioned the idea of teachers today creating online hubs of information on educational areas, as well as lesson plans. See our Education Resources for Science and Engineering
  • And Flu Trends
  • “We needed the stimulus package, because the stimulus package had, among other things, $20 billion for science and education funding… Real wealth is created by businesses, not by financial engineering, and by businesses that provide new products that solve new problems.”
  • Why do you assume the best students in the world are going to come to America? “Because they choose to come here right now… That is a brilliant [actually not brilliant at all] strategy take the best people hire them in American universities and then kick them out” It happens. “Its shocking.” It happens. “I know we are fighting against it.” “We America remain, by far the place of choice for education, particularly higher education.
  • Technologists as a group tend to be more analytical, more data driven, more personally liberal (more willing to tolerate the differences among people, more global in their focus… [technologists] as a group believe you can literally change the world from technology.”

Related: Eric Schmidt on Management at GoogleEric Schmidt Podcast on Google Innovation and EntrepreneurshipLarry Page and Sergey Brin InterviewMarissa Mayer Webcast on Google InnovationLarry Page on How to Change the World

Toyota Software Development for Partner Robots

Toyota Discusses Software Development for Partner Robots

Yamada: What was unique about the software development for the partner robots exhibited at Aichi Expo was the fact that Toyota entirely disposed of its assets from the past.

Toyota owned some software assets because it had been developing partner robots for some time before developing the robots for the exposition. But those assets were all one-offs. No one but the developers themselves could comprehend their architectures.

As Toyota was developing more than one partner robot for the exposition, the number of developers involved increased. Considering that we can never complete any development if we use the past assets that rely on an individual developer’s skill, we made everything, including the platform, from scratch again.

Toyota developed the platform focusing on promoting design review by visualizing the control logic. Therefore, the company thoroughly separated control sequences and algorithms. To be more specific, it used state transition diagrams.

Each algorithm is stored in a different block in a state transition diagram. With such diagrams, developers can easily comprehend the flow of the control and review the design even if they do not understand each algorithm. The company employed this method because each algorithm such as a bipedal walking algorithm is too complicated for anyone but their developers to understand it.

Related: Toyota Partner Robots (2006)Toyota Cultivating Engineering TalentToyota iUnit

How to Develop Products like Toyota

How to Develop Products like Toyota

Sobek also says Toyota tends to stay as flexible as possible until relatively late in the development stage. He cites as an example Toyota”™s practice of leaving manufacturing tolerances to be set by die makers rather than by design engineers creating the prints. Die makers make die dimensions as close as practical to those in the CAD database, but have the flexibility to modify them so body parts fit together well. Manufacturing engineers then set tolerances around manufacturing capabilities.

“Test first, then design. First run simulations and understand where the boundaries of solutions lie. Once you understand the alternate spaces between competing choices, you narrow the options in what are called integrating events.”

Integrating events are an opportunity to eliminate weak opportunities. It is only after these events are complete that detailed design commences. “The point is that you don”™t get to detailed design until everything works,” says Kennedy. “That is the reason Toyota focuses so intently up front on understanding trade-offs.”

This is very similar to agile software development practices. Though due to different processes, software versus car manufacture the two process are not identical.

Though Toyota is adept at developing products, it may be a mistake to adopt its practices wholesale, no matter how good they are. “Much of the lean community tries to crow-bar Toyota’s approach into their own very different business model,”

This is always true. Copying what others do does not work. You can learn from others by understanding the benefits of their process and then adapting the ideas to your organization.

Toyota has several tools that help its engineers organize the tasks at hand. One of the most well known is called the A3 document, named for the size of the paper its information is written on. An A3 holds a distillation of project goals and customer wants. During development, it can serve as a crib sheet for engineers as they set priorities and make trade-offs. “A3s enforce the plan-do-check- act methods of quality,” explains Kennedy. “The A3 becomes the basis for Toyota”™s entire review process.”

On my management improvement blog I discuss the Toyota Production System often, you can follow those posts if you are interested.

Related: Toyota Engineering Development ProcessToyota Winglet, Personal Transportation12 stocks for 10 yearsToyota Robots

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