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New Releases and Niche Genres – Or Why Knowledge Capture Fails

By Tamara Wilhite

Why does knowledge capture so often fail? Why does knowledge management so often result in archiving instead of sharing beyond the initial presentation on your lessons learned?

One way to look at it is to view the information you’ve recorded as books in a book store – and the perusing habits of the customers, though you want to share the knowledge with.

• New Releases Versus Dusty Old Tomes

There is a tendency in book stores to put new releases up front, and the back sections are filled with classics and required reading that few bothered to browse. This caters to the modern assumption that newer is better. We see similar mistakes when search results are biased toward the newest content, regardless of quality or relevance.
Knowledge capture so often fails because the knowledge seeker is only searching the front of the book store and first page of the search results. Meanwhile, the reports that people wrote five or fifteen or even fifty years ago may have a solution to the matter at hand.

• Error in Translation

There are times where the solution is well known to the group that lives and breathes the technology, but the solution doesn’t make it outside of that circle except for random interactions that lead to education. One example of this is the story of an Icelandic engineer overhearing a geothermal engineering discussion and said they’d been writing articles on this for decades in Iceland; why didn’t anyone in the field in the discussion know this? Icelandic technical articles aren’t going to come up very often as the answer to an English search query. I wonder how much expertise is unknown because it isn’t available in searchable English, especially the low tech, low cost solutions that are now coming into vogue because the bottom billions can’t afford the thousand dollar solution.
Likewise, the evolution of personnel to HR terminology and the other endless appropriation of new terms for long standing concepts can render older documents seemingly obsolete because it doesn’t use current buzzwords.

• But It’s a Niche Title

One of the ironies of “lean six sigma in health care” and other efforts to make broad process improvement methodologies relevant to an under-served area is that someone may come across it and say, “I can’t use that, it’s in that niche, it isn’t relevant to me.” Therefore, the targeted presentation is ignored by the broader audience, because they think it doesn’t apply to them.
Personally, I’ve worked on or led over a dozen green belt six sigma projects. I had one occasion where someone implied that experience in manufacturing wouldn’t apply to IT. The fact that manufacturing control software and engineering PDM software aren’t that different didn’t register with the person – the division between manufacturing and IT made it seem that a solution for one niche wouldn’t be applicable to the one we were in then.
We can lose out on knowledge transfer when artificial categorizations cause us to ignore solutions that would work in our case because it is considered to be a tool for “over there”.

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Steamed About STEM Turned into STEAM

By Tamara Wilhite

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math. This represents the fields in which the United States realizes it has an edge and needs a lot more people trained so that we retain the lead. These fields are also important because we’ve seen a disproportionate number of foreigners in college programs earning degrees, while we need in domestic supply.
The stable but high wages for these jobs are proof of ongoing demand. (The HB-1 visa program may have started to fill these positions, but as Disney and California Edison have demonstrated, the so-called shortage now is prefaced with a silent “at the price we want to pay”.) So there aren’t millions of STEM jobs going begging, but the sector is still in serious demand in a high tech world.

I’ve made a conscious decision to engage my daughter in STEM. I’ve taken her and her troop to the local college engineering day, taught engineering badge lessons for several groups, was the only engineer (much less female engineer) many kids have seen at career day.

When my daughter’s friend said they had STEAM day at school, I was eager to learn what they’d learned. “STEM or STEAM?” I asked. She confirmed, yes, there’s an A. “What is that for? Architecture?”
“No, it means art.”
“Art has no place in STEM.”
“But art is a necessity!” she announced. “It is essential to design and civilization!”
“Honey, cavemen had art on the walls long before they had electricity, running water and civilization. Art is a luxury. Science and engineering are a necessity to have houses, antibiotics and everything else that makes life nice enough to think that art is a necessity.”
We debated what art was and its relationship to engineering. As an engineer, I can tell you that it is much more important for something to work and work well than look elegant. The generator, the wastewater treatment facility, the hospital need to serve their purpose first and foremost. Looking good while doing so is a luxury, and the cost of making it look nice is detraction from paying for medicine, buying chemicals to process more waste and do more good over the long run.
Her teacher’s decision to let artists invade the logical subjects of STEM and inject art is an emotional one, a reflection of a decision to be inclusive, but it violates the entire purpose of the event. After all, you can make art even in the ruins of a bombed city, but it is the STEM graduates who build, invent and drive the future.

I gave my daughter’s friend a print out of the JavaScript lessons on Khan Academy, an introduction to the programming language that can be used to make games and animations. Whether she decides to program robots, build an app or make videos is her decision. Both those making the decisions on system design should always remember to make how pretty it looks a much lower priority to functionality, performance and reliability.

  What do you think?

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High school, the time for green belts

By Michael Hughes
IIE managing editor

Much of industrial engineering’s image problem comes from a lack of knowledge. If people know anything about the profession at all, they probably think IEs work in the dank, dark, dirty factories of yore.

I’m an example. Prior to starting at IIE in 2009, I couldn’t have crafted one sentence about industrial engineering.

NavicentHealth and Mount De Sales Academy in Macon, Georgia, are tackling that lack of knowledge by training high school seniors as lean green belts for healthcare. Ten earned their certificates this spring, and the private Catholic school already has more applicants for next year’s program than it knows what to do with.

That’s a far cry from the students’ initial reaction, Mary Pat Dadisman, the school’s assistant head of school and dean of students, told me. The students wanted to play “doctors and nurses” and looked askance at process improvement. But once they started shadowing black belts and following projects at Georgia’s second largest hospital system, they changed their tune.

“They’re coming back telling me all the time not just what they did that particular day but about the lean projects that they’re becoming part of, and they’re getting to see the results of the projects or the work that’s in progress,” she said. “They are definitely focused on that aspect of it now. They’ve come full circle.”

NavicentHealth is an IIE qualified training provider. Chief quality officer Stephen Mayfield, who used to be an IIE employee, said the qualified training program offers at least three major benefits.

It extends IIE’s knowledge and membership, putting tools in the hands of people who are in the midst of or, in the case of the Mount de Sales students, starting to think about their careers. And it helps organizations develop cultures of robust process improvement – NavicentHealth already has graduated 420 lean green belts for healthcare and 15 black belts.

And last, but definitely not least, it gets the next generation excited about careers in industrial engineering. Although it’s a small academy, Mount de Sales has had four National Merit Award winners, and the 10 seniors in the program – Madison Baima, Runyu Cai, Anna Garcia, Catherine Gumarin, Maria Maiorana, Emily McKowen, Michaela Murphy, Ashton Pearson, Laura Smoak and Morgan Toomer – have to be some of the youngest lean green belts for healthcare certified by IIE, Mayfield said.

The idea came from Ninfa Saunders, president and CEO of Navicent Health. A black belt herself, Saunders awarded the certificates during a ceremony held at the academy.

“As pioneers of this program, people know you are a green belt by your work, how you use critical thinking skills, by the decisions that you make, and how you navigate the things you do every day,” she told the students.

Click here for more on Mount de Sales Academy students and their green belt training in the Front Line section in May’s Industrial Engineer magazine.

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ESTIEM Vision Xanthi “Food Production”

Dear Readers,

The topic of the Vision project in 2014/2015 was “Food from soil to shelf”. One of those Vision events was organized by LG Xanthi at the end of March 2015. Being related to the subtopic “Food production” the event gathered 18 participants from 6 different local groups to improve their knowledge in this topic.

The arrival day of the event included a dinner, where we played some get-to-know games, followed by a nice welcome party in a club.

The next day started with a welcoming session with presentations about Vision in general and the University of Thessaloniki. Subsequently we had an interesting lecture about agricultural techniques and food traceability systems. After a small coffee break we were introduced in harvesting stage detection systems and how the quality of soil is identified. When we finished the lunch we continued with the LPI Greek language session, followed by a funny acting game, using the Greek language. Then a pig production as well as a wine company provided us presentations with their production procedures and current status in Greece. To give the day a calm ending we had a short walk in the old town, followed by bowling.

On the following day we started with a lecture about microbiology. Afterwards we had one hour to go through the bazar of Xanthi which takes place every Saturday. After having typical Greek Moussaka for lunch we continued with a lecture about functional foods which affect for example your mood or concentration. Then we had a nice walk along the path of life which ended with an awesome waterfall. During the night we had the possibility to taste Ouzo and Tsipouro in a Greek tavern.

The next day was supposed to be a day full of activities. We went by bus to the Nestos river where the sun was waiting and an activity camp was located. Starting with climbing and flying fox, guided by the experienced owners of the camp, we had the chance to do rafting in the river. After providing us an introduction and rafting and telling us the important rules, we had three exciting and exhausting hours of rafting. Then we had some time to do archery or just to relax. Back in the center of Xanthi we had Greek Souvlaki followed by the international night. We had the chance to taste food and drinks from Italy, Turkey, Germany, Belgium, Austria and Greece.

Our fourth morning in Xanthi started with a company visit at a chocolate factory which is producing typical Greek delights and handmade cakes for special occasions. It was interesting to get an overview over their products and their production. At the end we received a handmade ESTIEM cake. After lunch we had a workshop about the theory of inventive problem solving, called TRIZ. We learned an alternative way to solve problems by using solutions for already solved problems. Divided in groups, we had the chance to solve a problem on our own and to present it afterwards. Then we visited the “House of Shadow” which was related to the SERI initiative. The owner of the house crafts sculptures out of recycled materials. By putting the sculptures in the right angle in the light, awesome shadows are visible on the walls. The final of the day provided a nice gala dinner with perfect food and drinks.

At the last day we visited a milk company, which produced different kinds of milk and cheese. We had the chance to get insights in their production and their range of products. Furthermore we were allowed to taste a chocolate flavored milk. After the lunch we were divided in groups to solve a well prepared Treasure Game which also gave us the possibility to explore the city. A joint “The Voice Party” with EESTEC, where everyone could show their karaoke skills, was a nice conclusion of the event.

All in All it was an exciting, funny and informative week in the beautiful city of Xanthi. The event was perfectly organised by the Local Group and I think I can speak on behalf of all participants that that we will never forget that week.


Johannes Dittler

LG Ilmenau