Industrial Engineer Engineering and Management Solutions at Work

June 2012    |    Volume: 44    |    Number: 6

The member magazine of the Institute of Industrial and Engineers

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Editor's Desk

By Michael Hughes

Talk your way to the checkered flag

In May 1979 the family unit attended my third or fourth World 600 race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

My favorite driver, Dale Earnhardt, was a rookie in NASCAR’s Winston Cup. He already was a legend on the dirt and short asphalt tracks that dotted the region and had competed in a handful of Winston Cup events, earning his first victory a few weeks earlier in Bristol, Tenn. There were dozens of lead changes at the first superspeedway sellout in NASCAR history, according to Morris International marketing.

Toward the end, as Darrell Waltrip ran away from the field, Earnhardt battled “King” Richard Petty for second place, swapping paint and lead changes over the last few laps. Petty took second, but I was pretty pleased that the young whippersnapper from nearby Kannapolis, N.C., held his own.

Years later, I found out that after the race, Petty told Earnhardt, “You should have gotten in line, boy, and we’d have caught him.”

King Richard was right. With two cars lined up, the lead car slices through the air, reducing friction for the trailing car. Trailing cars interrupt the pressure drag that forms behind the lead car, and both go faster. So a little communication could have yielded an exciting, three-way sprint to the checkered flag.

That’s the point driven home by this month’s cover story, “Off to the Races with Communications,” by Joseph R. Stainback IV. Race crews can get information about how the car performs on the track from one source – the driver. Stainback’s research used lean tools to tackle wasteful and misleading communications, which hamper industrial productivity off the track as well.

Replacing subjective, qualitative words with specific, quantitative analysis transforms communications into a richer source of information for the receiver. This allows race crews to make the proper adjustments during pit stops to create a better-handling car, increasing the likelihood of victory, glory, prize money and hefty sponsorships.

Try applying lean to your communications waste. Making sure the right people know the right thing to do at the right time can hurtle your team toward the checkered flag.

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