Q&A with Jack ReVelle

Jack ReVelle is a consulting statistician – owner of ReVelle Solutions LLC in Santa Ana, California. He will be teaching a pre-conference workshop and giving a keynote presentation at the IIE Annual Conference & Expo. 

IISE: What is the most exciting development or, conversely, the most pressing challenge in the field of industrial and systems engineering today?

ReVelle: Since 1963 when I joined AIIE all the way through today, there has consistently been a major focus by the elected leadership of the institute on "brand management," i.e., the identity of the organization. This resulted in a highly disputed name change in 1981 when "American" was deleted from the name. I recall this quite clearly since I was on the board of trustees at the time. For many years thereafter, there remained a sizable contingent of the membership who wanted the name change reversed. In recent years, there has been a new move to once again change the name by adding "systems." It has been my experience that, generally speaking, industrial engineers are the only people who really understand what industrial engineers do. Adding "systems" to the institute's name will only further confuse non-industrial engineering practitioners.

Wikipedia tells us that "systems engineering is an interdisciplinary field of engineering that focuses on how to design and manage complex engineering systems over their life cycles. Issues such as requirements engineering, reliability, logistics, coordination of different teams, testing and evaluation, maintainability and many other disciplines necessary for successful system development, design, implementation, and ultimate decommission become more difficult when dealing with large or complex projects. Systems engineering deals with work processes, optimization methods and risk management tools in such projects. It overlaps technical and human-centered disciplines such as control engineering, industrial engineering, software engineering, organizational studies and project management. Systems engineering ensures that all likely aspects of a project or system are considered and integrated into a whole.

"The systems engineering process is a discovery process that is quite unlike a manufacturing process. A manufacturing process is focused on repetitive activities that achieve high quality outputs with minimum cost and time. The systems engineering process must begin by discovering the real problems that need to be resolved and identify the most probable or highest impact failures that can occur. Systems engineering involves finding elegant solutions to these problems."

And consider all the professional societies that already have "systems" embedded in their names. At the very least, by doing the same thing, IIE will simply add to the existing confusion. I consider this a pressing challenge. Brand management is too important to be left to the professional academics. Collegiate industrial engineering departments may feel the need to periodically change their names to be more inclusive of the latest fields of study, but business and industrial organizations as well as other engineering societies don't. Societies and institutes much older than IIE haven't wasted their time and money changing their names despite the expanded focus of their memberships.

If the current IIE elected leadership wants to pursue a name change, why not select wording that continues to use the current acronym IIE, e.g., Institute of Improvement Engineers? Alternately, why not recognize the growing influence and involvement of the institute in many other countries by adding "international" to the existing name, i.e., the International Institute of Industrial Engineers (IIIE). Now that's brand management.

IISE: What do you plan to discuss in your keynote presentation?

ReVelle: My major focus will be on the importance to industrial engineers of the quality-related, problem-solving tools that I discussed during my all day Saturday tutorial, as follows:

Like the rest of the civilized world, the Japanese appear to be enamored by the number seven. The mystery of the number seven has captured the Japanese imagination. Ancient Japan was founded around seven districts. In Japanese folklore, there are seven Buddhist treasures and seven deities of good luck. Japanese Buddhists believe people are reincarnated only seven times and seven weeks of mourning are prescribed following death.

During the mid- to late 1900s, the concept of "The Sevens" took on an entirely new life in the rapidly emerging field of quality-oriented, problem-solving tools/techniques. Not surprisingly, this began in Japan and then moved across the oceans of the world with at least seven groups of seven tools having been created, i.e., the Seven Quality Control Tools, the Seven Management & Planning Tools, the Seven Team Support Tools, the Seven Lean Six Sigma Tools, the Seven Supplemental Tools, the Seven Creativity Tools and the Seven Design & Development Tools.

There are well over 100 problem-solving tools/techniques available for use by industrial engineers, quality engineers and manufacturing engineers as well as lean Six Sigma black belts and green belts. In fact, this includes any users of data who are continuously faced with a variety of quantitative and qualitative data-related challenges. My objective is to introduce multiple groupings of problem-solving tools/techniques, each having a specific purpose, and then demonstrate how these tools/techniques are connected to each other, i.e., how the output of one tool/technique becomes the input to another tool/technique in the same group.

Consistent with the intent of the conference, participation in this learning opportunity will immediately provide assistance to both novice and experienced consultants as they simultaneously improve their technical communication skills for use in working with their clients and customers as well as learning about statistical tools and techniques that apply to their responsibilities as lean Six Sigma black and green belts. There are no prerequisites to participation in this event, which was created for both internal and external industrial engineering consultants at all levels.

IISE: What would you like attendees to take away from your presentation?

ReVelle: The two most important takeaways for attendees of my presentation will be a substantially expanded understanding of where and when the broad variety of quality-related, problem-solving tools should be applied as well as their interrelationships, i.e., how the outputs from one tool become the inputs to one or more other tools. It's been my experience that too many engineers complete lean Six Sigma training programs without recognizing the variety of families of quality tools, each with a different purpose.

For more information about Jack ReVelle and the other IIE Annual Conference keynote speakers, go to the Keynote Speakers page at www.iienet.org/annual.