Editor's Desk

By Michael Hughes

Wrong again? Quite possibly

I was inducted into the inner circle of industrial engineering (a.k.a. IIE) just a few years ago. The more I've learned about the profession, the more it seemed like industrial engineering, unlike many things bandied about in academia, actually took "real life" into account.

From gemba walks to 5S to information and production flow to finding and expelling process wastes, IE principles apply to a wide variety of things that can make business – and life – more productive, efficient and easier. Heck, I learned that commuting an hour each way to work every day fitted into that elegant slot known as non-value-added. Now I live five minutes from the office.

However, like many other things in life, perhaps I’m wrong.

Shahrukh A. Irani certainly seems to think so. His cover story, "What I Should Have Taught," makes salient points concerning the differences between academic IE teaching and industrial engineers who actually work in industry.

After a distinguished academic career, Irani secured a corporate appointment as director of industrial engineering research. The industry experience solidified Irani's suspicion that what is taught in the hallowed ivory towers might not align exactly with what IE graduates need when they enter the business world. And plant tours and capstone design projects didn't offer enough in-depth experience to bring home to academia what it’s really like on the front lines.

Irani discovered that industry leaders were skeptical of improvement ideas derived from academia and models. The lack of change management soft skills, things taught in organizational behavior and industrial psychology courses, made winning allies difficult. Solid data were required to justify even the smallest improvement. On the shop floor, fixing a number of small problems took precedence over lengthy, complicated solutions.

Irani came away convinced that university leaders need to take sabbaticals with industry to inject manufacturing and "real" Toyota IE back into academia. His story includes a list of general curricula improvements, along with advice for specific classes.

So click here and see what you think. Perhaps you’ll find a few ways to set things right.

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