SEMS Says ... Working to serve members, communicate progress

By the Society for Engineering and Management Systems Board

March/April 2020

Greetings to all SEMS members:

The Board of Directors of the Society for Engineering and Management Systems (SEMS) wants to make sure we understand your needs, goals and interests. We demand of ourselves that we are correctly and ultimately serving our members and the Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineers.

We are in the process of verifying the correctness, accuracy and value of our mission and vision statements, strategic plan, core values and principles. We have reached out to past SEMS board members and presidents as well as IISE headquarters and SEMS membership within our inner circles.

Industrial Management authors sought to share stories of success

Anyone with stories to share on industrial and systems engineering management tips, successes and ideas are invited to submit their research findings in an article for Industrial Management.

Articles generally run 1,000 to 3,500 words in length and are written in a narrative, magazine style that can appeal both to ISEs and non-engineers. Past issues can be viewed online at and author guidelines are available at

Those seeking to submit articles can send them to Managing Editor Keith Albertson for review at

We plan to start communicating this “in progress” work via IISE Connect and the SEMS group at At this time, we will welcome and encourage all comments, ideas, approvals, questions and criticisms.

Currently, we see SEMS as the society within IISE that focuses on:

  • Providing and enriching industrial and system engineers with (initial and continued) management skills, techniques, competencies and values.
  • Providing and enriching industrial and system engineers at all levels (including management) with the techniques, skills, competencies and values to manage enterprises, systems and processes.

These items assume the technical IISE competencies of our membership, along with their knowledge and use of our extensive IISE toolbox. SEMS plans to engage in a mentoring program in case your use of the toolbox is not up-to-date.

We are fully engaged in this endeavor and hope to have significant progress to share with our members in New Orleans at the IISE Annual Conference & Expo 2020 May 30-June 2. The follow-up, beyond communicating and sharing our revised mission and vision statements, strategic plan, core values and principles, is to bring our members into our improvement process to volunteer to:

  • Improve our communications environments such as IISE Connect/SEMS, SEMS on Facebook and LinkedIn, etc.
  • Generate more content for Industrial Management magazine.
  • Generate more IM presentations, paper submission and posters at our Annual Conference.
  • Create a SEMS conference.
  • Establish a mentoring program.
  • Produce SEMS webinars and YouTube shorts.

We on your SEMS board have a lot of work to do. We hope to fully engage with a large number of SEMS members to succeed in this crucial endeavor.

If you have any initial comments, you can reach me at the Connect SEMS group or at

Taking a systems approach to improving organizations

In May 2014, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) issued a report to President Barack Obama, “Better Health Care and Lower Costs: Accelerating Improvement through Systems Engineering.” According to its fact sheet and press release, the report “identifies a comprehensive set of actions for enhancing health care across the nation through broader use of systems engineering principles.” It further noted: “Systems engineering, widely used in manufacturing and aviation, is an interdisciplinary approach to analyze, design, manage and measure a complex system in order to improve its efficiency, reliability, productivity, quality and safety. It has often produced dramatically positive results in the small number of healthcare organizations that have incorporated it into their processes.”

That message found a ready audience in Kevin Nortrup. His career had focused on electrical, software and systems engineering, most recently for patient engagement systems in hospital rooms. He was always intrigued by systems: those on which he was working, but also those within which he was working.

“By training, experience, and even personality, I’m a troubleshooter,” he recalled. “When some product-system wasn’t working as desired in the field, I would investigate, analyze and remediate whatever was its root cause. Similarly, when my corporate employers or consulting clients experienced undesired results in their organizations, I was determined to understand the how and why – what internal and external interdependencies were problematic? Over time, I began to appreciate the applicability of systemic approaches to organizations.”

Over several years of research, analysis, and continuing education, Kevin had developed a five-part model of an organization as a sociotechnical system:

  • Culture – a shared mental model that embodies actual corporate values and beliefs (which may not always align with espoused values and beliefs).
  • Structure – the delegation and coordination of labor, the design of which is traditionally documented in an organization chart.
  • Process – the flow of data and/or work-product between operational steps; operations and value-added at each step; and sequence/timing between steps.
  • Technology – the technical infrastructure, tools, resources and even physical layout.
  • Training – the mechanisms for on-boarding, equipping and cultivating people.

Corporate identity, values and vision should be demonstrated in the culture, which should be reflected in the structure, which should be served by the process, which should be facilitated by the technology – all of which should be effectively communicated by the training. These each must function well in themselves, but even more so, they must function well interdependently as a system.

Encouraged by the implications of the PCAST report, Kevin decided to share his model and perspectives with others through the organization that first brought the PCAST report to his attention, the Society for Health Systems. His SHS webinar in fall 2014 led to a presentation at the Healthcare Systems Process Improvement Conference in 2015. At each subsequent conference, he has shared the incremental expansion and refinement of the model and concepts.

Now as one of the pre-conference events of the IISE Annual Conference & Expo 2020 May 30-June 2, Kevin is conducting an innovative, interactive workshop that explores this holistic, systemic model and approach for organizations. It investigates common problems in organizations and illustrates their systemic identification and remediation. It contrasts centralized, episodic intervention with distributed, inherent wellness. Finally, it explores a mindset and a methodology that enables everyone throughout the organization to be ongoing agents of positive change and of improved quality by leveraging disappointment as a trigger and focus of inquiry.

No prior coursework, presentations or systems knowledge are required to benefit from this workshop. Its approach and principles are applicable to any industry or market, as well as to any size of organization. The pre-conference workshops are set for 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, May 30.

For more information, visit the Annual Conference website,, or you may reach out to Kevin directly at

— Julie Drzymalski, Ph.D., is a professor and program director for the industrial and systems engineering program in the College of Engineering at Temple University in Philadelphia.