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Posts Tagged ‘Quality’

Potholes!

It was a bad winter in Chicago and, frankly, pretty much everywhere in the Northern part of the country. If April showers bring May flowers, then January snows bring February potholes. Or at least that is the conventional thinking, but is Mother Nature really the only cause of potholes?

That is the question asked by an OR/MS Today1 article. And is there anyway not to be intrigued by the headline “Pothole Analytics“?

The article is written by Lucius Riccio who, among other things, is a past Commissioner of NYC’s Department of Transportation. His contention is that the formation of potholes is not independent of how a city treats it roads and that Gotham may just have been asking for a ton of potholes. Here’s the punchline to the article.

Clearly, fixing potholes is an essential and commendable thing to do. And to do so efficiently is a worthy management objective. Of course, it is not how many you fill but how many you don’t fill. Or put another way, how long do they remain in the street breaking axles and blowing out tires? But in addition, I think the fixation (pun intended) with potholes is the wrong approach.

A high number of potholes is indicative of a failure to maintain the streets. Fixing potholes means the smart thing hasn’t been done, which is to do the work that prevents them in the first place. Potholes are emblematic of a failed strategy.

How does he get to this conclusion? Data! (more…)

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PJ-BU102A_MIDSE_G_20140402183019

Which is worse, having your flight delayed two hours or having your flight cancelled and being rebooked on a flight two hours later? According to Delta Airlines, customers generally prefer a simple delay to a cancellation and rebooking. That has led to Delta working hard to minimize the number of cancelled flights. According to the Wall Street Journal’s Middle Seat column, last year Delta cancelled just 0.3% of its flights — well below the industry average of 1.7% — and at one point went 72 straight days without canceling a single flight (A World Where Flights Aren’t Canceled, Apr 2). As the graphic above and the video below demonstrate, this has taken a lot of operational refinements.

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This blog has covered many different topics over the years. We have talked about everything from managing hospital emergency departments to supply chain risk to baseball. But we have so far ignored hard liquor. That ends today. We are going to talk about bourbon. Corn whiskey has been an industry in the US for a long, long time (remember the Whiskey Rebellion?) but, as Fortune tells it, the industry is incredibly hot right now (The billion-dollar bourbon boom, Feb 6).

In absolute numbers, the bourbon industry’s $8 billion in global sales is relatively modest. (The Coca-Cola company alone has 16 drink brands with annual sales above $1 billion.) What’s extraordinary is the growth—and the fact that bourbon’s popularity appears to have come out of nowhere. According to Euromonitor, domestic whiskey sales have soared by 40% in the past five years—NASCAR-fast numbers in a sector where good growth often means 2% or 3% a year, and a revolution for a spirit whose sales declined almost without a break for 30 years. Things are even better abroad. In 2002, American distillers exported just $376 million in whiskey; by 2013 that number had almost tripled, to $1 billion, according to numbers released this month by the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States.

Growth is particularly strong in the so-called super-premium category—that is, the brands that cost about $30 or more, like Maker’s Mark—where sales were up 14.4% in 2012 alone, according to the Distilled Spirits Council. “We have trouble keeping bourbon in stock that’s over $50,” says David Othenin-Girard, a spirits buyer for California’s K&L Wines. “It’s just flying off the shelves.”

Just what is behind the growth is open to speculation. Don Draper knocking back Manhattans on Mad Men helps as does marketing that emphasizes an “authentic” American product. However, there is a problem. Producers cannot simply flip a switch and produce more.

Whiskey is unlike most spirits—or most any consumer good, for that matter—in that production cycles are measured in years, not days or weeks. No matter how efficiently a distillery mills its grain or ferments its mash, a four-year-old bourbon has to sit in a barrel for at least four years. That means production levels are based on projections far into the future. …

“We only have as much [10-year-old bourbon] available as we made 10 years ago,” says Comstock. “We’ll continue to make more, but it won’t help today.”

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Check out this graphic that combines how Southwest and United Airlines do in handling (more specifically, losing) passenger bags (the lines) with how those passengers complain to the Feds about those airlines mishandling their luggage (the bars).

complaints

To give credit where it is due, the graph comes from a working paper by MIT researcher Michael D. Wittman (Are low-cost carrier passengers less likely to complain about service quality?) which is also discussed in a BusinessWeek post (Why Discount Airlines Draw Fewer Complaints (Hint: It’s Not Better Service), Feb 6). I find this a pretty interesting piece of eye candy. It seems to suggest that Southwest is the Teflon airline — nothing sticks to it even when their operational performance is as mediocre as other airlines.

Wittman’s work has a couple of interesting facets to it. First, Southwest isn’t alone in having relatively low complain rates. JetBlue and Alaska also have much lower rates than big “legacy” carriers such as United, American, and USAir. (However, it should be noted that it ain’t just about being a traditional network carrier that drives up complaints. Delta has the fourth lowest complaint rate in the data set.) Second, this is not just about bags. It’s about multiple dimensions of performance. As the BusinessWeek article notes, JetBlue runs a lot of flights from delay prone JFK and so has the lowest on-time performance of the groups but it still has a low complaint rate. (more…)

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The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration maintains a website that users track how many motor vehicle recalls there have been this month. As I am writing this, there have already been 17 in November. As the graphs below show, there have been an increasing number of recalls in recent years affecting an increasing number of vehicles.

recall

Those graphs come from an Automotive News article (Despite quality improvements, costly safety issues continue to dog automakers, Oct 28) that gets to an interesting question: If the general quality of cars has improved, why are there so many more recalls?  (more…)

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It is tempting to label everything involving data as big data these days as if the qualifier makes the topic inherently sexier. The Wall Street Journal is guilty of this in recent headline on “manufacturing execution systems” (How Many Turns in a Screw? Big Data Knows, May 15). While the headline may be hyperbole, the basic idea of these systems is pretty cool.

Raytheon is one of many manufacturers installing more sophisticated, automated systems to gather and analyze factory-floor data. The company uses software known as manufacturing execution systems, or MES, which has been around since the 1980s. Semiconductor and other high-tech companies were early adopters, but now “others are catching up,” says Tom Comstock, an executive vice president at Apriso Corp., one of the suppliers of this software. …

Manufacturers are looking harder at data partly because of increasing pressure from customers to eliminate defects and from shareholders to squeeze out more costs. Regulators are also demanding more data collection to trace safety problems. The cost of computers, scanners and other hardware has also come down, and technology for storing and moving data has improved.

At the same time, factory equipment has “got smarter,” says Mike Lackey, a vice president at SAP. The newest equipment comes with computerized controls that make it easier to collect data and share it with the rest of the company or suppliers.

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What counts as good service at a fast food restaurant? Speed obviously matters but what about staff interactions? No expects a quick service restaurant to have a Zagat’s rating (although some Chicago hot dog stands are graded) but can fast food service slip so much that customers notice?

Apparently the answer is yes, and furthermore McDonald’s hasn’t been doing so well in delivering service (McDonald’s Tackles Repair of ‘Broken’ Service, Apr 10).

But achieving speed and friendliness of service across the chain has been a particularly elusive goal, at least in part because about 90% of McDonald’s restaurants in the U.S. are owned by independent operators.

In QSR Magazine’s annual Drive-Thru Study, the only comprehensive industry comparison of customer service at fast-food chains, other restaurants have consistently outperformed McDonald’s in those areas. In last year’s study, the average service time at the McDonald’s drive-through studied was 188.83 seconds, compared with 129.75 for industry leader Wendy’s Co.  Chick-fil-A had the top friendliness ratings. Out of the seven major chains in the study, McDonald’s was second to last in the “very friendly” ranking, just above Burger King.

So what are the root causes of the problem and what can they do about it? (more…)

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luluSo Lululemon has a problem with its yoga pants. It is of the I-see-England-I-see-France variety (Lululemon Yoga Pants Pulled From Stores for ‘Sheerness’, Wall Street Journal, March 19).

The yoga-apparel retailer’s shares tumbled late Monday after saying it has pulled some of its popular pants from stores, after a mistake by a supplier left the pants too see-through. …

“The ingredients, weight and longevity qualities of the pants remain the same but the coverage does not, resulting in a level of sheerness in some of our women’s black Luon bottoms that falls short of our very high standards,” Lululemon said in a release.

Lululemon said Monday it has used the same manufacturing supplier on key fabrics since 2004 and is working to understand what happened.

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When I was a kid, I loved Legos. So I was, of course, pleased when my kids started playing with them. In the last year or so, my kids have outgrown them. And while having all the Legos put away makes it a little safer to walk barefoot across the family room, it does make me a litte sad. Which is why, I guess, I have a soft spot for stories about Legos.

Like, for example, a BBC story asking just how many Legos can you stack on top of each other (How tall can a Lego tower get?, Dec 3). Turns out, you can make a pretty tall tower.

Ian Johnston and the team do two more tests to be sure we hadn’t just happened upon the strongest Lego brick in existence. And in fact they were impressed at the consistency of Lego manufacture.

The average maximum force the bricks can stand is 4,240N. That’s equivalent to a mass of 432kg (950lbs). If you divide that by the mass of a single brick, which is 1.152g, then you get the grand total of bricks a single piece of Lego could support: 375,000.

So, 375,000 bricks towering 3.5km (2.17 miles) high is what it would take to break a Lego brick.

Here’s a graphic to help visualize 375,000 Lego bricks.

lego

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For those heading to an airport for the Thanksgiving holiday, the New York Times (Airlines’ On-Time Performance Rises, Nov 21) has some good news: More flights are leaving on time!

There are, of course, some devils in the details behind these aggregate numbers. Performance can vary by month simply because of weather (apparently August and January are the worst) and the numbers above do not reflect commuter airlines affiliated with major carriers (so going home to a small regional airport may be more touch and go). Also, as the graph makes clear, it sucks to be a major airline that like United goes through multiple computer glitches in a year.

So how have the airlines brought up their performance? By focusing on the processes needed to get planes out. (more…)

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