Introduction to Industrial Engineering

By Jane M. Fraser

Chapter 2

Big ideas you will hear frequently


Return to the Table of Contents.

At times while reading this book, you may wonder exactly what you are learning and you may not be able to point to specific new skills and knowledge you have, but I guarantee that you will have new ideas and new ways of thinking by the time you complete this book. By the time you finish reading this book, you will have begun to think like an IE. How does an IE think?

One example of how an IE thinks is that when something goes wrong - a customer got the wrong shipment, a worker was injured, a plant did not produce the quantity of product that was planned for that day - an IE blames the system, not the people. An IE keeps asking "why?" until the root cause is identified for a problem:

The IE in this example could end up identifying problems in how customer orders are tracked, in how the sales people identify appropriate products for customers, or in when and how shipping labels are printed and applied to shipments. The IE will probably end up making changes to the physical system (including the information system) and to the procedures used. Perhaps the shipping label should not be printed until the order is actually being shipped.

The big idea from this example is that an IE blames the system, not the people. Now, that idea may not always be true; yes, sometimes people simply make mistakes, but the IE should always think first, second, and often about how systems can be improved so people donít make mistakes. An IE tries to set up systems so people do tasks right the first time every time.

Here is a list of ideas that you will read about throughout this book and that we will bring up repeatedly in our discussions:

None of the above statements is true all the time. You donít want to stick blindly to any one of these statements all the time. But most of the time, the above ideas are good ways for an IE to think.

It is about you

One big, final idea that you will see throughout this book is that industrial engineering is about you, in two ways. First, the ideas of industrial engineering can be applied to your own life, and second, you need to make sure that you use good processes for doing industrial engineering. As an IE you work on improving the system of the organization for which you work; as an individual, you work on improving the system that is you.

Many students have read and have recommended very strongly The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey. Those seven habits are:

  1. Be proactive.
  2. Begin with the end in mind.
  3. Put first things first.
  4. Think win/win.
  5. Seek first to understand, then to be understood.
  6. Synergize.
  7. Sharpen the saw.

In Chapter 8 (IE Careers), Iíll give you more details on each of these points. Together, the seven habits help you apply IE ideas to make yourself an effective person.

As an IE, you do your work in a context: the people you work with closely, the organization that employs you, the area where the organization is located, the state where you live, the country where you live, and, of course, the world. The systems approach, which Iíll explain in Chapter 5, urges you to think about putting the process you are studying into a larger context so you wonít make a change that improves the process but that does damage to the larger system. I like the phrase ďthink globally, act locally.Ē

IEs, more than other engineers, think about the people in the system. Engineering ethics, which Iíll present in Chapter 8, starts with the rule ďEngineers shall hold paramount the safety, health, and welfare of the public in the performance of their professional duties.Ē Throughout this book, Iíll urge you to consider your own behavior and your effect on systems at different levels and especially your effect on people.

For example, as a woman in a male dominated field, I have decided to use inclusive language; I avoid using the word ďheĒ for an engineer. I donít want my language behavior to cause any student to have doubts about becoming an engineer.

Youíll have many issues to think about throughout this book. One of the biggest issues involves your choices about who you are.