SEMS Says ... A ‘triple-dog-dare’ to achieve quality through strategic layering

By the Society for Engineering and Management Systems Board

September/October 2021

Quality is something everyone is constantly fighting to improve and something everyone touts and wants to have. Yet, it’s an uphill battle to implement, create buy-in and integrate into organizations. Why is it that something so essential and in-demand by consumers seems to elude so many organizations?

In my experience, quality is so much more than an objective with prescribed steps to achieve it. Quality is a mindset, and nothing clouds an organization’s perception of quality more than segregating quality from the rest of the organization. This is not atypical, and is the rule rather than the exception. A company’s quality control department says to outsiders, “We sell quality products because we have an entire department dedicated to it!” Meanwhile, internal to the organization, a much different message is being sent and reinforced – the message that quality isn’t everyone’s responsibility.

Forcing quality to happen through a separate department with its own employees does a disservice to organizations long term. Layer upon layer of procedures and checks and paperwork smother any hope of reaching full integration of quality into processes, products or services. When something goes wrong, most times the solution is to add a layer of control. And what happens when another nonconformance surfaces? You add another layer, then another, and this pattern continues until this process has so many layers that it is reminiscent of Randy getting dressed for school from the movie A Christmas Story. And the process, like Randy, is crying in protest, “I can’t put my arms down!”

Did Randy need so many layers to protect himself from the cold? This raises a similar question: Do organizations really need that many layers to be compliant and meet customer needs and expectations?

These layers are well intended – they are in place to make sure problems are detected before they reach the end user and are remediated in a timely manner. However, if you must have that many layers of control over your processes to ensure things are done the right way, the problem isn’t the lack of control; the underlying culprit is the process itself. While it may be too soon for your organization to say no layers are needed (because let’s face it, running around naked in the cold isn’t the way to go, either), there is a different way to ensure quality standards are being met throughout the organization.

The way to accomplish that is to design your processes (and organization) with quality in mind while also addressing those failure modes that may wreak havoc on your products and services. For those failure modes that can’t be removed from the process, layers of control are required. However, not just any layers should be tacked on to mitigate problems, a la Randy dressing for his walk in the snow. Implementation of strategic layering is needed. Integrating strategic layering with robust process design is a winning combination and will be far more effective long term for organizations who wish to integrate, rather than segregate, quality.

Randy would be surprised and delighted to know that you can protect yourself against the cold equally well, if not better, with fewer layers of clothing. Likewise, organizations can deliver quality products and services to the customer with fewer layers of controls with an integrated, holistic process design. This methodology is much different from how we were taught and how organizations are structured.

Still, I urge you to think outside the box and find a better way. I “tripledog- dare” you to take a different approach to quality in your organization by taking off the rose-colored glasses and taking a long, hard look at the processes in place in your organization, including the ones designed by you. The rewards that lie in evaluating process design and correcting existing flaws will surprise even the staunchest control freaks.

– Casey Spansel is quality manager at Advanced Cutting Solutions and a member of the SEMS Board of Directors. Contact her at

It’s time to select IISE’s best for 2022 Honors & Awards

The top achievers in industry and academia in industrial and systems engineering will be celebrated at the IISE Annual Conference & Expo 2022 May 21-24 in Seattle, Washington.

Nominations for award candidates will be accepted through Dec. 1. The winners represent the highest achievers in leadership, teaching, research, service and academic pursuit in the ISE profession. Top awards include the Frank and Lillian Gilbreth Industrial Engineering Award, IISE’s highest honor; leadership awards such as the IISE Fellows and Captains of Industry; and educator and research awards, service to profession, specialty and student awards.

To nominate colleagues, peers or student members, visit To watch videos of the 2021 award presentations, visit the IISE YouTube page,

“Nominations for the third annual IISE Cup will be accepted through Feb. 18. For details, visit

New topics, fresh voices on tap for Problem Solved Season 3

With two full seasons of episodes in the books, Problem Solved: The IISE Podcast is going strong as it heads into its third season.

The podcast opened Season 3 with episodes featuring Michael J. Pyrcz, Joyce T. Siegele and Morgan Smith, keynote speakers for the Lean Six Sigma & Data Science Conference, in a discussion with IISE’s James R. Swisher, director of continuing education and corporate training. Other Season 3 episodes address Lean supply chains during the pandemic, medical equipment tracking, dental 3D printing, workplace ergonomics and space systems engineers designing a supply chain to the moon.

Since its debut in May 2019 during the IISE Annual Conference & Expo, the podcast has received more than 20,000 downloads and reached 100 countries. The inaugural episode featuring IISE CEO Don Greene and Immediate Past President David Poirier recently passed the 1,000 download mark on its own.

“We’re aiming to continue covering diverse topics and to get more members involved as guest interviewers,” said David Brandt, IISE senior manager of digital strategy and production and lead podcast producer.

To access current and past episodes, visit or find them on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts and Spotify.

Winning video from Cal-Berkeley students celebrates ISEs’ wide reach

Industrial and systems engineering students from the University of California Berkeley were the top prize winners in this year’s annual IISE Industry Advisory Board YouTube Video Contest, sponsored by Tompkins International.

The first-place entry by the team of Duncan Barcelona, Maya Sprouse, Samantha Tito and Alexandra Novales focused on the various ways industrial engineers apply their skills to improve processes throughout the world. All are students in UC Berkeley’s Industrial Engineering and Operations Research Department. Also placing in the contest were the Universidad de las Américas Puebla, Mexico, in second place and Purdue University in third.

Entries for the 2022 contest are now being accepted; the deadline is March 28. The winning team earns a $1,000 prize and all three finalists are awarded fees to the Annual Conference. Learn more and find links to past winners at