What is Applied Concept Mapping?

Brian Moon of Perigean Technologies recently co-authored a book titled Applied Concept Mapping: Capturing, Analyzing, and Organizing Knowledge, and I asked him, quite simply, "What differentiates Applied Concept Mapping from other knowledge diagramming approaches?"

Brain gave me a clear and succinct answer, so I thought I'd post it here:

Applied concept mapping is the application of concept mapping to problem solving in the workplace. Concept mapping is a theoretically and scientifically grounded diagrammatic method of knowledge representation developed by Joseph D. Novak in the 1970s and originally intended for educational purposes. In the past couple of decades, concept mapping has been applied to a myriad of knowledge problems in the workplace, many of which are covered in our book.

While there are many approaches to “mapping intellectual landscapes," “idea mapping,” and “visual thinking,” applied concept mapping is distinct in many ways. Few if any, are grounded in as extensive a theoretical and scientific base as concept mapping. None require the level of specificity that is the hallmark of an effective concept map. Indeed, concept maps require not only the articulation of key concepts, but the specification of the nature of the relationship between them. This specification, as well as the semi-hierarchical shape of the map and the extensive use of ‘cross-links’ that emerge as otherwise disparate concepts are connected, distinguishes concept mapping from other approaches to knowledge diagramming.

When created in the CmapTools knowledge modeling software kit, concept maps can be put to a vast array of uses: knowledge elicitation, transfer, and management; lexicon and ontology development; modeling; training and organizational learning; product, software, cognitive systems, and organizational design and engineering; stakeholder engagement; analysis; and distributed planning. This flexibility in application is a major differentiator – innovations in application spring readily from the basic notion of representing key concepts and specifying their relationships.

Has any reader of this blog ever used concept maps as a problem-solving tool? Did they effectively help improve the process?


Spend Analysis -- What Makes a Part "Right"?

After Michael D. Holloway published his latest book -- Spend Analysis and Specification Development Using Failure Interpretation -- I discussed with him the effects of machine downtime and replacement costs. I asked: "If I'm working in a plant, and I have so many different parts that I buy, how can I possibly figure out what is costing me the most in terms of reliability and affecting my operations?"

He had an insightful answer, and I'm reproducing it here:

Great question! First, many items purchased are done so because items either wear out or break prematurely. Some items such as pumps and motors may leave a big impression on us because the failure is dramatic but a screw, grease, or an adhesive may not be such a big deal at first glance. That is where many people make a costly mistake. One must first understand cost and value before one can appreciate the cost of failure. It is best to follow a Purchasing Specification Development Process, and I have outlined one in my book. It will aid you in identifying the reasons for purchase and failures as well as how to determine which items are costing the most. In addition, it will help you develop a comprehensive procurement specification that will drive down operation costs. When you are able to talk about these failures and examine the data as it relates to not only the cost of the item but the downtime and labor it takes to repair or replace it, it becomes obvious what to attack first. It is very important that you don’t take on too much and also to include others from different parts of the operation. Often the operators understand the equipment far better than anyone else.

What is the common factor that influences a purchasing decision in your organization? Is it price? Would this be the case if the engineering, production, and maintenance teams were involved in the purchasing requirements and part and product procurement specifications?


Process Capability and Discrimination Ratios

During a recent phone call with Douglas Relyea, author of the book The Practical Application of the Process Capability Study: Evolving From Product Control to Process Control, he mentioned some common questions that arise when consulting with leaders or organizations. I'll let Doug take it from here:

"A company CEO asked me this question just this week, and I receive many similar questions in regard to gauges:

I understand the measurement process analysis (MPA) performed on product XYZ bond strength indicates we have a discrimination ratio (DR) of 2 which, if I understand correctly, means we can use this gauge to separate XYZ product into only two categories – good and bad. Should we buy a new gauge?

My answer is:

No. A low DR is not always a negative. A low DR can be the result of manufactured product that has very little variation as compared to the variation of the measurement process.

In this case, the product variation is 9 gms/in2 and the measurement process variation is 47 gms/in2. The customer specification is 400 gms/in2, minus 50 gms/in2 with no upper limit stipulated. The production records indicate the bond for this particular product is generally produced with a mean of 500 gms/in2. This measurement process is suitable to tell good product from bad and, in this case, that is all that is required. "

Do you agree with Doug's assessment?


What About Standardized Work?

I recently spoke to Timothy D. Martin and Jeffrey T. Bell, who recently published a book titled New Horizons in Standardized Work: Techniques for Manufacturing and Business Process Improvement, about the role standardized work plays the performance of processes. I asked them flat out: "What would be the most important point that you want to make about standardized work?" Here is their unedited reply:

Over the years, we learned quite a bit from the many mistakes that we made as well as our successes in applying standardized work in many diverse processes. We also found that others were often very interested in how we “saw” ways to apply standardized work. To ensure that we did not lose these experiences, we tried to summarize and capture the thinking behind our adaptation efforts. This is one of the reasons behind the idea of “new horizons”. We felt it was important to share these experiences and hopefully offer more detailed information on standardized work itself. Although there are a lot of books about the Toyota Production System (TPS) and lean manufacturing, standardized work often appears in limited detail. We felt that this might have led to some of the common misconceptions that we were running into about standardized work.

One of the main misconceptions is that there appears to be a common belief that standardized work applies only to manufacturing processes with short repeatable work cycles. We believe that standardized work principles can be applied to virtually any situation where work is involved. Toyota has taught us that we should not blindly copy what they have done, but rather that we must instead strive to understand the thinking behind TPS so that it can be adapted to our processes. This thinking, which includes standardized work, can be adapted to processes used in the office, on a construction site, in the kitchen, in an operating room, or even in the board room. The extent of these principles and philosophies is limited only by your determination."

Do you agree with Tim and Jeff? Can standardized work really be effective off the manufacturing floor? Do you think it would work with long work cycles? Is it dangerous in some particular professions to standardize work?