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Klastorin receives Institute of Industrial Engineers best paper award

The Institute of Industrial Engineers honored Ted Klastorin, the Burlington Northern/Burlington Resources Professor of Operations Management at the University of Washington Foster School of Business, with its 2009 IIE Transactions best paper award in the operations area.

The award recognizes the impact of Klastorin’s project management paper, “An Effective Methodology for the Stochastic Project Compression Problem,” written with former Foster doctoral student Gary Mitchell (now an assistant professor at the University of Portland). It was published in the October 2007 issue of IIE Transactions, the flagship journal of the industrial engineering industry.

The paper introduces a new method of allocating resources and prioritizing tasks in order to complete a project more quickly and at the lowest total cost—an outcome vital to the financial health of a firm.

“Our algorithm addresses the best way to allocate or reallocate resources when you want to compress the project timeline, either because of a delay or an external threat from a competitor,” Klastorin says.

The authors demonstrate their solution is easy to implement and offers measurably greater cost savings (between 3 and 20 percent) than previously reported methods—especially those that ignore the uncertainty of task times.

Theory in practice

Klastorin, who has consulted for Boeing, PACCAR, Fluke and many other organizations over the past three decades, admits there can be a chasm between academic theory and management practice. But he believes that sophisticated organizations do pay attention to research such as his.

As competition has intensified in every industry, many firms have attempted to slash project timelines. Depending on the study, only one in four new product development projects are successful—that is, completed on time and on budget.

“In most project planning activities, we construct a baseline schedule for organizing subcontractors, workers and materials,” Klastorin says. “But we don’t build systems with sufficient flexibility. So when bad things happen, our schedule is delayed. But when good things happen, we don’t have the flexibility to take advantage of these gains and we stick to our original schedule. When you have a system that can only adjust to delays and disruptions, you have planned your project to fail.”

Compression = savings

Every project is different. A large construction undertaking, such as PACCAR Hall, requires a different management approach than the development of a complex new product, like the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, or an information technology development project, such as Microsoft Windows 7. The solution to every production delay may not be delivered with a bow by Klastorin’s algorithm. But he does believe the methodology offers an approach that can help managers decide where and how to compress tasks, trim time to market and total costs.

“We’re giving project managers the tools and knowledge to increase the likelihood of success,” he says. “Even a small improvement in efficiency can make a big difference on the bottom line.”

In addition to being a professor of operations management at the Foster School, Klastorin also serves as adjunct professor in the UW Department of Health Services and as an adjunct professor of industrial engineering in the UW College of Engineering.