3月 232011
 
When you think of statistical process control, or SPC for short, what industry first comes to your mind? In the past 10 or 15 years, diverse industries have begun to standardize processes and administrative tasks with statistical process control. While the top two bars of the industrial Pareto chart are probably still manufacturing and machine maintenance, in North America, SPC is being used in far more types of work than many people realize.

One reason that researchers and process managers turn to Walter Shewhart’s trusty techniques to distinguish between common cause and special cause variation—in other words, variation that represents unimportant bumps on the road and variation that means that the wheels have fallen off the bus—is that they work far better than gut instinct in many cases. Furthermore, they are defensible, because they are based on sound, scientific practice. What might surprise you is the extent to which social science, human subject research, and administrative fields are making use of SPC.

1. Health Care. This is the area I hear the most buzz about for SPC. A great deal of interesting work is being done in monitoring process variables such as late payments, the number of available beds, payments to providers, script-writing rates for high-risk drugs, pain levels during recovery from surgery, and so on. I can only scratch the surface here. The writing is on the wall about health care becoming still more expensive, data are becoming more and more plentiful, and it is especially easy for problems to hide in massive data. Unpredictable problems = cost. Process control = savings.

2. Customer Service How long did you have to wait in line the last time you were in a big box store? When you last called the cable company? Some companies recognize that if customer service is slow, you will take your business elsewhere. Some are even willing to take action on that knowledge. There are plenty of measureable service quality characteristics that can be tapped into to identify times of day or product lines that are inconsistent, which translates to a better customer experience, and to customer loyalty.

3. Survey Research This is the one I’m most excited about right now. SPC interest in survey research has been on the rise for the past 5 or so years, and I think it’s an area ripe for this sort of analysis. If the news tells you that 52% of Americans who eat raw oysters only eat them to be polite, someone had to get that information. Enter the heroes of the survey world. Survey researchers, the people behind all the Things We Know about How We Are, are applying statistical process control methods with variables related to survey data collection, such as interview length, nonresponse rate, interviewer driving distances, and so on.

Continue reading "The Human Side of Statistical Process Control: Three Applications of SAS/QC You Might Not Have Thought About"

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