Teaching Systems Analysis and Modeling

ProModel Guest Blogger: Robert Loomis, Ph.D. Adjunct Professor, Florida Institute of Technology; NASA (Retired)

Loomis

Robert Loomis, Ph.D.

I teach a number of courses for the Florida Institute of Technology, one of which (Systems Analysis and Modeling) is a 17 week graduate level survey course in Systems Analysis, various types of modeling and how the modeling fits into the SA process.  This course is designed to be “a mile wide and an inch deep” in that it introduces several topics that could, by themselves, be the subject of dedicated courses.

One of the challenges in teaching a course such as this (particularly in an MBA environment) is to find tools that are effective and demonstrate the concepts well without becoming bogged down in the mechanics of the tools employed.  It also helps if the students find them engaging to use.  I ended up writing some of my own applications for certain deterministic models in order to meet those requirements and to emphasize the concepts that I felt were important.

I chose ProModel to use as a simulation package for a number of reasons. It has:

  • A graphical User Interface that is attractive, easy to use, and (at least at the level my class uses) easy to learn.
  • Outstanding documentation.
  • An excellent Professor Package.
  • An excellent Student Package. It is modestly-priced and fully-featured (limited only by the size of the model that can be created).
  • A Workstation Simulator (added by ProModel this year) that is extremely useful for instructors and students.

I have also found the ProModel staff to be responsive, courteous, and willing to help with any issues that may arise. I believe ProModel recognizes that offering an excellent value and support in the teaching environment will pay long-term dividends as the students move into their professional environment, and I applaud ProModel for their insight.

About Robert Loomis

Robert Loomis received a BSEE from Michigan State University, and an MS and Ph.D. in Industrial Engineering from Texas A&M University.  For the last 30 years he has worked for NASA and the United Space Alliance (USA) in the space and aerospace environment as a safety and reliability expert. His NASA positons included Chairman of the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) Safety Engineering Review Panel, Chairman of the KSC Ground Risk Review Panel, Manager of Data Systems at NASA Headquarters, Deputy Director of Safety at Dryden Flight Research Center (DFRC), and Head of the Independent Technical Authority at DFRC. He held numerous positions with USA, culminating in Corporate Director of Mission Assurance.  Dr. Loomis’ recognitions include the NASA QASAR Award, the NASA Exceptional Public Service Medal the Astronauts Silver Snoopy Award; the IEEE Millennium Medal; IEEE Reliability Society Lifetime Achievement Award; and Leadership and Teamwork Awards from the United Space Alliance.  He is a Senior Member of the IEEE and a Fellow of the Society of Reliability Engineers. He is an adjunct professor at Florida Tech; and most importantly, a Full-Time Grandfather to the three nicest, smartest, and best-looking grandchildren on the planet.

Teaching Process Management Using ProModel

ProModel Guest Blogger:  Scott Metlen, Ph.D. – Business Department Head and Associate Professor at University of Idaho

Scott Metlen, Ph.D.

Scott Metlen, Ph.D.

Understanding process management, the design, implementation, management and control, and continuous improvement of the enterprise wide set of an organizations processes is the key to well deployed strategies. It was not until Tim Cook made Apple’s total set of processes world class including all supply chain linked processes (Brownlee, 2012) that Apple hit its amazing climb to become the world’s highest valued company; even though the company had cutting edge products before his arrival. Gaining effective understanding of process management is not easy due to the strategic variability inherent in the portfolio of products that companies sell, and in markets they service. This strategic variability (Rajan, 2011) in turn drives variability in many processes that an organization uses to operate. For instance, different markets require different marketing plans supported by different processes.  Order processes often vary by product and target market. Employee skill sets differ by product requiring different hiring and training processes. Different products, whether it be services or goods that have a slight variation require, at the very least, an adjustment to the production process. Adding to, and often caused by the variability just mentioned, are multiple process steps, each with different duration times and human resource skills.  Depending on what product is currently being produced, process steps, process step order and duration time, interdependency between the process steps, and business rules all vary. Where a product is in its life cycle will drive the experience curve, again creating variation across products. In addition, the numerous interfaces with other processes all vary depending on the product being produced. All of these sources of variability can make process management hard to do, teach, and learn. One tool that helps with process management in the face of variance is discrete event simulation and one of the best software suites to use is ProModel. ProModel is a flexible program with excellent product support from the company.

Effective process management is a multi-step process. The first step of process management is to determine the process flow while at the same time determining the value and non-value added process steps. Included in the process flow diagram for each step are the duration times by product and resources needed at each step, and product routes. Also needed at this time are business rules governing the process such as working hours, safety envelopes, quality control, queueing rules, and many others. Capturing this complex interrelated system begins by visiting the process and talking with the process owner and operators. Drawing the diagram and listing other information is a good second step, but actually building and operating the process is when a person truly understands the process and its complexities.  Of course many of the processes we want to improve are already built and are in use. In most cases, students will not be able to do either of these. However, building a verified and validated simulation model is a good proxy for doing the real thing, as the model will never validate against the actual process output unless all of the complexity is included or represented in the model. In the ‘Systems and Simulation’ course at the University of Idaho students first learn fundamentals of process management including lean terms and tools. Then they are given the opportunity to visit a company in the third week of class as a member of a team to conduct a process improvement project. In this visit students meet the process owner and operators. If the process is a production process, they walk the floor and discuss the process and the delta between expected and actual output. If the process is an information flow process, such as much of an order process, the students discuss the process and, again, the delta between expected and realized output. Over the next six weeks students take the preliminary data and begin to build a simulation model of the current state of the process. During this time period students discover that they do not have all the data and information they need to replicate the actual process. In many cases they do not have the data and/or information because the company does not have that information or how the model is operated is not the same as designed. Students then have to contact the process owner and operators throughout the six weeks to determine the actual business rules used and/or make informed assumptions to complete their model.

Once the model has been validated and the students have a deep understanding of the process, students start modeling process changes that will eliminate waste in the system, increase output, and decrease cost. Examples of methods used to improve the process include changing business rules, adding strategically placed buffers and resources, and reallocating resources. To determine the most effective way to improve the process, a cost benefit analysis in the form of an NPV analysis is completed. The students use the distribution of outputs from the original model to generate appropriate output and then compare that output to output pulled from the distributions of each improvement scenario. This comparison is then used to determine a 95% confidence interval for the NPV and the probability of the NPV being zero or less. Finally, several weeks before the semester is finished, students travel to the company to present their findings and recommendations.

Student learning on these projects is multifaceted. Learning how to use ProModel is the level that the students are most aware of during the semester, as it takes much of their time. However, by the end of the semester they talk about improving their ability to manage processes, work in teams, deal with ambiguity, manage multiple projects, present to high level managers, and maintain steady communication with project owners.

Utilizing external projects and discrete event simulation to teach process management has been used in the College of Business and Economics at the University of Idaho for the past six years. As a result, the Production and Operation area has grown from 40 to 150 students and from five to 20 projects per semester. More importantly, students who complete this course are being sought out and hired by firms based on the transformational learning and skill sets students acquired through the program.

References:

Rajan Suri. Beyond Lean: It’s About Time. 2011 Technical Report, Center for Quick Response Manufacturing, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Brownlee, John. Apples’s Secret Weapon 06/13/2012. http://www.cnn.com/2012/06/12/opinion/brownlee-apple-secret/index.html?hpt=hp_t2. 12/301/2014.

Scott Metlen Bio:

http://www.uidaho.edu/cbe/business/scottmetlen

 

Happy Holidays!

President & CEO ProModel Corporation

Keith Vadas – President & CEO ProModel Corporation

The ProModel family would like to wish everyone a very joyous holiday season and a prosperous 2015!  We thank you for all your support and business this past year.  As always, our goal is to help you meet or exceed your performance goals.  We hope that our people and solutions were able to assist you in that endeavor this past year.

2014 was a busy year for ProModel filled with exciting new products like Process Simulator Pro, revamped new releases of ProModel, MedModel and Enterprise Portfolio Simulator, and of course our custom solutions designed for a host of clients across all industries. As most of you know, we have an extraordinary team of consultants and software developers always available to help your organization meet the next business challenge. Looking ahead, 2015 is shaping up to be another BIG year here at ProModel as we continue to develop new products including Healthcare solutions and other business improvement tools. 

Thank you, and I wish you and your families a happy holiday and a joyful New Year.

 

FREE ProModel Webinar: Predictive vs. Prescriptive Analytics

Join ProModel’s CTO, Dan Hickman, and Product Manager, Kevin Jacobson (KJ), on Wednesday November 5, 2014 – 2:00 PM EST for an informative webinar on predictive vs. prescriptive analytics. 

With over 15 years in the industry, Dan has an uncanny understanding of how important both types of analyses are to the success of your business. KJ, with ProModel for over 11 years, manages the Project and Portfolio Simulation product development group. He works closely with our clients on the development of advanced PPM (Project Portfolio Management) predictive and prescriptive analytic tools. He has the hands-on experience to best illustrate how the tool works and how it can help you with your predictive and prescriptive analytic needs.

Together they will show you how ProModel’s Enterprise Portfolio Simulator with Portfolio Scheduler provides the benefits prescriptive analysis can bring to resource capacity planning and project selection. Gain an understanding of the difference between applying predictive and prescriptive analytics to your PPM data, with specific examples focusing on scenario experimentation and portfolio optimization.  KJ will demo some of the newer features of EPS that provide logical recipes for modeling  and show how these tools can help you represent your unique PPM business rules.  The new business rules capabilities of EPS provide portfolio simulation like never before.

CLICK BELOW TO REGISTER FOR THIS WEBINAR NOW!

https://www150.livemeeting.com/lrs/8002083257/Registration.aspx?pageName=k09m7ldp55z3t048&FromPublicUrl=1

 

 

Demystifying System Complexity

Charles Harrell, Founder ProModel Corporation

Charles Harrell, Founder ProModel Corporation

One can’t help but be awe struck, and sometimes even a little annoyed, by the complexity of modern society. This complexity spills over into everyday business systems making them extraordinarily challenging to plan and operate. Enter any factory or healthcare facility and you can sense the confusion and lack of coordination that often seems to prevail. Much of what is intended to be a coordinated effort to get a job done ends up being little more than random commotion resulting in chance outcomes. Welcome to the world of complex systems!

A “complex system” is defined as “a functional whole, consisting of interdependent and variable parts.” (Chris Lucas, Quantifying Complexity Theory, 1999, http://www.calresco.org/lucas/quantify.htm) System complexity, therefore, is a function of both the interdependencies and variability in a system. Interdependencies occur when activities depend on other activities or conditions for their execution. For example, an inspection activity can’t occur until the object being inspected is present and the resources needed for the inspection are available. Variability occurs when there is variation in activity times, arrivals, resource interruptions, etc. As shown below, the performance and predictability of a system is inversely proportional to the degree of interdependency and variability in the system.

Untitled-1

Suppose, for example, you are designing a small work cell or outpatient facility that has five sequential stations with variable activity times and limited buffers or waiting capacity in between. Suppose further that the resources needed for this process experience random interruptions. How does one begin to estimate the output capacity of such a system? More importantly, how does one know what improvements to make to best meet performance objectives?

Obviously, the larger the process and greater the complexity, the more difficult it is to predict how a system will perform and what impact design decisions and operating policies will have. The one thing most systems experts agree on, however, is that increasing complexity tends to have an adverse effect on all aspects of system performance including throughput, resource utilization, time in system and product or service quality.

For Charleys new blog

ProModel and Medmodel are powerful analytic tools that are able to account for the complex relationships in a system and eliminate the guesswork in systems planning. Because these simulation tools imitate the actual operation of a system, they provides valuable insights into system behavior with quantitative measures of system performance.

To help introduce process novices to the way interdependencies and variability impact system performance, ProModel has developed a set of training exercises using an Excel interface to either ProModel or MedModel. Each exercise exposes the initiate to increasingly greater system complexity and how system performance is affected. Additionally, these exercises demonstrate the fundamental ways system complexity can be mitigated and effectively managed.

ProModel is offering these exercises to students and practitioners who are seeking an introduction to simulation and systems dynamics.

 

For more information please contact ProModel Academic

Sandra Petty, Academic Coordinator  spetty@promodel.com

Busy Season at ProModel

Keith Vadas

Keith Vadas – ProModel President & CEO

I am pleased to report ProModel’s second quarter was very positive.  Like many businesses in the US we find ourselves on a serious upswing this Summer of 2014.  Our consultants are working on several projects in a variety of industries, including ship building, power management, retail, manufacturing, food processing, and government contracting.  In all of these projects our experienced team of consultants is working to improve efficiency, save money, and make better decisions for their clients.

ProModel’s DOD projects continue to thrive.  It is hard to believe it has been eight years since we started working with FORSCOM (US Army Forces Command)   on AST (ARFORGEN SYNCHRONIZATION TOOL).  LMI-DST (Lead Materiel Integrator – Decision Support Tool) with the LOGSA Team (US Army Logistics Support Activity) is also going strong.  Our agile team of software developers keeps improving the development process within ProModel and it shows. Just recently the NST Airframe Inventory Management Module was Granted Full Accreditation by the Commander, Naval Air Systems Command.

The time is also ripe for opportunities in Healthcare.  Our patient flow optimization capabilities are perfect for helping hospitals and outpatient clinics improve efficiencies.  Now that the Affordable Care Act has been around for a couple of years, its impact is being felt by healthcare organizations around the country.  The expanded insured-base, and the need for improved processes and different care models is making it absolutely necessary to consider the value of modeling and simulation.  ProModel continues to work with several facilities including Presbyterian Homes and Services, and Array Architects who enhance the flow in Healthcare Facilities design by using MedModel simulation in their design processes.

To better support our base of existing customers, we just released ProModel/MedModel 2014 in July and PCS Pro 2014 at the end of Q1.  EPS 2014 (Enterprise Portfolio Simulator) was released in Q2  and includes a new easy to use, web-based rapid scenario planning tool – Portfolio Scheduler.  You can check this tool out online at – http://portfoliostud.io/#.

There continue to be lots of exciting things happening at ProModel.  We have an outstanding team of consultants and software developers-designers just looking for an opportunity to PARTNER with you to help you meet the next business challenge, or solve the next unexpected problem.

ProModel and MedModel 2014

Kevin Field

Kevin Field – Sr. Product Manager

In regards to this release, I would like to start out by saying, in the words of Nacho Libre, “It’s pretty dang exciting, huh?

With ProModel and MedModel 2014 we’ve tried to keep our current customers in mind as well as new customers. For current customers, the new logic windows with Intellisense and Syntax Guide should help you build models faster and easier. And being able to import graphics from third party graphic programs like Photoshop, Gimp, Paint.Net, etc. should even be more useful now that you can rotate all graphic types in the application. The improvements to the Debug window are a direct result of our work on the new logic windows.

For our new customers, the redesigned Getting Started panel (formerly known as the Control Panel) brings a lot of model building resources to the forefront. We have added new demo models and refreshed several of our previous ones. Did anyone even know we had a Quickstart video, showing you how to build a simple model and analyze results in 10-15 minutes? The most exciting part might be the How To videos our Support team has been producing for several months now. All of our customers will find these extremely helpful.

In this blog I am going to casually comment on some of the new features with the assumption that you have already reviewed What’s New in 2014 and perhaps even viewed the webinar I gave on this release. If not, you might want to consider doing so, otherwise…you can blissfully continue on with me…

New Logic Windows

It’s amazing what a few simple colors can do to help your logic be more readable. As we were developing version 9.1, I found it more and more difficult to go back to 8.6 and “drag” myself through the dreary old plain black text 🙂 It’s funny how refreshing it was to get back to 9.1! Not only the color but also line numbers really make it easy to quickly get around in the logic.

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And if you don’t like our default color scheme or want to have something a little easier on the eyes, simply customize the colors in the Logic Color Selection dialog.

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We also want to encourage good formatting in the new Logic windows by utilizing white space (spaces, line breaks, etc.) and indentation. Don’t be afraid of it! By automatically indenting and out-denting after begin and end brackets, we hope to make co-workers everywhere more willing to leap in and review your logic with you! Auto-formatting is something we are looking to improve moving forward.

Another thing we have made steps to do is deprecate certain logic elements. Begin, End, and the # comment are the main ones. Don’t worry though, they are not completely gone! They won’t show up in the Intellisense list but they will still compile if used in logic. Begin and End are easier to read and enter in logic if you use the “squiggly” brackets { and } instead. And we want to use the # character for other things like the new #region statement.

In fact, #region is one of my favorite new additions to 2014. I love the ability it gives you to section your logic and collapse it with a label describing what’s inside that hidden portion of your logic. I hope you’ll find it quite useful.

Intellisense and Syntax Guide

These new features are probably the heroes of this release. Intellisense brings every statement, function, location, entity, variable, subroutine (I’m saying every model element!) right to your fingertips. You should almost never have to remember your element names or copy them from one place in logic to another, or even leave a module to go look it up. Besides that, the days of completely typing any logic or element name are gone. This should increase your productivity by at least 10-15% 🙂 Are you with me on this?!

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Intellisense coupled with the Syntax Guide should nearly make the Logic Builder obsolete. There may be a few things we need to add in order to make that happen. Please feel free to share any suggestions you may have. We tried to make both unobtrusive to your logic creation and editing. Because of this, we didn’t add an option to hide Intellisense or the Syntax Guide.

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Debug Window

MORE THAN 3 LINES!! I think that’s all I need to say on that.

Ok, I’ll also say that debugging should almost be a joyous endeavor as you are now able to anticipate what logic may get executed next and better understand where you came from.

Routing Probability

I’m going to refer you to the webinar I gave on this new feature. In it I give a great example (if I do say so myself) of how simple it is to set up a routing probability for scenario analysis. One thing to remember, in order to use an array in the routing Probability field, the array must be initialized through an import.

Getting Started Panel

The new panel that appears when you start the program may primarily be geared toward new users, however current customers may find it just as useful. Access to the How To videos, online Help, and additional training resources (like dates of future ProModel training classes and a link to ProModel University, our online self-paced training).

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If you haven’t taken advantage of your M&S contract and utilized our Technical Support team then perhaps the Getting Started panel will help facilitate this. They are a tremendous resource to assist you in understanding different techniques for modeling aspects of your systems, troubleshooting your models and helping you get out of the paper bag you may have coded yourself into, or just a friendly person to talk to 🙂 We like to call them your “ProModel Friend”.

Speaking of the Support team, they have done a tremendous job of generating a lot of How To and Solution videos for quite some time now. The short videos range from 2-5 minutes and offer useful insight into modeling techniques and other useful software tips. Let us know if you have any suggestions for more videos!

New Graphic Libraries

A final word about our new graphic libraries. In order to create new libraries containing EMF (vector-based) files, which scale nicely when zoomed, we had to support the rotation, flipping, and sizing of these image types within ProModel. This makes it so you don’t have to generate an image for every possible rotation or flip you need to have for your animation. This reduces the size of the graphic library and thus your model footprint as well. So with this new capability, you should be using a third party graphics program like Photoshop or Gimp (which is free) to create your graphics. (Or perhaps get your coworker to do it, just don’t tell them that I suggested it.)

I can’t talk about the new graphic libraries without mentioning Laif Harwood, a member of our Support team. Laif gets credit for creating all the new graphics in the libraries. And a fine job he did! So if you want any tips on how to do it for yourself, give our Support team a call!

Well, that’s all I have steam for yammering about today. Remember…you have a ProModel Friend that’s just an email (support@promodel.com) or phone call away (888-PROMODEL).