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William A. Levinson


Use Virtual Conferencing to Eliminate Waste

Digital technology can substantially reduce business travel muda

Published: Tuesday, May 3, 2016 - 12:18

All process activities can be broken down into one of five categories: waiting, handling and setup, inspection, transportation, and transformation. Of these, only transformation of the product adds value.

A figure in Frederick Winslow Taylor’s 1911 book, Shop Management makes it clear that, while handling and setup may be part of a “process,” they add no value to the product or service. They are not part of what Masaaki Imai [3] calls the value-adding bang! Imai was referring to the moment at which an official stamps a document, but the same concept applies to a stamping machine or punch press whose value-adding moment is a fraction of a second. A lathe or drill, in contrast, makes a longer value-adding “whir,” but this is still likely to constitute only a small portion of the cycle time. This is why it’s important to separate handling and setup from process because wasted cycle time can otherwise hide behind the process category.

The value-adding bang! of a professional conference, such as ASQ’s World Conference, consists solely of technical sessions and networking opportunities. The following modified Gantt chart, which illustrates actual activity times rather than planned project activity times, represents my experience with the recent ISO 9001 and Lean Six Sigma World Conferences in Orlando, Florida.

The chart does not account for time spent at the hotel, which is essentially a wash since it represents time that would have otherwise been spent at home. The bottom line is therefore that, of the 58.5 hours on the Gantt chart, 32 of technical session attendance and networking added value, while the remaining 24.5 (41.8%) constituted waste. This number would have been lower had United Airlines not muffed Flight 4914 from Newark to Wilkes-Barre, but on the other hand, it does not include time spent packing and unpacking (setup and handling) that I did not take into account. Henry Ford wrote long ago, by the way, that you can’t pay somebody to walk; similarly, you can’t pay somebody to travel to a conference or business meeting.

Note also that this modified Gantt chart is designed to illustrate only value-adding and wasted cycle time. It does not include the actual costs of the transportation or the hotel—costs employers might easily consider when they decide whether to send employees to a conference or a distant business meeting.

Virtual conferencing options

It’s entirely possible to hold an online conference in a virtual auditorium such as those as offered by Second Life. In addition, San Francisco Chronicle writer Ryan Kim notes that “a recent survey commissioned by ON24 of 5,000 marketing executives found that 63 percent were more likely to attend a virtual conference than an in-person event.... But virtual shows offer clients significant savings—they’re about one-tenth the cost for organizers and exhibitors—along with environmental benefits and the ability to archive all the content.”

It’s important, however, to consider attendee habits and preferences. A lot of people enjoy the face-to-face contact at the ASQ World Conference, ISO World Conference, and similar events. There is no real obstacle, other than the already existing need to rent a hotel or conference center, to presenting a hybrid live and virtual conference. Virtual attendees could “move” to the appropriate conference room for each technical session to see and hear the presentation on their office computers. Virtual exhibitors could similarly rent space in the online conferencing center, while webcams might be able to provide visibility for live exhibitors. This would be more complex than a straight online or live conference, but would not risk a loss of attendees due to long-standing habits.

The virtual classroom

The same concept applies to public schools, where students and teachers must be personally present only for team sports, bands and orchestras, and similar activities. Many laboratory exercises can now be done far more cheaply on a computer, e.g., a virtual frog dissection. The new Oculus Rift technology, while currently designed for entertainment [6], can easily immerse students in a virtual learning experience. If Oculus Rift can place the user inside a movie or video game, it can similarly place the user inside a living cell or animal, Fantastic Voyage-style, to see how it works. The walk-through heart in Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry engaged many children in science and technology, and it’s easy to imagine what the same experience might be like in a virtual reality environment.

Capsule endoscopy, in fact, could allow biology students to take a virtual trip through somebody’s digestive tract, with appropriate consent from the patient. This might be obtained by offering the routine diagnostic procedure for free in exchange for the right to use the video without the associated patient information.

The question also arises as to whether virtual reality technology could be used to “go and see” a factory on the other side of the world, with the assistance of a camera-equipped drone that can move through the factory. This would again eliminate all travel costs and time.

The bottom line is that amazing new digital technology now makes it possible to eliminate substantial business travel muda, and thus reduce costs and increase value for everybody involved.


About The Author

William A. Levinson’s picture

William A. Levinson

William A. Levinson, P.E., FASQ, CQE, CMQOE, is the principal of Levinson Productivity Systems P.C. and the author of the book The Expanded and Annotated My Life and Work: Henry Ford’s Universal Code for World-Class Success (Productivity Press, 2013).