Case Studies

Activity versus Achievement

Todd HermanI was recently reminded of a quote from John Wooden, UCLA's legendary basketball coach — "Don't mistake activity with achievement." What brought this to mind? The "before" and "after" of this month's case study, focusing on an extension we designed and developed to an ERP's scheduling system:

  • Situation — The three shop floor Machining departments were not coordinating production of parts. Sometimes, all three departments completed 100% of the parts required by the Assembly department to produce a customer's engineered-to-order (ETO) machine on time. All too often, only a portion of the parts required would be complete, thus holding up work in Assembly. Even if 99% of the parts were ready, any core missing parts could prevent all work on that order in Assembly.

  • Problem — The ERP system's scheduling system had a dynamic planning function, yet the system did not have the capability to freeze a certain plan as a benchmark to compare against actual production — thus, accountability could not be established and evaluated.

  • Implication — Departments lacked the "big picture" visibility of the impact of schedule deviations.

  • Need — Accountability for results needed to be established and evaluated.

To address this need, we designed and developed the system supplement featured in this case study. A key report from this system tracked actual versus planned production.

Adhering to the Production Schedule

Using this report to investigate the problem, management determined that the various manufacturing departments were not adhering to the system-generated production schedule — they were frequently pulling work scheduled for the following week into the current week. The impact of this? For 


one week shortly after this report began to be used, 48% of the manufacturing departments' hours were spent on work not scheduled for the current week. Armed with this information, managers began to see the benefit of following the production schedule, and hours spent on unscheduled work began dropping quickly and steadily.

Relevance Trumps Efficiency

image of arrows going through process

It did not matter how efficiently the unscheduled work was performed — what mattered was getting all the parts through Manufacturing and into Assembly on the scheduled date.

  • Before the system supplement, activity did not match achievement — the manufacturing departments were busy, just not busy on the right work.

  • Afterwards, activity quickly began to parallel achievement — Manufacturing is now focused on producing the right parts, on the right date, to deliver to Assembly.

In other words, Manufacturing is becoming highly effective — a nice complement to its existing high efficiency. If Coach Wooden were around to see this turnaround, I believe he'd say, "Nice job."

Todd L. Herman

Todd L. Herman

Read more on the benefits of an application development project.


Win New Business With Understandable Lab Reports

Situation: Magazine Article Sparks Idea

Our client's Chief Information Officer (CIO) – let's call him "Mark" – read a Wired magazine article on how electronic medical records (EMR) could enable better presentation of technical information, benefitting both the doctor and the patient.  Mark's vision – make the patient the center of lab reporting, while also giving individual doctors their own reporting preferences.

Opportunity: CIO Identifies Innovation Opportunity

Mark "connected the dots" between the article and his company's key deliverable – a lab result document. He sensed an innovation opportunity – a way to distinguish his company from its competitors – and got other top executives on board.


image of a lab report

 BEFORE: First Page of Typical Report

•   Little formatting — only red text for values outside reference range

•   Reference sources placed in-line with test results, making the overall report “choppy to read

•   Primary Reader — Physician

•   Purpose — Presenting technical information


Solution: Reports That Truly Communicate 

We worked with Mark to design and develop a prototype, generating much excitement inside the company – in particular, sales representatives recognized this major point of differentiation compared to competitors' offerings.

image of a nice lab report

 AFTER: First Page of Revised Report

•   Uses color, formatting, symbols , and visualizations

•   Reference sources placed at end of report, making overall report “flow” better for the patient

•   Primary Readers — Patient and Physician

•   Purpose — Communicating results and overall assessment, and presenting technical information


The project was quickly upgraded from "proof of concept" to a formal project, with the following key goals:

•   Communicate clearly and in non-technical language, yet still presenting lab results with all the required reference ranges – which reflected age, gender, and other factors – and legally-required caveats.

•   Present the results accurately and visually, without attempting to interpret the results or to make a diagnosis – these are the doctor's responsibilities.

•   Enable easy, yet secure, access to the new reports.  When possible, a PDF is stored directly in the doctor's lab order entry system – in other cases, the doctor received a link to download the report from a secure web portal.

To help meet these goals, our client engaged a cardiologist as the project's subject matter expert (SME).  We worked closely with him to achieve his ideal report.

Realizing other doctors might want their own customizations, we designed and developed the application to allow quick and easy report creation and customization, even down to a specific doctor's preferred font and point size.

Results & Benefits: Three Innovative Report Types

All the project goals laid out were met – and then some.  While one deliverable had been expected, three were actually produced.

The first deliverable was the report for the cardiologist, reporting lab results for several tests commonly ordered by cardiologists and thus was a frequent, but unique report.  Reporting and presenting results was completely redesigned, as shown in the "Before" and "After" illustrations.

image of risk profile

 AFTER: Lipids and Lipoproteins

•   Excerpt from cardiologist’s report

•   Uses both colors (red) and symbols (red flag) to highlight problem areas.

The second deliverable, a general lab results report, was a by-product of the more complex first deliverable. Drawing on the library of visualizations we created for the first report, this report provided a cleaner and more visual presentation of basic results.

image of a gauge

 AFTER: Overall Cardiovascular Disease Risk Level

•   Excerpt from cardiologist’s report

•   Uses “gauge” to present overall risk assessment.

•   Patients now immediately understand their overall results — the familiar temperature gauge needs no explanation


 The third deliverable, customized reporting, was a system accommodating an individual doctor's preferences – for example, when a doctor with low vision requested a larger font size for his report, this was quickly developed and deployed.

image of a lipid report

 AFTER: Lipid Profile

•   Excerpt from a Lipid Profile report

•   Uses slider bars to visually present the scale of normal, borderline, and risky values

•   Uses a red diamond to show patient’s results

•   “More Optimal” and “Less Optimal” labels placed to indicate “Below” (lower is better) or “Above” (higher is better) interpretation


All these outcomes improved the satisfaction of existing customers, and allowed our client to obtain many new customers specifically because of this project's success.

Winning New Business With Report Clarity

Mark's vision was to win new business by being the first lab in its market to offer patient-centered and doctor-specified results. Sales representatives capitalized on this new capability, and Mark's vision is now a reality.

Would you like to enjoy benefits like our client did? If so, contact me now about your business reporting ideas and questions.

Call Todd: 336.297.4200

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Interested in reading past case studies? Visit the Case Study Archive.

Todd Herman Associates


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Greensboro, NC 27408

About Todd Herman Associates

Todd Herman Associates is a business technology consulting firm focused on non-routine technology issues such as replacing QuickBooks, getting two systems to "talk" to each other, shrinking process cycle time, and taming large volumes of data.