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Faculty Insights

Research Roundup: WSB's Department of Operations and Information Management

By Clare Becker

June 8, 2018

Faculty from the Department of Operations and Information Management at the Wisconsin School of Business share key ideas from their research as featured on the Forward Thinking blog.
Assistant Professor Robert Batt: Thinking Inside the Bin

Bob Batt
Bob Batt

Using data from an online women’s apparel company, we did a statistical analysis of warehouse and pick-worker activity over a nine-month period. Traditionally, managers attempt to minimize distance to improve worker productivity, but we discovered that that’s just part of the story: how long it takes employees to pick an item depends on how far the employees have to walk and how many items are in a bin once they get there. In other words, sending an employee to find a pair of jeans in a nearby bin with only 20 items makes sense. But if that bin contained 80 items, it might be better to route the worker to a farther bin with fewer items, simply because the employee loses more time rifling through a congested bin than he or she would by walking a greater distance.
Assistant Professor Hessam Bavafa: Designed to Streamline, Health Care E-Visits May Increase Office Appointments
Hessam Bavafa
Hessam Bavafa

Health care systems have introduced e-visits and patient portals as a way to streamline operations and to provide the best care at the lowest cost. E-visits allow patients to contact their doctor directly using a secure, confidential messaging system. Physicians can also recommend follow-up phone conversations and/or office visits beyond the initial email interaction as needed.
What we find is that as the e-visit adopters consume more of the doctor’s office visit capacity, it’s crowding out the time that would have been available to new patients. In other words, whenever you have something coming in, it’s inevitably going to squeeze something else out: either the physician has to work more, or his or her ability to take on new patients is reduced.
Professor Enno Siemsen: How Manager Attention Drives Environmental Improvement Projects
Enno Siemsen
Enno Siemsen

With multiple priorities at any given time, managerial attention can be in short supply. Time, personnel, funding—everything an organization does draws resources. Unlike past research studies that looked at a project’s profitability or ranking on a list, we posited that manager attention wanders and a company can only sustain a limited number of projects at a time. As time moves on, the firm’s priorities shift to other areas, leaving the original initiatives behind, undone.
Our findings showed that in directing managerial attention, the timing and sequencing of punitive tactics mattered in terms of project completion. If a company is hit with air quality sanctions by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), managers will make that a priority fix. If a technical assistance program comes in afterward and suggests an air quality improvement project, the company is happy to do it since their attention is focused on improving air quality issues.
Conversely, we found that if a technical assistance program suggests a project first and the EPA comes in several months later with sanctions, particularly in sustainability areas unrelated to the project, managerial attention for the original project goes out the window. This kind of pattern can adversely affect implementation rates.
Assistant Professor Jordan Tong: Gaumnitz Award Winner Jordan Tong Shares Research Works in Progress
Jordan Tong
Jordan Tong

One of my current lines of work is focused on understanding how managers make judgements and decisions and how to improve them, especially in supply chain management contexts. I am taking an approach where instead of looking at the individual—whether the person is optimistic or pessimistic, or whether he or she likes taking gambles or not—I’m looking at specific problem structures that create tricky data that cause managers to be predictably biased.
Let me give you a couple of examples. Managers often look at historical sales data to try to guess what demand will be in the future. The structure of the problem here can be tricky: sales data doesn’t capture the units you could have sold when you didn’t have enough inventory. Maybe some weeks you stocked out so the data isn’t reflecting that additional demand you could have had. So, unless managers recognize and correct for the trickiness of this data, they will underestimate historical demand which can bias their future decisions.
Get to know all of WSB’s operations and information management faculty.