Students’ new process improvement tool published in ASQ Forum


For two Ohio State ISE graduates, a chance opportunity to collaborate on a writing assignment landed them on the cover of the American Society for Quality’s newsletter, The Quality Management Forum. 

Cover of Fall 2023 The Quality Management Forum featuring an article by ISE graduates Ben Branham and Caroline Cohen.
Cover of Fall 2023 The Quality Management Forum featuring an article by ISE graduates Ben Branham and Caroline Cohen.

Associate Professor Tracy Owens, who co-authored the article with Ben Branham, ISE ’23, and Caroline Cohen, ISE ’23, says it’s a first for the Department for students to have their work published in the newsletter. 

The article, “Success Modes and Effects Analysis – SMEA,” outlines a new process tool that was inspired by the risk-analysis tool, Failure Modes and Effects Analysis (FMEA). 

“The concept we discussed in our article, SMEA, came from my Green Belt project,” Branham says. “My project had very high variation and defects in almost every cycle. So, while working on an FMEA where we discussed the failures, I had a question of what modes would lead to success and how do we encourage those?” 

At the same time, Cohen was completing her Green Belt capstone by working with the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC) on its new Community-based Planning Assistance program. 

“In our capstone class, Professor Owens and Ben discussed their idea for the framework and how it pertained to Ben’s project,” Cohen says, “and I loved the idea and wanted to adapt it to fit my MORPC project.” 

In the article, they write, “In contrast to the FMEA, the new SMEA tool is built around the elements that must be in place in order to drive success in our process. Construction is similar using three factors to calculate a Success Prioritization Number (SPN).” Those factors are ease of implementation, importance of the item and energy needed to implement. The article also provides tips on constructing an SMEA. 

Both Branham and Cohen appreciate the opportunity to have their work featured in a professional publication. “It was a cool opportunity to show what we, as students, were capable of in the creation of a new process improvement tool,” Branham says, adding that the technical writing has helped him in his current job a traffic engineer for The Mannik Smith Group. “I plan to continue down that road and become a professional civil engineer.” 

For Cohen, the article “was a unique opportunity to be able to work with both another student and a professor to modify and adapt a tool we learned in the classroom into something professionals across the world could use.” 

She now works as a quality engineer at Rockwell Automation and says, “Quality Engineers often look at the FMEA tool to analyze processes and specifically defects, and I feel that the reframing of an SMEA allows engineers to think out of the box with a more positive and innovative mindset.” 

Cohen says Owens was instrumental in helping with the project. “He is the best professor we have had at Ohio State and goes above and beyond to educate his students and create opportunities for us,” she says. 

Adds Branham, “(Owens) taught me more than just the material but the importance of asking the right questions. He's the best.” 

Their co-author Owens says, “It’s really about generating knowledge and content in addition to acquiring it. Our capstone students are on an adventure, and it’s their story to write. Instructors and project sponsors provide background facts and inspiration, and the students are able to grow in a new direction. I’m so energized about the passion that Caroline, Ben and many other students are showing at this stage in their careers.” 

The fall 2023 issue of The Quality Management Forum focuses on Quality in Higher Education and also features an article co-written by ISE Professor Sandra Furterer, who serves as vice chair of publications for ASQ Quality Management Division and editor of the newsletter. 


Story by Nancy Richison

Category: Student