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Capstone Project Brings Joy to Local Music Studio

Posted by Theresa Anne Salah on March 17, 2022 in News
Capstone teammates, Jeffrey Walton, Kirk Drabble, Arman Atbaei and Peter Drohan
Capstone teammates, Jeffrey Walton, Kirk Drabble, Arman Atbaei and Peter Drohan

For Dalhousie engineering students, the senior year Capstone Project is an opportunity to partner with industry to solve real world challenges. But for Industrial Engineering student Jeffrey Walton and his classmates, it was also a chance to make a meaningful contribution to a small local business in Fall River Nova Scotia.

When Walton and his Capstone teammates, Kirk Drabble, Arman Atbaei and Peter Drohan, first met Louise MacDonald of Joyful Sounds Music Studio, they knew immediately that they’d be able to improve the studio owner’s daily operations.

The studio, which offers a variety of music classes from piano to violin and everything in between, hosts almost 400 students each week. Every year, Walton says it takes MacDonald and her team over 40 hours to properly schedule all of their students for music lessons.

“They would send out a google form to all of to their clients and then their clients would send back all of their availability,” says Walton. “Then they would sit down and print out every google response and start scheduling each student one by one. They would put it all over the wall and they said it was like a crime scene. So that was obviously a red flag for industrial engineers like ourselves.”

Keeping Client Satisfaction at the Top of Mind

Walton knew the challenge wasn’t as straightforward as simply designing a tool that would just automate schedules. It also meant ensuring that the studio was still able to maintain a high standard of client satisfaction.

“They were balancing all of these very specific requests from all of the families,” he says.

This included making sure that siblings were scheduled for lessons either at the same time or back to back, and re-adjusting client schedules throughout the year so that students could also attend other activities such as soccer or swimming lessons.

“Another big part of our tool, and what took Joyful Sounds so long the first time, was if the student couldn’t be scheduled (through Google Forms),” says Walton.

“They would have to pick up the phone and call the student and work out the details.” Once the team had a firmer grasp on the challenges and parameters they faced, their first step was to recreate the Google forms the studio was using to send out to their clients.

“We had this clean data input phase of our tool where we were able to have all of the clients submit a very clear response as to when they are going to be available, and any other details the studio would need. From there the information was easily transferred to Excel which then talks to our python tool and schedules all of the students in.”

Exceeding Client Expectations

Although their initial goal was to decrease the studio’s scheduling time from 40 hours to 20 hours, Walton said their final product exceeded the studio owner’s expectations.

“On one of the last runs that we did on our tool, 85% of students were scheduled in about 20 seconds. Obviously we exceeded our goal by a landslide.”

Although the Capstone project is an excellent opportunity for students to design innovative solutions to real work problems, for Walton and his teammates, helping a small business improve their operations, exceeded their own expectations of the Capstone Program.

“It was a really good project for us because we felt we were able to get a hold of it and create something really meaningful for the client. We have the engineering skills but then being able to apply them to the real client world was the best learning experience.”

Taking their project one step further, the team is now developing a user guide to train staff at Joyful Sounds Music Studio on how to operate their new scheduling tool.

“We will also provide the client with our contact information in case they have any questions or issues down the road. But our goal is to obviously build a tool so that these issues don’t arise.”