Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Airport Constraints Blog

Understanding Constraints-at 6:00am on a Saturday


On Saturday, June 5, my wife and I flew to visit family.  We booked a 7:00am flight out of Indianapolis.  We arrived at the airport at 5:30am, only to find a line of people, six abreast, well over 1,000 feet long at security!  How can this be??  In Indianapolis?? On Saturday morning?


We spent nearly an hour in line, which gave me plenty of time to a) get over my disappointment of not getting a Cinnabon for breakfast, b) chat with an old acquaintance of ours who happened to be in line behind us and c) analyze what was wrong with the system that such a huge line would develop.


When I see a slowdown like this, I instinctively look for the constraint, the single limiting factor that decreases total system throughput.    And here's where I learned something new.


You are probably thinking, as I was, "The constraint is at the security section."  Well, yes and no.  When we finally got to a place in line where we could see the metal detectors, I was stunned to see so few people walking through them.  In fact, my simple timing observations measured only one person moving through each detector every 30 seconds, when it appeared that the pace could well have been one every 10 seconds.  Which meant throughput could have been doubled or even tripled!!!  Tell that to the folks who were late for their flight!  Security people watching the detectors actually appeared bored!! 


This excess capacity was a clue...the metal detectors must be downstream from the real constraint. So, I looked upstream one step.  And there it was. 


Security staff was instructing all passengers to take off their shoes before moving through the metal detectors.  And so, in the cramped space created in the Disneyland-like serpentine lines, people were trying to juggle luggage, small children and boarding passes while bending over, unlacing and removing their Nikes and Birkenstocks.   This was taking much longer to do than to walk through the metal detectors.  And so the entire 1,000 foot line was being hung up, two feet at a time (sorry, I couldn't resist the pun).


Having identified the constraint, what could be done about it??  Several things could happen... now...on virtually no budget...raising no security concerns. 

  • Put two rows of benches or chairs along side each line leading to a single metal detector.  If people could sit, they could more safely and quickly take off their shoes.  It took people twice as long to take off their shoes as to walk through the metal detector.  Thus, two sets of chairs for each line. 
  • Put signage up, 40 or 50 feet sooner telling people to plan on taking off their shoes.  No surprises...quicker compliance.
  • Put entry carpets on top of the normal carpet and then vacuum it once an hour, to demonstrate concern for patrons' bare/socked feet.  At least make people feel like someone cared.   

In so doing, this would shift the constraint back to the most capital-intensive portion of the security position-the human and luggage metal detectors. 


Where the analysis could happen again.


Alas, I went through the same security site again last Friday afternoon.  This time, no line at all.  But also no improvement in the throughput.  Still, one person every 30 seconds.  They were just lucky.  Friday, at 3:30pm, had nowhere near the outbound passenger demand that early Saturday morning did. 


Will we ever learn?


The tools of Lean and Theory of Constraints are phenomenal.  TOC tells you where...Lean tells you how.  Why don't more people embrace it? Why not use it in government?  Why don't the airlines (who depend on both rapid and secure passenger checks) demand it?  Why do we think each of our situations is so unique we can't learn from other arenas?  Seth Godin wrote well on the foolishness of thinking everything is unique last week...please ponder his conclusion.


Thanks for listening.  Apply this today.  I hope it is helpful. 




Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Toyota wins with quality

Any question...


As to whether quality matters ?



Thursday, June 17, 2004

finding win-win solutions

Finding Win-Win Solutions


I've recently picked up on John Sambrook's Common Sense blog, a wonderfully well-written and insightful weblog, well worth your consideration. Especially if you have teenagers or work with people who (gasp) might think differently than you do.  Check out yesterday's piece on listening and coaching. 


I think John and I share a common fascination with process excellence as applied to very real problems.


I hope you find it helpful.  I sure did. 



Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Boys Botch Basics By Batching

Boys Botch Basics By Batching

My 15-year-old son Matt brought home a sad story last week of friends' final exams gone very, very badly.

Matt's two pals took an Honors Geometry final exam which consisted of 50 multiple-choice questions on several pages and one separate answer form, onto which they were to transfer the answer to each question. You know the kind...use a #2 pencil, color in the dot that corresponds to one of the five choices of answers. The kind of exam that us mere mortals called "multiple guess."

The boys decided to focus on the problem sheet and then transfer their answers to the answer form all at once at the end of the allotted time. But they both lost track of the time and, when they noticed the clock, they had less than 30 seconds left and had only transferred a handful of answers when the dreaded words "Pencils down" came.

Yep, they batched their work. Single piece flow says you color the dot after each problem is done. Even though they had worked out the problem, the final work was not completed for each problem until the dot was colored in. And, as a result, they nearly flunked the exam. Some rapid explaining got them away with this failed strategy but the sweat and tension in the intervening hours was real for them (and their high-pressure parents).

Do we need more examples of why batching is a bad idea? I wrote recently about flow vs. batch. Why single-piece flow is essential? Why having an excessive inventory of work-in-process is a bad idea? Why sudden surprises (like bad timing) can leave you stuck with a lot of unsalable (or ungradable) goods? This is just another story, one we can all identify with.

Pick out one thing and get it done this morning. Then get one more thing done this afternoon. Stick with it. Learn, now, what keeps you from getting it done. And fix that one thing.

I hope this is helpful. And perhaps a good story for your dinner table, as it was at ours.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Learning. Realtime.

Learning...right now


My pal Frank Patrick helped me immensely when he recently pointed out a new blog he had found by John Sambrook called Common Sense Weblog.  I've subscribed via Blogarithm and have appreciated John's straightforward writing.


Yesterday, John wrote a marvelous piece on linking cause to effect in real time.  Take a look and offer your comments. 


My observation is that most of us are far too passive in our learning.  "It will happen...we'll look at the results a month from's too early to understand what is going on...we'll write a report."  John argues more articulately than me for a much faster approach. 


Go learn something.  Today. In the next hour. 


I hope this is helpful.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Defensiveness Metric


In the May 2004 Harvard Business Review Kate Ludeman and Eddie Erlandson of  Worth Ethic Corporation authored an excellent article "Coaching the Alpha Male".  One very useful sidebar was a metric of defensiveness, which I found very helpful in evaluating how I respond to change and how others respond. 


The scale runs from +10 (highly open to the other person) through zero and down to -10 (highly defensive).  Importantly, the zero point marks the level where one shifts from "choosing curiosity" to "being right".


Here's the scale





+10     Plan the change, engage others, set milestones and implement.

+9       Communicate genuine enthusiasm about making a change

+8      Think out loud, making new associations about the problem.

+7     Take full responsibility for the problem and its ramifications

+6     Request information and examples about the problem

+5     Openly wonder about your role in creating the problem

+4     Express genuine curiosity about the issue and how to resolve it.

+3     Express appreciation for the messenger, regardless of delivery.

+2     Summarize key points without interjecting your own thoughts.

+1     Look interested, breathe, demonstrate an open posture.


BREAKTHROUGH:  choosing curiosity over being right


-1    Show polite interest while inwardly preparing your rebuttal

-2    Provide a detailed explanation of your point of view

-3    Justify actions with compelling logic and an interpretation of events

-4    Interrupt to give your perspective

-5    Interpret comments as attacks and feel misunderstood

-6    Convince them that you're right and they're wrong

-7    Make snippy replies and show your irritation nonverbally

-8    Blame or complain about someone who's not present

-9    Intimidate or attack the messenger

-10  Appear to comply, with no intention of doing what you say you'll do.





I've mulled on this for a couple of weeks now...I think the authors have something here.  In particular, their definition of the breakthrough point, of going from demanding to be right to choosing to be curious, is very profound. 


Think about this...when I choose to be curious, I listen better.  I focus on the other person.  I seek to learn.  If I demand to be right, I am focused on myself, my needs, my position.  I can't see the customer, whether internal or external, if I have to be right. 


This is a challenge to my own behavior.  It also gives me a less-threatening tool to assess others' reactions.  A lean transformation involves, of necessity, change.  Change is threatening.  If you and I model curiosity rather than defensiveness, however, we help the process a lot.  After all, Lean is about people much more than kanban and andon. 


I hope you find this concept helpful as well.