Your editor is travelling around Argentina and Chile on vacation… and of course the concept of Lean is forever present. Just today we needed to purchase a small plastic hair brush, so we went to the nearest "farmacia". Finding the brush was easy, and thanks to the strong dollar (in this country!), very cheap. But the process to purchase it was rather phenomenal…
First we take the brush to what we thought was the checkout counter. The person there takes the brush and rings us up and gives us a receipt. She then tells us to go to the cashier to pay. So we take the receipt to a counter further to the back of the store, stand in another line, and eventually pay. The receipt is stamped "pagado", but then we´re told to take the stamped receipt to yet another counter even further toward the back of the store. After standing in yet another line, we hand that person our stamped receipt and she hands us the brush in a bag with another stamped receipt already taped to it. The original "cashier" had made a copy of our original receipt and walked the brush and receipt to the person in charge of putting it in a bag and eventually giving it to us.
So buying a 10 cent brush took three different people´s time and considerable walking toward the BACK of the store for us, plus standing in three lines. Don´t get the wrong impression… even after suffering a significant economic crisis, Argentina has modernized considerably over the past several years, with computers and cell phones found everywhere. There was even a flat screen computer at each of the three stations we went to in the farmacia! We originally thought this experience might be unusual, except that we found variations of it everywhere… at ice cream stores, other retailers, etc.
I was itching to draw up a spaghetti diagram and try to explain to the manager a much more efficient process for processing customers and transactions, but I held back. There are probably cultural and other issues I´m simply not aware of. But the potential for additional efficiency is readily visible.
The opportunities for Lean improvements are everywhere.
Now back to sipping Pisco Sour and eating cholocate in Bariloche, a beautiful swiss-like town in the Argentine Alps.