In the manufacturing world most understand that excellence – lean – centers on cycle time. Manufacturers aren’t necessarily all doing a good job with it, but they get it. Taiichi Ohno said, “All we are doing is looking at the time line from the moment the customer gives us an order to the point when we collect the cash. And we are reducing that time line by removing the non-value added wastes.”
Many in the service world in their eager rush to embrace lean are making the same set of mistakes manufacturing has bumbled through – looking at only a convenient portion of the time line, rather than the whole thing, and merely pushing the waste up or downstream as a result; or defining waste by some traditional accounting measure rather than as the things that are delaying flow through the time line. Those mistakes, as bad as they are in manufacturing, are even worse in services where quite often the customer is actually in the time line, rather than sitting off to the side waiting for a manufactured product to come out of the process.
You tend to see this a lot in health care where people are ‘improving’ a lot of stuff, but not necessarily the time line. The essence of lean health care is the four hours it takes from the time you limp into the emergency room with a broken ankle until you leave with a cast on your leg; during which you spent five minutes being diagnosed, two minutes on an x-ray machine, a minute for the x-ray to be read; and fifteen minutes having the cast applied with the remaining three hours and seventeen minutes wasted waiting, filling out forms, waiting, being wheeled around, waiting, being wheeled around some more and then waiting – all the while consuming very expensive space filled with very expensive, idle equipment, and wasting the time of some rather high priced hired help. Focus on cutting down the four hours – make customers (patients) much happier, and along the way save a lot of money by wasting a lot less space, technology and labor.
All of this brings me to London, where wasting people’s time is an art form. If you are one of these service business in which the customer is actually part and parcel to Ohno’s time line, then your customers are your inventory. Having a lot of customers in process is waste – wasting their time and wasting your money. So what can be made of this:
Years ago, very early in my lean education, I heard a very wise manufacturing executive dismiss a proposal to invest in warehouse automation with the observation that, if inventory is waste, then automating a warehouse is nothing more than a waste management system. Seems to me that spending a half million British pounds – almost 800 large – is the same thing. For that kind of money they could get a clown-car full of theory of constraints experts for a month to eliminate the need for the lines – ‘queues’ in Britspeak.
The folks peddling the queue management stuff tell us “The Tensator Group has installed more than 3,000 In-Queue Merchandising (IQM) systems – our solutions add value to any retail associated environment.” Add value for who? Certainly not the customers. Their systems will create “extended shopping time“. Who, I wonder, is out looking for “extended shopping time“? Lest anyone be quick to point out that not everyone is a power shopper – that there are many among that other gender who actually enjoy shopping – I would suggest that enjoying shopping and enjoying standing in line are not the same thing.
I’m not picking on the people at Tensator who make the waste management systems. I’m sure they are good people making good products and they are filling a need. No, I am picking a fight with their customers – the “Retail, Airport & Transport, Health & Safety, Finance, Events & Hospitality, and Pubic Sector” people who buy their products. Every one of them would be far better off obsessing with eliminating the need for standing in line than they would spending money on managing – even trying to profit – from it.
The head games retailers play – putting the milk and bread on opposite ends of the store to make you walk from one end to the other in order to induce you to buy something other than what you are shopping for, laying the store out in a manner that forces people into walking miles to accomplish what could be accomplished in yards – is a fool’s game. It is practically begging people to shop online, rather than in the store. The Tensator web site shows a simulation of steering people through lines and waiting areas in a bank. That bank might just as well send their customers links to Quicken Loans and Lending Tree – save the cost of the line management system – since their customers will end up at Quicken and Lending Tree anyway.
No matter what the business, it’s all about the time line. Ohno didn’t add any caveats or exceptions. Contrary to Tensator’s assertions, “in queue experience” and “adding value” are mutually exclusive. Tensator is who you call when the Goldratt Institute says they can’t help you … fat chance of that ever happening.