Lean Six Sigma: Improving Jet Way Flow with Smaller Batch Sizes
I have been thinking about Lean for six years now: reading, learning myself, then teaching, and facilitating the adoption of Lean methodologies in labs across the country. I think so much about Lean that I see waste everywhere I go; I see opportunities to create flow and fix bottlenecks, even in my everyday life.
For example, I get so frustrated with the boarding process that the airlines use, including Southwest. On most flights, there is a pre-boarding ritual that entails queuing travelers up at the gate area near the entrance to the jet way. It doesn't bother me that customers are lining themselves up for the cattle call. If they want to stand there waiting for the boarding process to begin, that's their call.
What bothers me is that the airlines can't seem to figure out how to implement small batch sizes of travelers to improve flow and board the plane in the fastest way. We all know the drill. The gate agents call first for seniors and passengers traveling with small children. Next, the agent calls for first class travelers and then passengers by zones. Passengers feed into the jet way as quickly as possible, but there is no consideration given to the fact that halfway into the jet way, the line to the plane stops everyone cold. In the summer, travelers may stand for 15-20 minutes in the heat on the jet way, waiting to board, having left the comfort of the terminal and often carrying baggage and other items.
As I'm waiting in these lines, I think about how to improve the flow so the agents can get the plane boarded and pushed back from the gate on time. I don't think it would be difficult to set up a system where passengers were sent down the jet way at a pace that equaled how quickly they settled into their seats. I'd love to see an airline try this so their customers wouldn't have to cue up in the transport tubes, i.e. jet ways and board like a cattle call.
I always counsel my clients that working with smaller batch sizes improves flow. This is a key component of Lean, and I never tire of seeing this concept hit home in our Lean Boot Camps.