In our last article on aviation we were raising the question as to whether aviation ground operations can be deemed Lean. Undoubtedly, triggered by the rise of low cost carriers and increasing cost pressure, the industry has achieved to reduce turnaround times to astonishingly short time windows during recent decades. However, taking this accomplishment as evidence of the industry being Lean is a frequent misconception. *
Now, in this article we would like to put aside the viewpoint of ground handling providers and put emphasis on the perspective of the industry’s end customer, i.e. the passenger. What, from a passenger’s point of view, characterizes a Lean travel experience and what are distinct examples of Lean passenger handling? While examples are certainly plenty, we have chosen to focus on just a few.
At this point, readers with a rather manufacturing-related background might wonder why, in determining whether processes are Lean, the passenger perspective matters in the first place. Shouldn’t the passenger, just as it is the case for customers in the manufacturing sector, only be concerned with the final output, i.e. the on-time transportation from A to B? Definitely no! This is due to one of the most fundamental differences – obvious and yet oftentimes overlooked – between manufacturing and service. Whereas, in manufacturing, production and consumption of a good are completely separated from one another, this is significantly different in service. Here, production and consumption inevitably take place at the same time and require the active participation and involvement of the customer. While in manufacturing, customers can almost be completely indifferent about the way production processes are designed (as long as overall lead time and quality is satisfactory), in service, customers have an intrinsic interest in processes being lean – because they have to undergo them.
One of the many processes, which can make or break the passenger experience, and this brings us to the first example, is airport security screening. Hardly any other passenger process causes more hassle to passengers than an inefficiently designed security screening; and equally causes relief, if properly designed in line with Lean principles. And the latter is in fact quite simple. All it requires is ‘flow’. Flow of passengers and their hand luggage and belongings. When looking at airports with excellent security screening layouts and processes – take, for instance, Incheon, Taoyuan and Changi airport – they all share one common characteristic: sufficient room. Now, how does having sufficient room relate to making things flow? A well-designed security screening layout provides enough room for passengers to prepare for screening of their belongings.
Consider, for instance, the simplified scenario of an x-ray screening capacity of 6 trays per minute, an airport where passengers use 1 tray on average and need around 20 seconds to get ready for screening. If the preparation area in front of the x-ray machine only provides room for 1 tray, and hence 1 passenger, then after each tray, the x-ray machines needs to wait 10 seconds for the next tray to be ready for screening, resulting in a real capacity of only 3 trays per minute. If, however, the preparation area allows room for 2 trays, then machine capacity and passengers are ‘in tact’. This logic, of course, does not only apply for the area in front of the x-ray but analogously to the area behind.
However, what is the value of a well-designed screening process where waiting times are reasonable if, then, passengers need to queue during upstream or downstream processes? This leads us to another example of a Lean passenger travel experience: balanced capacity between process stations. What does this involve? Consider, for instance, check-in and security screening and assume that passengers typically proceed immediately from check-in to security. Excellence is now when check-in and security align their capacities such that both can handle the sum of passengers at equal pace at a given point in time. Achieving this requires close collaboration between check-in and security which is not quite trivial as the number of different stakeholders involved is very high. Thorough communication as well as the willingness to dynamically respond to actual changes in passenger volumes are essential.
Lean is not only about waste-free processes though. Lean comprises much more, sometimes even aspects which are perceived only subconsciously throughout the passenger experience. A striking example of this is the concept of the so-called ‘silent airport’, a concept which, knowingly or unknowingly, is derived from the underlying idea of 5S. One fundamental principle of 5S is the conviction that over-information is waste, or, in other words, that less is more. Airports which have successfully transformed into a silent airport have substantially reduced, if not fully eliminated, passenger announcements. Under this concept, the time spent in airport terminals becomes much more stress-free as passengers are not forced to almost continuously filter announcements to decide if the information conveyed is relevant for them, if it adds value or not. Rather, passengers are encouraged to pull required information from the various sources available, whenever they need them.
Leaning passenger handling requires foregrounding the end customer’s perspective more than it does in production. Whether Lean or not, is to a very large extent determined by the customer; not only in terms of on-time transportation between point A and B in the end, but, just as important, in terms of the downstream and upstream processes he inevitably has to undergo. The three examples highlighted in this article aim to point out that Lean may, and should, occur on different levels. The passenger perspective does not only consider individual process stations but also takes into account how the various areas of an airport, albeit not under the immediate control of the airport operator, function as a harmonized system. And, last but not least, non-process related aspects contribute to Lean just as well.
Staufen, with its long-standing expertise in Lean production and related indirect areas, is increasingly working together with companies from the service sector. Whether education, health, insurance, banking, aviation, or the travel industry as a whole – raising awareness about Lean principles and transforming service operations accordingly are only two of the things we support our customers with. In doing so, our projects are usually designed in line with the idea of ‘See.Learn.Act.Live’ and are based on the conviction that process excellence and leadership excellence go hand in hand. Moreover, our belief that inside every company there is an even better one has already been the guiding principle for many projects in the past.