About Strain, Train and Retrain

The lack of standardisation results in strain for staff and customers at an airport.

While observing the boarding process on a flight from Malaysia back to Auckland I couldn't help but notice the strain the hostesses and passengers were experiencing due to excess baggage in the cabin.

The hostesses had to repack many of the overhead luggage compartments as there wasn't enough space for all the bags, parcels etc. The rather short flight attendants had to reach high above shoulder height to handle heavy luggage and even had to climb on seats to access the compartments. This can easily result in personal injury and even damaged and worn out seats or equipment - "waste" occurring at the Gemba. The cost of repairs or the cost of an unhappy customer having to sit on less-than-desirable seats starts to add up in this inefficient process.

Several times they had to remove oversized bags that were blocking the passage, from the cabin to the luggage hold. The Muda of waiting, unnecessary transportation, inefficient motion, too much "inventory" and defects created, were so obvious but I doubt if any of the staff really "saw" it. Sure, they were feeling overburdened and frustrated but I don't think they perceived the issue as an opportunity to improve.

Why where these bags allowed in the cabin in the first instance? There are very specific standards available on the airline's website regarding the size and weight restrictions to prevent this from happening - this I have checked. One should ask why these standards were not followed. I am merely speculating but a few factors could be involved:

  • Some of the ground staff did not know about this specific standard,
  • They forgot about it. But how could they forget? Well, perhaps there wasn't a clear visual standard like a checklist or a visual display at the point of use,
  • Maybe the team leader and manager are not focussed on what is happening at the Gemba and they are not aware of this issue,
  • A process is not available to give feedback about this problem whereby employees can either comply to a standard, create a new one or improve the existing one,
  • There might also be a lack of standard work for the ground staff - the critical tasks the team members should always be doing or checking,
  • (You might come up with a few more reasons.)

However, even more detrimental was the mounting frustration among staff members as they had to face this problem. This strain (what is known in the Lean world as muri) had an influence on staff morale. About 15 minutes later I witnessed one of the hostesses becoming really agitated and biting "politely" (as only an airhostess can do) at her colleague while serving supper. This is not good for the team spirit and it cannot be fulfilling to work in those circumstances if it is happening on a regular basis and it will become challenging to retain quality employees. This is a typical "loss" or inefficiency in many organisations.

In a Lean organisation standards are well designed, maintained, improved and visually communicated to staff and customers to prevent "waste". To train employees based on solid standards helps to prevent problems and defects being passed on from one step in a process to the next, ultimately affecting the external customer. Our KAIZEN™ Lean Essentials course includes an introduction to Standardisation - please feel free to join us on the next course.

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