Some Lean Thoughts From the Road

Posted on December 19, 2012 | in 5S, Error-Proofing, Kaizen, Lean Tools, Lean Wastes, Small Business, Tickets, Time Savings, Transportation | by
el paso texas airplane lean blitz consulting

El Paso, from the air. And yes, we were given permission to use electronics at this point in flight.

Having spent significant time on the road the last month or so, I’ve come across many more opportunities for Kaizen or places where Lean thinking is applied well.


Airport X-ray security lines and attendants could use a heavy dose of Kaizen. At one of my recent airport stops, I encountered two significant unnecessary waste activities. First, throughout the time I was waiting in line with my carry-on belongings, a security attendant was walking up and down the inspection zone repeating orders about removing shoes and belts, taking computers out of bags, removing Zip-loc bags of toiletries, and on and on. All the while, a long line of travelers was building up and a second set of X-ray machines was not being used. Couldn’t travelers be sent through the terminal faster if these orders were recorded and replayed again and again, and using this gate agent as an operator of the security equipment in the second series of machines?

The other annoyance was the failure to replenish the scanner bins. As I was in line, the gal in front of me consumed the last of the scanner bins. I had to wait for a gate agent to realize the entrance was devoid of bins and for him to push a cart of bins back to us so we could continue the process. However, this agent did not have a clear aisle to use to get to the front of the line – the entire X-ray process had to be stopped so he could wheel his cart through the scanner and around travelers.

These activities could use a little more process optimization attention.


hotel ironing board cord rack holder safety lean blitz consulting

Apparently there is an epidemic of hotel room irons or ironing boards being stolen. This little apparatus helps keep the iron and ironing board together and keeps replacement costs low for the hotel (I presume). However, it creates additional problems.

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For example, the attached rack consumes one end of the ironing board, rendering it unusable. I read an article somewhere that says the non-pointed end of the board is the only end you’re supposed to use. (I don’t follow this advice but I presume others do.) Next, the spiral cable only allows me to stretch the iron 90% of the length of the board. If I pull too hard it creates a safety hazard where I’m putting in too much force I could break the cord away from one end or I could pull the board up off the floor.

hotel iron ironing board safety kaizen lean blitz consulting

And what about when adjusting a shirt on the board? I have to set a hot iron down and run the risk of touching the surface because there isn’t enough room to create sufficient space between my hand and the iron itself.

So let’s get an answer for this question – what kinds of people use irons in hotel rooms? Folks who probably own irons at home. So why would they steal an iron if they already own one?

Also, if your hotel staff is having trouble keeping track of irons and ironing boards on a regular basis…your hotel should probably look into methods that don’t hinder customers.


airport cart line box 5s set in order straighten lean blitz consulting kaizen

Excellent use of 5S at the airport.


I really don’t understand the concept of boarding a plane by “zone.” How are zones identified and defined?

Based on my very unscientific observations, special guests (first class, program members, military) and circumstances (handicapped, travelers with children) were given first priority to board, and then the rest of the cabin was randomly filled via zone numbers.

I am under the impression I always have a higher zone number (the higher the number, the later you are allowed to board) because I typically purchase my tickets from discounters like Expedia or Travelocity. Those with lower zone numbers have possibly paid a higher fee…in order to board five minutes before me.

I always get a window seat (if I can). Many times I will board the plane and have to ask my seatmate on the aisle to get up so I can take my seat because he has already boarded. How inefficient is that?!? This person paid more, boarded earlier, got situated, then was forced to stand back up to allow me to sit.

Why isn’t more analysis done for seating window passengers first or folks on the back of the plane first? Well, here are three articles that don’t really explain WHY airlines neglect to do this, but they point out that I’m not the only person finding these processes idiotic.

Scientific Proof That Boarding Airplanes By Zones Is A Stupid System

Finally Here’s The Real Reason Why Airlines Board Use The Annoying Zone Boarding System

American Airlines changes its boarding process


pilot precise pen ink spill hand lean blitz consulting airplane travel kaizen

The Pilot Precise V5 or V7 pens are my favorite style of writing instrument. I typically turn down the use of other pen styles if I have one of these with me, and I generally do. However, one thing about these pens that bothers me is that they explode or leak after a flight. I was about ready to go into a meeting when I got ink all over my hands when I removed the pen cap. I always forget about this issue.

From a supplier perspective, I wish there was something the manufacturer could do to prevent this from happening. However, what is there for me to do on my end to prevent this from occurring? Should I contain the pens in a pressure-resistant container during flight? Should I store them with the ink vessel down from the roller ball? Any suggestions?

~~~~~~~public bathroom sink soap dispenser lean blitz consulting five

Here is a series of sinks in a public bathroom. Five sinks but two soap dispensers, one at each end of the counter. If there is full utilization of the five sinks, the middle sink users would have to either leave their respective sinks to go to the counter ends to retrieve soap (while squeezing past the users of the end sinks) or simply not use soap at all.

The simple answer is to install dispensers between each of the sinks, but maybe there’s a good reason why there are only the two dispensers. (I doubt there is one, but I’m happy to hear ideas or suggestions.)


dyson airblade lean blitz consulting

By the way, I love the Dyson Airblade. I always avoid using paper towels in bathrooms, but these units just seem to work better than typical air dryers.


augusta georgia airport wrap counter food lean blitz consulting kaizen travel

One of my least favorite things about airport travel is the exorbitant food prices. Sure, travelers are captive customers, but it really bothers me when a counter attendant can’t tell a customer the size of a Santa Fe chicken wrap for which they’re about to be charged $9.00. Of course, this is a problem at all restaurants – menus typically don’t demonstrate scale of the food they describe. This isn’t just an airport problem. It would help if more food establishments made it more transparent for the customers what style of food they’ll be receiving.

I’d really prefer not to be stuck with a tiny $9.00 chicken wrap.

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4 Responses to “Some Lean Thoughts From the Road”

  1. Miguel Rivera says:

    I guess TSA is paying attentiom to your observations. I recently traveled to Indianapolis, IN. On my way back, while in hte security check line, an electronic board had all the messages related to computers on its own tote, shoes/belts/coats off, etc. Hope other airports take note.

    • Chad Walters says:

      Excellent point Miguel!

      I think I should point out that this security line observation was in Newark, New Jersey (EWR). Rumor has it that this airport is way behind the times, with a reputation for lots of late flights and mediocre technology upgrades. I love the air train system to travel between terminals and parking lots though. Maybe EWR sunk all its money into that?

  2. Mark Graban says:

    As to the “orders” from TSA… I don’t think they are trying to inform people so much as they are trying to intimidate travelers so we cower in submission to their demands and their intrusive searches. I don’t think they are really doing for efficiency.

    I’ve seen some of those TSA announcements done with humor and grace, but they normally seem to choose the loudest, most intimidating type person to repeat those orders over and over.

    Security theatre.

  3. Mark Graban says:

    Oh, and to the pens… there are just certain pens that aren’t very compatible with air travel. I’d suggest travel with different pens or buying them at your destination 🙂

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