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Archive for the ‘One Line’ Category

Queuing has been in the news lately. First, the Wall Street Journal’s most recent The Numbers column was on queuing theory (The Science of Standing in Line, Oct 7). The story is in someways disappointing since it emphasizes the history of queuing over its current applications or general insights. However, it does feature this rather spiffy graphic contrasting service systems in which several servers pull from a common queue as opposed to each server having a separate line.

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When reading Bangalore you likely are expecting a blog on the Indian capital of IT outsourcing, but we’ll wait with that one after the new year.  While I was very impressed with our visit of Infosys, I wanted to share my experiences of a quite different type: my visit to the Hindu temple of Sri Radha Krishna. Aside from the spiritual, what does an operations professor observe?

The customer flow experience uses queuing control and typical lean techniques:

  • queues and continuous flow: there literally is an almost-continuous flow of worshipers during opening hours.  I truly had no idea and had just walked down the Sheraton hotel to take a look at the temple.  Before I knew it, I was part of a dense flow and funneled into a well-designed system of queues; more extensive than at any other place I’ve seen.
  • 1×1 processing – no batching: each visitor pays 2 rupees to deposit your shoes (the rest of the visit is bare feet); viewing of the deities also is basically 1×1: you get your 5 seconds after long queuing because the queue keeps moving; one never stands still
  • takt time and drummer-rope: the bottleneck are the observatory places of the deities.  To keep the flow going, however, a takt time is established by a loudspeaker and every worshiper chanting:
    • Hare Krishna Hare KrishnaKrishna Krishna Hare HareHare Rama Hare RamaRama Rama Hare Hare
    • (Clueless foreigners like me are handed a card with the chant; after a few cycles, I got it down and felt really part of it all!)
  • Limit inventory: Where the chanting start, also a series of tiles start. One person per tile, and after each chant, everyone moves up one tile.  The number of tiles = the inventory of people before the deity.  This system also brings everyone in synchronization and establishes the flow rate through the rest of the temple.
  • Overflow inventory: only in the major temple (where there are three deities) is there an “inner overflow inventory” where people can get out of the line to take more time to meditate.
  • Quality at the source: perhaps stretching a little, at the end of the visit one hands back the “parking place” number of your shoes, and you receive your shoes.  (I would like to know what the error rate is–I wouldn’t be surprised it is a high-sigma process, similar to the Tiffinwallahs…)

Aside from the operational ingenuity, obviously established over a long time, the temple also is an example of a synchronized assistance and retail store: food is given for free to the needy and all types of desserts (Indians love sweets, like the Belgians) and parapharnelia is for sale after respects are paid to the deities.  What came first: the museum store at the end of the visit, or the temple store?

One key take-away of my visit to India is that Indians thrive in chaos and complexity. Together with their ingenuity, this bodes well for managing in turbulent times.

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Regular readers of this blog know that I like eye candy and can rarely pass up a styling graphic. Today’s Wall Street Journal obliges with a great one on a subject near and dear to my heart, queues! (Find the Best Checkout Line, Dec8)

Check it out. It even mentions Little’s Law!

Here is a video of the author discussing his report:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

So I think this is a fun article but there are some points to quibble with.

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I love to see how things are made and VW makes that especially joyful in their novel “transparent factory.” This is a completely new approach to factory design and architecture with several noteworthy innovations that make this a perfect fit-in for a center location in beautiful downtown Dresden:

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The Chicago Tribune had an interesting article a week ago on waiting in lines.(“Wait your turn: Good rule in kindergarten, good rule now“.)

The author of the article reports on an incident in which several people cut him in line until he told them to go back to the end of the line. He then continues

Line etiquette is one of the first things we learn as kindergartners. There were dire consequences for disobeying one of the basic rules of society — that you stand patiently behind the person in front of you, no matter how long it takes.

But is this really always the case?  One has to acknowledge that there are cases in which people regularly cut in line AFTER asking to do so, i.e., cutting is done by acknowledging the other people in line, yet providing an excuse to cut in line. This is a common practice in airport security queues when people may ask to cut the line to avoid missing their flight. In certain places, this practice is sometimes coined “I just have a short question” to describe people trying to declare to not require too much of the service provider’s time, justifying cutting in line. This phenomenon is also described by Robert Cialidini in his book “Influence” (Thanks Andy Huang for the reference). In this study, a woman pretended that she needed to make copies while there was a line to use the Xerox machine. When asking “Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I’m in a rush?” 94% agreed to let her cut ahead. In the UK, the birthplace of the First-In-First-Out line, similar behavior is observed when in line for train tickets: one may jump to the front of the queue when almost missing their train.

Admittedly, in other situations, as the one described by the author of the Tribune article as well as many other examples of people waiting to buy tickets to sporting events or U2 concerts, this behavior is considered unacceptable and is aggressively banned, as shown in the following clip:


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The world can be broadly divided into those who love self-checkout and those who hate them. (We already discussed it here: “Love or loathe: Self-service checkout” where my colleague confessed his love to self-checkouts).

I am of the (rare) indifferent type. I rarely, if ever, use them and find their main utility in taking people off the main checkout lanes. I found the new development reported in a recent article at the Seattle Times( “Some supermarkets replacing self-checkout lanes” h/t to Niraj Patel) somewhat surprising: both Kroger and Albertsons have started designing stores that no longer include self-checkouts lanes:

For Boise-based Albertsons, self-checkout no longer fits with the customer-service experience it wants, spokeswoman Christine Wilcox said. “Our customers are our highest priority, and we want to provide them with an excellent experience from the time they park their car to when they leave,” Wilcox said.

I am not 100% convinced about replacing self-checkout lanes. I do agree that self-checkouts are a bad idea during peak times since they divert the wrong customers to the wrong resource at the wrong time. During peak times, customers who are not used to self-checkouts tend to choose these, since the regular lanes are longer. Yet, since these customers are not used to self-checkout themselves, it take them longer to process their baskets, exacerbating the congestion in the store, exactly at the time where more customers are exposed to the quality of the service.  But self-checkouts have their places: they are about providing good and quick service in a very cheap way during off peak time, when customers appropriately self-select their preferred service.

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The Wall Street Journal has a somewhat interesting article about justice and fairness in checkout lines (“Justice — Wait for It — on the Checkout Line”, Aug 19th). While I believe someone writing under the title of “numbers guy” should adhere to higher standards (as I will discuss by the end of the posting), the article makes an interesting point:

“When it comes to customer satisfaction, time isn’t of the essence; fairness is. Many studies have shown how frustrating it is for customers to see others get served faster. Prof. Larson says the studies show customers will put up with waiting times up to twice as long to avoid such unfairness.”

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