You can learn a lot about productivity from watching line-ups. At the Eiffel Tower, for instance, a line-up results from a bottleneck – a pinch point in a process where the capacity of the system is surpassed by the demand for it. Line-ups are almost always risky for business. Sooner or later a potential customer will come along and say, “I can’t be bothered to wait.” That’s a lost opportunity for a business, as I outlined in an article entitled “Bottleneck Busting” (Send an email to email@example.com if you would like a copy). It includes references and data to a number of our time study consulting projects where we measure productivity using our TimeCorder devices.
So what does productivity have to do with the Eiffel Tower? We visited it recently and discovered that only one of the main lifts up the tower was working. As it turns out, that was the best time for us to visit the top of the tower. Who would have thought?
You’ve seen the Eiffel Tower many times – an elegant iron structure supported by four legs on the ground. Elevators usually climb up at least two of the legs to the second level. From there, another bank of elevators with less capacity takes you to the top. But when one of the main “leg’ elevators wasn’t working, a long line-up snaked under the Eiffel Tower – two hours long, we were told – to go up the single remaining elevator.
Ah, but if you don’t mind a bit of exercise, you could walk up the stairs to the second level, and save part of the fee as well. So we did. And up there, we discovered a very short line for the second elevator that whisked us to the top. On the second level, we could see the barriers where the line usually jogged back and forth. But not on the day we were there. There was no bottleneck that day .
Of course. When only one elevator, instead of the usual two or three feeds people to the second level, only a small number of people arrive there. The capacity to handle stair climbers was almost infinite, but the capacity to take people up by elevator was limited. And evidently most people weren’t interested in the stairs. Too bad. They missed all the fun. The usual bottleneck on the second level had shifted to the ground, where all the lazy people waited impatiently. We and the other stair climbers had gone around the bottleneck.
The lessons for business? Find out where your bottlenecks are and direct resources to reduce them. Consider a mortgage process for a bank. We have conducted a number of time and motion study projects where we measured the productivity of mortgage processes. They can take a while because of internal controls, regulatory requirements, input from credit bureaus, etc. That’s where the bottlenecks are in banking. But when banks offer pre-approved mortgages, or encourage customers to calculate their own monthly payments, or create on-line applications, they allow customers to bypass the usual bottlenecks. This is what we did at the Eiffel Tower.
You can learn a lot about a business by how they handle their lines. Do the same for yours. Your time is worth it.
Tags: best time, bottleneck, productivity, queuing
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