Nov 8, 2007

Traveler's aid

As I've said before, Mike and I recently took a cross-country trip, and I found this example of simple employee improvements at a rest area. Someone had looked at the phone booths as work stations and assembled the most-needed tools there.

Emergency and commonly needed phone numbers were taped up on the left. I should have photographed a different booth, but thought I wouldn't expose some sustainment failures. There was a pocket made from ordinary manila file folders, labeled "pens" at other booths, but either the pens or the notepaper were missing. The next pocket, obviously, is for the note paper. Then there was a map of area codes, and a little set of instructions that I didn't remember to copy down.

Most of us have stood at a phone booth or with a cellphone away from home and needed to call for some sort of help. If there's a phone book, you had to fumble through it. More likely, there's no phone book. So this improvement eliminates an important barrier. Even if you call someone you know, you're likely to need make notes and realize you don't have a pen or paper. The thoughtful employee removes another source of inconvenience and anxiety. You have a phone number, but don't know the area code, or the area code has changed. So you have a handy map right there.

An alert person had been at the gemba and observed the customer -- the "worker" trying to use the phone booth to accomplish a task. Maybe people had repeatedly approached the desk (it was staffed) asking for pens or paper, etc. Maybe the person thought about what people encountered at times when there was no staff at the site.

Simple materials, simple construction processes, and problems eliminated. The next step would be some standard work for keeping the tools on the toolboard, but the abnormal condition is easy to spot. Even the missing pen pocket was obvious because there was a line of four or five phone booths along the wall, tools placed in exactly the same positions in each.

Where do you see little inconveniences in your workplace? How could you just take materials at hand and make an improvement? How could you bring a few other people together to discuss the idea so it would be even better and an appropriate person could add sustaining it to his or her standard work? Improvements don't have to be big or save hundreds of dollars to be valuable.

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