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Sign of a Problem

This weekend I went by one of our many local McDonald’s restaurants.  It has been newly renovated.  It looks really nice, but there was on thing that caught my eye.  The new drive-thru setup.  The ordering and pay/pickup windows are the same.  The change was in the parking spaces.  After the remodel McDonald’s added two parking spaces with reserved signs for people in the drive-thru.  I wish I was able to get a picture of the spots but my camera phone was not working.

The spaces are there because orders aren’t ready so they ask the customer to pull up and park.  They will bring the food out when it is ready.

So are the spaces a good idea? Or bad idea?

I think the spaces are a good idea if they are tracking how many people have to pull up and wait.  If they use it as a way to highlight a problem.  Cars in the parking spaces = problem.

This is equivalent to something we do in our manufacturing plants.  When there is a problem we divert the work to a penalty area to understand the problem and fix it.  This way it does not interfere with the flow of the work that does not have a problem.  But, we are gathering data and looking at and understanding process problems to resolve.

The other thought is to not have the parking spaces and to have the car sit and block the line until the problem is fixed.  This is a reasonable solution also, but I would use it in one of two circumstances.  1) The time to fix the problem is very short and wouldn’t hold up the line for very long or 2) if the restaurant does not use the parking spaces as a way to highlight the problems and work on fixing the process so zero cars have to pull over.

Even Toyota, when they stop the line only stop a portion of the line and not the entire line.  If it is a big problem, Toyota will still move the car offline to a visible area to work on resolving the process problem that created the situation.

We must understand our process well enough to understand which option for highlighting our problems might be best.

What are other ways to highlight problems?