Continuous Improvement

I’m sitting on a plane in Phoenix, AZ on my way to Orange County. Of course, because of price and selection, I’m on Southwest. We all know the “Southwest drill” when it comes to seat selection. You get your ticket, pray for an “A” and line up according to A, B or C.

So today when I arrived at the gate I noticed something new. My ticket had a number on it. My ticket read, A 41-45. I also noticed the normal A, B and C lines had been replaced with 10 foot standards– each displaying a series of numbers. At the front of the line was monitor displaying A- 1-40 on one side of the standards and A 41-60 on the other side. We “A’s” stood next to the standard displaying our number.

When the A’s were done boarding, the monitor changed to the B and the B’s lined up on either side of the standard according to their numbers.

As I boarded, I thought, “Southwest has changed one of its most longstanding processes” (the A, B and C lines). Now, only one section lines up at a time and by numbers. I’ll say this, it worked much better. The typical crowding of the lines was gone. The rush to get in line was gone. The feeling of being “cattle” was gone. The “experience” was far better.

Businesses talk a lot–and have for decades, about continuous improvement. TQM, kaizen, Process Re-engineering, Six Sigma are a few of the process improvement programs. Over the years, companies have spent a lot of time and money on continuous improvement programs. But, how much real and tangible change have these programs really yielded? Here’s the deal: It’s easy to talk–ad infinitum–about continuous improvement, but never really DO continuous improvement.

Southwest actually improved the A, B, C line–at least in Phoenix, AZ. As a customer, I not only noticed the change but the change made the experiences far better. Now that’s what continuous improvement is about.

2007-11-16T10:18:09-04:00

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Written by Dave Fleming