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American Society of Quality: Saginaw Section
Note from the Chair:
A Matter of Lean

By Cary Black, ASQ CQE
Quality Control/R&D Manager
Duro-Last Roofing

It never ceases to amaze me as a Quality Professional how valuable Lean practices can be in the promotion of efficiency, the elimination of costly waste, the improvement of productivity and as a mechanism for the acceleration of continuous improvement. It seems every organization, committee, team, or individual would jump at the chance to use Lean principles if they understood the value added. Efficiency increases, productivity increases, and happier employees all contribute to enhance the bottom-line of the organization. This is where Lean will take you.

As I was traveling last week, I had a most amazing Delta experience, which, in my mind is a beautiful example of why Lean is cool. We often compare and contrast as a problem solving approach… I will call my Delta experience an “anti-Lean” adventure.

I was waiting in the Flint airport at the gate. I noticed the plane would have only been about half-full. We were told that there were maintenance issues and the flight was cancelled. They put us in a shuttle bus which took us to Detroit where we arrived about two hours later. The folks at Flint would not check us onto our Detroit connections, so we had to wait in line for check-in in Detroit. The kiosks were not working for us because our first flight from Flint had been cancelled and this apparently confused the system in Detroit.

As each of us impatiently looked at the clock and calculated an approximate time in line based on the thirty or so people in front of us and an approximate 10 minute wait time required for each check-in through the two Delta clerks, we wondered if our connections were doomed as well.

We did finally get through, and to our gate with maybe five minutes to spare. We were told we would be boarding soon. Then, they indicated that someone had gotten sick on the plane and they had to bring in a special clean-up crew to clean up the mess.

It took roughly an hour and twenty minutes, and we boarded a rather smelly aircraft. As the pre-flight bustle was quieting down, we were told we had to deplane because of maintenance issues. We were told we could leave our possessions on the plane, however.

Sitting outside the gate, maybe a half hour later, an announcement was made that the flight was cancelled and we then had to retrieve our possessions. They indicated they were looking for another plane for us.

A half hour later, another plane was located and could be found about 20 gates further down the A concourse. Off we went shaking our heads.

Twenty minutes later they announced it was time to board. As we formed our lines, it appeared another problem had developed. The computer that controlled the scanner was not letting the two Delta people access the system. Apparently it had been locked out by the previous Delta occupants of the gate.

About a half hour later, another individual showed up, and twenty minutes after looking confused and typing on the keyboard, the system came up and we were allowed to board. Praise Dr. Deming!

Finally, we were on our way. We made the slow cruise out to the tarmac. It was a busy day in Detroit due to the snow storms out east so things went slow. After about 45 minutes on the tarmac, an announcement came that the plane had maintenance issues and we would be returning to the gate.

For most of us, the frustration we had been feeling transitioned to laughter and head shakes. It had become a comedy of errors, and I think we all had resigned ourselves to the fact that we would likely not be enjoying a fine bowl of gumbo on Bourbon St. this evening, as we had planned. Further, it became clear to me that I would miss an important radio interview I had for 7:00 pm with the "Books of Excellence” Blog radio show that evening for promoting the upcoming release of my new book about Hurricane Katrina.

After about 20 minutes of milling around outside of the gate, they announced they had found another plane for us. We plodded down the terminal another 30 gates to enjoy the rest of what today’s entertainment had to offer.

This flight actually worked. However, prior to boarding, they announced that this flight was in an “over-booked” situation and they started asking for volunteers to relinquish their seats. There was another array of chuckles as the new plane was a 757 and clearly fit more people then the previous two DC-9’s (where there was no overbooking situation announced or implied). It did appear however, that there was more people ready for this flight than had been present for the other two…hmmm.

There was undefined absurdity in the air at Detroit Metro this day. I don’t recall anyone volunteering, and boarding commenced. Once we were all seated and the door was about to close, an official from Delta came on board with two TSA personnel, and announced that two people had to leave the plane due to seating limitations. No volunteers emerged. The official randomly picked an older man and a young woman and told them to leave the plane immediately. These individuals were angry. The TSA folks bore their best stern faces and looked like they were ready to “help” these people deplane if necessary.

After the two folks were gone, two Delta stewardesses entered the plane and sat in the two empty seats. Apparently they had to work a flight out of New Orleans the next morning.


We finally made it to the Big Easy approximately nine hours late. Amazingly enough, our baggage made it as well. (They must run pretty Lean baggage handling system).

As I pondered the totality of this experience, I was thinking of what a great opportunity for implementing Lean Practices at Delta presents. The examples presented in this writing could be presented as a problem solving tool for implementing a dozen different Lean principles in as many different ways.

Perhaps, we could as an ASQ Section, write a proposal for a Lean implementation strategy and perhaps contribute to the longevity of Delta Airlines. I have to think that their sustainability might be problematic based on their current systems if our experience was resultant of common cause failures within their systems. Perhaps the assimilation of NWA was just too much. Let’s reach out to them in the interest of Quality altruism, and enjoy that wonderful bowl of gumbo on Bourbon St.