Motion economy: The customer is watching you

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Reylito A.H. Elbo

Reylito A.H. Elbo

ANTHONY, Barbie, Cathy (not their real names) and me carried out a simultaneous experiment on a company called “King of Something” or KOS, which has a red-and-white logo.

The whole process was conducted for a whole day during which we analyzed the movement of workers while they’re performing their respective tasks.

Our group is called CARB, representing the letters of our first names. The handle is a fitting tribute to people the people who like to have “extra rice” after every meal, except for this writer.

Our initial finding shows that the workers in the four branches of KOS tend to engage in excessive processing of mail deliveries and remittances that in the process contribute a lot to the long queues of customers almost every day. Comparing our individual experiences, our group came to the conclusion that the average processing time for mail takes two minutes and 16 seconds. For remittances it took them three minutes and 43 seconds.


The process we did was not exact science, but the experiment gave us an interesting insight on what not to do next.

Incidentally, it was easy for us to measure everything with a stopwatch. Thanks to the ubiquitous smartphones with which many things can discover while waiting in line, say in a fast food restaurant.

McDonald’s boasts of a 60-second service delivery rule, a global policy of the fast food chain: you get your order in less than a minute. Many people probably don’t know that. After all, that’s what fast food is all about.

The policy came to light once again in the latest promotional campaign at a McDonald’s in California. It covers its drive-thru breakfast meal. In the promo, a customer is given a timer as soon as he or she pays for the meal. If the customer fails to receive what was ordered within 60 seconds, he or she gets a free sandwich coupon redeemable on the next visit.

Nearly 10 years ago, McDonald’s in the Philippines conducted a similar program. Customers were given a complimentary sundae on-the-spot the moment a crew exceeds 60 seconds.

With or without such a promo have you ever tried measuring the performance of your nearest branch? Try it. The stopwatch on your phone can be your best friend in helping you discover operational flaws on how organizations try to minimize if not eliminate the waiting time of customers.

Going back to KOS, CARB discovered many opportunities to reduce if not eliminate the waiting time of customers. I saw how a clerk was painfully slow in typing the names of the sender and receiver on his computer. But that’s a minor incident considering that “typing” is a necessary skill in the process. The problem is that the clerk spent too much time doing “unnecessary things” like pasting cellophane tape on my letter-envelope before stuffing it in its transparent plastic envelope as he went through the motions of processing my mail.

When I asked him why he’s putting tape on my letter-envelope, he exclaimed with an ignorant smile on his face: “I thought you want it that way, sir.”

I also observed a lot of “unnecessary” movements with his hands and body. As a result, customers on their feet were needlessly waiting in a nine-square-meter office.

CARB disbanded after that ad hoc experiment but not after reflecting on our individual disappointments that KOS could have turned into opportunities.

There are plenty of lessons to learn as when CARB decided that KOS is probably a good example in which to apply the principles of lean management,—“motion economy” in particular.

Industrial engineers are known to apply the rules of motion economy to examine human tasks in the hope of discovering improvement potentials. A common technique is the Therblig Study of the spouses Frank and Lilian Gilbreth, who defined 18 basic motions of a worker (like grasping and releasing a ball pen from the hand) while doing an assigned task. Incidentally, Therblig is their last name spelled backwards.

Today, Therblig is called the Time and Motion Study after having been improved many times over by experts who have come up with several derivatives that include the more popular Value Stream Mapping.

Have you ever wondered about the difference between the service standards of McDonald’s and Jollibee in terms of response time? That’s an interesting proposition. How about comparing the two with Burger King and KFC?

If you have nothing to do this week, you may want to consider it a part of your mental gymnastics. Let me know what you’ve discovered.

Rey Elbo is a business consultant specializing in human resources and total quality management as a fused interest. For feedback write to elbonomics@gmail.com or follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter for his random thoughts on management.

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