My notLean shopping

My notLean shopping

My favorite definition of lean is the one applied by Paul Akers: ‘fix what bugs you.’ So little, yet so much.

I often hear from the people I work with that the discovery of lean was the best and the worst  thing that has happened to them. They simply look differently at a lot of things surrounding them and… they get upset because they see how much waste there is around them.

At 9 p.m. I decided to do some shopping for the next day in the large supermarket nearby: I’m going to the checkout counter with all the products from my list in my cart. I’m standing at the end of a long queue for the self-service checkout and… nothing is happening. Totally. The queue of 30 people is actually standing in place. People are getting annoyed.

Been standing for 5 minutes, 10 minutes, and it’s still a ways to go the checkout. I look at my cart: If I give up now, I will lose a lot of time to do the shopping in another store, so I have to hold on. There are about 30 people on the remaining 8 open checkouts, so there is no point changing the queue. I lean out of the queue and observe the cause of the situation. This is what I see:

Visualization of the queue to the self-service checkouts.

Fig 1. Visualization of the queue to the self-service checkouts.


Red checkout counters were out of service – a system failure.

Blue checkout counters – payment only in cash.

Green cash – the only fully functional one.

Blue dots – customers in the queue.

What does lean tell us?

  1. Visualization: people standing in the line did not know which checkouts supported only cash (at the counter there was just a sheet of paper, which could only be seen by the first 2-3 people in the queue). Because of that these checkout counters were not used for long periods, despite the fact that farther in the line there were people who had cash. However, they did not know that they could approach the counters. Seeing them empty, they assumed that the counters are closed like many others.
  1. PDCA: according to the staff, the reason for this failure was the implementation of a new computer system for the operation of checkout counters, and since that time there had been some problems with them. Introduction of new solutions without the full PDCA cycle is, unfortunately, common and leads to large losses. Lean advises to carry out tests and experiments first, e.g. for one checkout, and to implement the system to the other checkouts only after eliminating problems.
  1. Time of adding value: observing the checkouts (the working ones, of course), I noticed that their work could be described as below:Operation during not lean cashingPeriods of waiting, when there are no transactions even when the checkout is in the working mode and free, consist of the following factors:
    1. Since the beginning of the queue is behind the black line, the distance that the customer has to cover to most of the checkouts is considerable.
    2. Because of the arrangement of the checkouts and lack of clear signage, the client has to watch all the checkouts at the same time, and often does not notice that a given checkout is free.
    3. Packing purchased products.

    The transaction procedure is carried out as follows:

    Operations Lean shooping

    We take a product out of the cart, scan it, put it on the scale. We don’t have the possibility to put the scanned products directly in our bag because the checkout would consider it as theft (the scale indicates that there are more goods placed on it than were scanned). This means that first we have to put all the goods on the scale, pay, and then put the products into our bag. During this time, another person is waiting for us to pack our shopping.

    One of the solutions could be the option of zeroing the balance (by the weight of our bag). Then we could immediately pack our goods and leave the checkout right after paying.

    4. Gemba: I didn’t have the heart to record or measure particular times, since the employee handling the checkout was under a lot of pressure from customers anyway. Nevertheless, leaving aside the problem of checkouts out of order, I assess the delay generated by the above problems at a minimum of 10 seconds for each customer.

    This supermarket supports approx. 2000 people daily, which theoretically gives 5.5 hours when the customers wait unproductively.

    But it only can be seen in gemba.

    Lean – fix what bugs you.

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