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Waiting, waiting waiting….

Waiting in Line[divider]”May I go to class and then come back later to pay?”[/divider]


The lines are getting longer and edging towards the doors, both computers appear to be down and our customers are getting snippy with my registration folks who in turn are starting to get edgy back. This is the second week of long lines and the situation does not appear to be getting better. By the end of the night, the physical headcount will not match the data in the registration system and the money cash will be short. This has to change!

Waiting in line…everybody hates to wait in line. I once read somewhere that IBM was working on the problem of traffic flow or workflow. Kaiser Fung in Numbers Rule Your World  (yes, I got the book!) gives two examples of how the wait is resolved.

The first example is traffic flow in Minnesota. Everybody experiences traffic jams and Minnesota came up with a ramp meter system to try to control ingress onto the freeway system, since some of the bottlenecks stemmed from the timing of folks trying to get on the freeway. Too many people trying to get on at the same time causes bottlenecks. In the ramp meter system, there were computer systems with algorithms calculating the speed and flow of the traffic system and using those results to determine the timing of ingress onto the freeway.

The effect of that system was increased throughput on the freeway and decreased travel time. Victory! The only problem was that the perception of those in the cars waiting to get on the freeway was negative: the system appeared inefficient. People were still waiting, but they were waiting on the feeder ramps, watching the cars on the freeway go by. It seemed like the freeway was uncongested so why were they sitting on the feeder? The engineers had to go back to the system to address the perception of waiting.

Contrast Minnesota’s traffic problems with those of Disney’s waiting lines. A statistic that Kaiser Fung quoted was that the average time spent waiting in line out of an 8 hour day was between 4 to 5 hours. So you spend a lot of money to get to Disneyland and you spend 50% of your time in lines. Not good. What did Disney’s engineers do to alleviate the wait? They created something simple called a Fast Pass but behind it was a bank of large computers doing number crunching of multiple simulations, taking into account arrival times, traffic patterns, ride times, and so on and so forth. With the Fast Pass, people could do something else until it was time for their ride. Their wait time could actually be longer but since they were doing something else in the interim, their perception of the wait was much shorter. So people were much happier with Disney than they were with Minnesota.

Now I’m leaving out a lot of important concepts that are in Kaiser Fung’s book since this is just a post. The book goes into a lot more detail on the concepts and is much more interesting in the telling.

So what did I do about the waiting lines at where I worked? Well, unfortunately I didn’t have access to such large computing power so I did 3 simple things:

  1. Started handing out name tags to those who had pre-registered instead of waiting for them to get to the front of the line to receive the name tag
  2. Move the newbies with their questions to another area so that they did not clog the lines; assign someone to handle the questions (this was suggested by one of my registration folks)
  3. Print colored name tags, a different color for each class, so we could do headcount and discern who moved to a different class.


After that, things appeared to get better. We still had lines but they were not reaching toward the doors and my registration folks appeared to be happier.

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