Saturday, January 19, 2008

This Old Bureaucracy

Ken Miller applies "extreme make-over" techniques to government and draws inspiration from the private sector:

If home improvement is not your thing, anybody who has ever flown Southwest Airlines or used a George Foreman grill understands this concept. George Foreman made millions off of this very simple principle. The old way of making hamburgers was a two-step, 14-minute process. Step 1, cook side A for 7 minutes. Step 2, cook side B for 7 minutes. Foreman, with five little Georges to feed, asked the question, "Why can't we cook side A and side B at the same time?" Voila! One fully cooked hamburger in half the time. (Again, the work itself is still the same — 7 minutes per side. He sped up the process, not the cooking. Microwaving the burger would be an example of speeding up work time — but you know how well that turns out!)

Southwest Airlines is one of the few airlines that consistently makes money. Why? Because the company was founded on the radical idea that "airplanes don't make money on the ground." That is, the more flights we can squeeze out of the same fleet, the more money we can make. So Southwest used a NASCAR pit crew (another beautiful example of parallel processing) to see how they could turn a plane around quickly. The airline learned how to sequence all of the tasks necessary to clean and restock a plane and get it ready to board in 10 minutes. One of Southwest's chronically bankrupt large competitors just instituted this concept and was able to add 125 more flights with the same fleet at no additional cost. That's pure profit.

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