I went to the supermarket yesterday and was delighted to see a standard kanban practice was implemented there. Attempting to limit the density of the shoppers in the store, you had to wait at the entry for a card—in fact, a kanban card—before entering. At the exit, you returned the card, enabling another entry to the store. The cards were delivered next to the post distributing disinfectant to your hands. I was not able to see if the cards themselves were disinfected between use.
This practice recalls the example given in introductory Kanban classes of the use of kanban cards to regulate the flow of visitors to some parks in Japan.
Next, I had to visit the pharmacy to buy a prescription drug. (Fortunately, it is not for any respiratory ailment.) While the pharmacy is open as per its normal schedule, entry is limited to one customer at a time. I suppose the augmented chance of ill visitors makes such a WIP limit advisable.
A second feature designed to improve flow and decrease lead times is the request that you email or call in advance, so that the order can be prepared in advance of your visit. Advance preparation allows the pharmacy to reduce waste and improve its use of resources. When you deliver a prescription in person, there is an awful lot of waiting time and movement. Furthermore, it is very difficult for the pharmacy to batch the orders and find the optimal batch size for fulfillment.
It might be difficult to reduce the movement type of waste, but the waiting can be reduced and different batch sizes tried out when orders are prepared in advance.
However, the practice of limited influx to keep a sanitary distance between customers within the store goes for naught if they all bunch up at the entry to the pharmacy, waiting for their respective turns to enter. This is the problem of replenishment of the ready queue. Given that the batch of waiting customers is constantly changing, you can hardly expect them to work out on their own how to keep the flow of entries going while maintaining a good distance between the waiting customers. After all, in how many countries do people queue up for the bus in an orderly, civilized fashion?
Thus, the pharmacy was obliged to structure the backlog of customers by providing the same sorts of ropes and poles that you see in airports and cinemas. At the same time, signs requested that the waiting people maintained their distance from each other.
And so, it was inevitable: the scent of bitter drugs reminded me of the fate of unrequited kanban practices.
The article Kanban in the Time of Corona by Robert S. Falkowitz, including all its contents, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.