Improving Flow at Pearl Harbor, Part One

I spent most of the past two weeks not thinking about lean or anything work-related, while I enjoyed a wonderful vacation with family in Hawaii.

            However, there were a few moments during our trip when the lean part of me came to the forefront. Some of these occurred during our visit to Pearl Harbor.

            The memorials there are an extremely popular tourist attraction, which, unfortunately, is troubled by some significant flow problems. This post and the next one will be devoted to discussions of those problems.

            Most people who come to Pearl Harbor want to visit the memorial at the U.S.S. Arizona. This memorial is a simply-designed white structure built like an island in the middle of the bay, directly above the spot where the Arizona, sunk by the Japanese attack on Dec. 7, 1941, still lies beneath the waves. The ship is a tomb for the sailors who died on board during the attack, and their names are engraved inside the structure. Visiting the memorial is a moving experience, and well worth the trip.

            (The Arizona is not the only memorial at Pearl Harbor. You can also climb aboard the U.S.S. Missouri, the battleship aboard which Japanese leaders formally surrendered at the end of the war. And you can climb down into the U.S.S. Bowfin submarine. But neither of those attracts the number of people who flock to the Arizona memorial.)

            To visit the Arizona, you first obtain a ticket for a particular time. At that time, you enter a theater within the visitor center, located on shore. After viewing a 20-minute video about the attack on Pearl Harbor and the war with Japan, you walk to a pier, board a ferry and sail to the memorial. After you disembark for your visit, the group that preceded yours boards the ferry for their return trip to shore.

            That system seems to work reasonably well. The problem occurs at the start of the process when you get your ticket, which is free.

            The travel books I read in advance of our trip warned me about the high demand for tickets and the need to arrive early – so my family and I got to the visitor center at around 8:30 a.m., about an hour after the ticket office opened.

When we arrived, we saw a line at the ticket office that snaked out the front door of the center and all the way around the front grounds. I would estimate there were at least 200 people standing in line, and probably more – a scene, I am told, that is repeated almost every day. After spending at least 40 minutes in line, we got tickets for 10:30 a.m. I understand that distribution of tickets ends each day by early afternoon, once capacity has been exhausted. As far as I know, tickets cannot be obtained in advance.

The lean part of my brain was yelling at me: It shouldn’t have to be like this! There must be a way to apply lean principles and improve the flow!

Any suggestions?


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