Exiting Ford Field – The Implication of Design on Flow

Well, the Lions almost did it. The offence was ugly, painful for even the most die hard of Lions fans to stomach. The defense was sensational however, and they were able to keep the team in the game right up until the last 30 seconds. The game was lost when Carolina scored and the Lions were unable to convert on their last drive. No surprise for most, but it did pose a new challenge for the fans.

Not only were the fans forced to reconcile their disappointment with their ‘love to hate’ team, but they also had to find a way to negotiate their way out of a mostly full stadium. The close game had kept most fans in their seats to the end, deferring the usual slow trickle of fans leaving throughout the 4th Quarter. The poor play of the Lions did not serve its usual function of relieving pedestrian congestion on the way out.

I’m commenting without any hard stats, but I’m sure most Detroiters will agree that this is likely the first such occurrence in the short history of Ford Field. Complicating the situation even further, Wireless Giant was giving out T-shirts just outside the stadium.

As I moved through the ‘herd’ and listened to the heckling of the crowd I was surprised at how quickly the subject of jokes and jibes shifted from the performance of quarterback Joey Harrington to the terrible layout of exit paths from the stadium.

Fans from both the upper & lower decks converged at one large curved exit with several doors facing a number of directions around the curve from South to East. On top of trying to find and make their way to the free t-shirts, some fans exiting the South side doors needed to head East. Of course the inverse was also true as well as several people who weren’t exactly sure which way they needed to head.

One sure lesson that can be taken from the slow moving mob of a mess that ensued is in the power of free t-shirts. The other lesson, more applicable to this discussion is how the flow was restricted by the physical layout of the stadium.

The same constraints can be seen in manufacturing environments. Physical layout is as critical an element when designing for one piece flow. Put quite simply, if there is no where to go you won’t have flow – even if the next stage in the process is “pulling”.

I can also think of several examples where the reverse is true and physical layout affects the efficiency of queuing processes. (like waiting to go through security on the way into the stadium!)

I wonder if there will be any lessons learned from yesterday’s game that will help Super bowl organizers before the Big Game in Detroit this February? Of course this assumes that there is a continuous improvement mindset and that their view of customer satisfaction includes time after the game when beer concessions are closed.

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Luke Van Dongen

Luke, an auto industry engineering veteran, blogged here from 2005 to 2006.

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3 Comments on "Exiting Ford Field – The Implication of Design on Flow"

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  1. Mark Graban says:

    You’re right, there is probably no good way to “level load” the exit of fans from the stadium (short of a truly disappointing team where 1/4 of the fans give up on them each quarter). Even as an undergrad at Northwestern in the early 90’s, not many fans “gave up” in the 1st quarter (they would have still been tailgating).

    I think the lesson here is about planning for peak capacity if you CAN’T level load. It’s not always possible, depending on the market and operating model. By “not possible”, that might be in the short term (look at Dell Computer, which does not really attempt to level load). The cost to Dell is that they must build and maintain enough capacity to account for their peak end of quarter pushes.

    Level loading might be “ideal”, but not always practical, I’d say.

  2. Mark Graban says:

    Trying to remember Michigan Stadium and getting 115,000 fans out… better design, I recall, with more exits than Ford Field??

  3. Luke Van Dongen says:

    Thanks for your comments on leveling the load and planning for peak capacity…and I agree with you fully – Buying capacity is expensive and not always practical.

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