The More I Travel, the More Kaizen Opportunities I Create

7

Many of you have asked if I'm at the AME Conference this week in Chicago. I am not, as I had a previous invitation to speak at the Swiss Lean Conference today.

My theme was Kaizen — engaging everybody, everywhere, and every day in improvement. As I said during my talk, we can strive for perfection through continuous improvement, but we'll never get there. As Vince Lombardi said, if we strive for perfection, we might achieve excellence.

I'm certainly not perfect and I haven't been shy about mistakes I've made, like forgetting to pack socks for a business trip.

For this trip, I flew from DFW to London Heathrow, departing late Saturday night (like almost midnight). I was then connecting on to Zürich after a few hours' layover.

Some have said that connecting at Heathrow was a mistake. LOL, they are probably correct.

When I was connecting at Heathrow, I had to take my carry-on suitcase through security again.

I've learned from a previous trip (a vacation) that checking a suitcase is risky… since that bag was lost and misplaced by American Airlines and Iberian Airlines for four days. My wife's bag was lost too. In fact, my flawed logic was, “Since she's checking a bag, I'll check mine too.”

That was BAD thinking. Poor logic.

What I should have done (and my Kaizen) was to put some of my wife's clothes in my suitcase… and then I'd carry on my bag, since it was small enough. That would have mitigated the risk of her checked bag getting delayed or lost. Live and learn. Travel and learn… make mistakes and Kaizen.

We're all human — making mistakes is OK as long as we learn and don't make the same mistakes over and over.

Anyway, my wife has learned and her Kaizen was making sure she can use a suitcase that's small enough to carry on. Another Kaizen that made that possible was not packing as many shoes. That sounds stereotypical, but it's true.

Anyway, back to my trip.

When I went through security at Heathrow, there were many steps. This required many bins, if I remember correctly (I was tired and jetlagged):

  • A bin with my backpack
  • A bin with my MacBook Pro and iPad
  • A bin with my shoes, overcoat, and zip-lock back of toiletries
  • A bin with my suitcase

When I arrived to my hotel in Zürich, after dark on Sunday, I realized that I had left behind my clear toiletries bag. Oh no!

At least I had the most important things — my passport, my laptop, and my overcoat. Actually, I wouldn't have been able to depart for Zürich without my passport, as that part is error proofed through scanning at the gate.

So what happened?

I told this story during Q&A at the conference today. Again, I don't mind admitting mistakes (I'm trying to lead by example as I have through my stories in the anthology book Practicing Lean).

During the break afterward, a woman came up to me and, with a smile, said:

“I can't believe a person like you, who travels so much, doesn't have a consistent process!”

So that's the thing… I was out of process!

For one, I was tired. It's well known that humans are more prone to mistakes, errors, and slip ups when we are fatigued.

Secondly, I was “out of process.”

When I travel in the U.S., I never have to remove anything from my bags, thanks to TSA Precheck.

I have traveled internationally before, of course and I know the rules are different. That knowledge wasn't enough to prevent an error.

A third factor was the confusing bin-and-conveyor system at Heathrow. They have a similar automated bin ystem at DFW Airport's Terminal D and I hate it. Instead of bags flowing through in sequence by traveler, there are four parallel spots. Four travelers load their items and the bins get jumbled up. The airports claim this system is faster, but I've never seen evidence of that.

So, that's another factor that through me off. I was waiting for my suitcase bin to come through… after a few minutes, I realized it already came through and it was down at the end. I was tired and discombobulated.

Again, long story short, I forgot to grab the toiletries bag.

I blamed myself at first. “You idiot,” I thought.

But that's not really fair (you might disagree).

I've never made that mistake before, but it was bound to happen.

By the way, the biggest issue with the lost bag was not my toothpaste and shaving cream. That was easily replaced at the Zürich airport shops.

The problem was my two prescription eye drops that I take for glaucoma. To my surprise, I was actually able to purchase the eye drops from a Zürich pharmacy for a total of $50, without getting a local prescription. The drops were more expensive than they would have been back home, but it was cheaper than the $160 it would have cost to have my wife FedEx new bottles from my home inventory.

Now that the short-term countermeasure was in place (get new drops), my thoughts turned to “How can I prevent this from happening again?”

My first idea is one that prevents the error, but skirts the rules:

I could leave the two small prescription bottles of eye drops in my backpack's side pocket. If I eliminate removing them from the bag, I can't accidentally leave them behind. In the past, I've had non-prescription allergy eye drops that I've accidentally left in the bag and security has never seen them.

I could also put a big warning sign on my suitcase:

I wouldn't expect that countermeasure to work.

I did go through airport security at Zürich without losing my eyedrops. “Attentiveness” and “awareness” is probably going to work in the short term, as my mistake is fresh in my mind. But, over time, I will be complacent.

Do you have any other ideas for ways that I can prevent leaving that bag behind at airport security?

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Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker who has worked in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. His latest book is Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. He also published the anthology Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.

7 Comments
  1. Donna says

    How about creating a checklist that would be adhered to one of the items you wouldn’t easily forget?

    1. Mark Graban says

      Thanks for the suggestion. I could try that. I would prefer something that’s more automatic error proofing. Following a checklist only works if I am disciplined in using it.

  2. Cameron Orr says

    Put the bag or bags partially inside your shoes. Or leave them inside your coat pockets (in the tray). I have done the latter without issue.

    Alternatively put a visible and tactile tag on carry-on bag handle. Maybe tie an empty plastic bag that you used for the liquids.

    Lastly carry an empty box from your eye drops and put that inside your shoe. You won’t walk far without remembering…

    1. Mark Graban says

      I don’t think I had to take my shoes off… but inside the coat arm or coat pocket is an idea worth trying.

  3. Gabrielle Place says

    Great post, I am a new reader to this blog site and have enjoyed it so far! I think this post is a great example of how a common event such as traveling can have many flaws, it is also an event that many can relate to. As the women had mentioned at the conference, a process could be a great improvement in order to reduce the risk associated with traveling, however it can not prevent 100% of risks. Human error on the part of the traveler and those working at the airport can also come into play. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Adam says

    Very interesting to see how kaizen opportunities are everywhere, even in places we would not commonly think. Although it was an unfortunate outcome, it was interesting to see all the factors that went into that situation. I have also left items in security in my previous traveling experiences, but as you stated it is a great opportunity to learn and not make that same mistake twice. My solution for this issue was trying to layer my items inside one another in the bin that way I was able to make sure I took everything with me.

    1. Mark Graban says

      Good idea. I can be more mindful of putting my bag on TOP of a coat… but sometimes TSA moves things, etc. so they can get better scans.

      I did NOT lose my liquids coming home through Heathrow…

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