Thursday, March 5, 2009

Lean Prison Management

Two weeks ago, Dawen and I were in San Francisco. A mandatory tourist stop is the Alcatraz tour/cruise. Despite the poor weather, we elected to take the cruise and enjoyed an interesting visit to the island, including the award winning audio tour. While on this tour, we noticed an application of the lean principle of poka-yoke or mistakeproofing.

Alcatraz was a super-ultra-max security prison lasting 29 years from 1934 to 1963. High profile and extremely dangerous prisoners were sent here and security was tight. Guns and knives, naturally, were kept secure, but food still had to be prepared in the kitchen. Thus was born the knife board. This was a piece of wood in which each knife had it's shape cut out as a home so that it could be easily determined if a knife was missing.

Lean or Lean manufacturing has an interesting relationship with Operations Research. While Lean is not a component of Operations Research, many of the same principles are at play in its execution. They also typically share the same goals and the same field of play. Lean approaches can be excellent tools for implementing changes recommended by OR analyses. The focus of Lean is the elimination of wasted time and resources in business processes. The key to lean is the grass-roots approach it takes, involving process owners and front-line workers in the problem identification, and solution process.

The audio tour is a largely solitary endeavour, so we did not discuss it immediately. Being the sort of people that we are, though, Dawen and I both noticed this and spoke with each other about it immediately afterwards. It would be interesting to look for more applications of Lean to prison management. Perhaps one that minimizes inventory?


Anonymous said...

Wow. Great find. What a great example of Lean innovation during a particular time period. I wonder what other great Lean innovations could be reared from our predecessors. I bet a lot could be found in historic Detroit.

Unknown said...

What makes you say that? I don't know much about the history of Detroit. Interesting that you would say that considering the origin of the Toyota Production System and the recently much publicized demise of the Detroit car makers.