Capacity Planning and Operations Efficiency

Building It Right The First Time: A Guest-Centric, Analytical Approach to Capacity Planning

by Susan Dekker, Director, Integrated Insight

New experiences and facilities require a high upfront investment, and often are difficult and costly to adjust after building. And so, strategically building the right amount of capacity for the right guests can save a number of headaches later. This article lays out the major steps to planning capacity using a guest-centric, analytical approach.

1. Understand Demand

Always start with understanding the guest. Market research can determine potential market size, demographics, and estimated annual attendance. Spread the annual demand to the daily level – seasonality due to weather/school schedules result in a very different average and peak day attendance. All of these demand factors will heavily influence the amount of supportable investment.

2. Develop Design Standards

After understanding daily attendance, determine for which attendance level to build. First, define the desired service levels of the provided experience. Service level standards examples include: every guest experiences a marquis attraction, keeping average or max wait times to <X minutes, or guests can experience X total things across their visit. Then, determine how many days/guests you are willing to expose to compromised service levels. The goal is to have few high-attendance days/times with a less-than-ideal experience and many days/times where the development will be more than enough to accommodate demand.

3. Quantify Capacity

The capacity required for any individual business unit or location is typically based on the peak instantaneous demand.

For example, restaurants are busiest at meal periods, whereas ticketing and entry facilities are busiest at park open.Focus on all guest and employee needs such as breakrooms, storage, restrooms and guest services; often it is easy to just focus on the core product and revenue sources.

4. Evaluate Demand - Capacity Balance

Continually iterate to ensure the resulting program is compelling enough to drive the expected demand while meeting the desired service level standards.

Other aspects can influence demand or capacity: marketing can increase awareness (and thus guest demand), mitigations such as brining in food trucks can offer short term flexes in capacity, or pricing can influence demand such as mid-week ticket discounting.

5. Design a Layout

After determining the optimal amount to build, lay out the facilities in a logical, efficient way from both the guest and employee perspective. Simulation is a great tool to evaluate design before physically building. Benchmark industry leaders to see what does and does not work in their park flow. Consider the placement of complementary functions, and balance the guest experience to enhance guest flow and reduce congestion.

Conclusion

Determining the proper amount of capacity requires a rigorous, analytical approach to understanding the guest and their behavior. But, building it right the first time will reduce the cost of rework while maximizing the guest experience.

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Basic Guide to Process Improvement: A Structured Approach to Optimizing Your Operation

The most successful companies are those that can continuously adapt to meet the changing needs of the consumer and their business. Process improvement can be overwhelming, and it can be difficult to know where and how to start.

Read More

Foundational Approaches to Achieve Operational Efficiency

Focus on foundational operational efficiency principles so processes do not become out-of-date as customer expectations and technology evolve. This inefficiency results in excess costs, unnecessary frustration for both customers and employees, and lower quality products or services.

Read More

How To Conduct An Efficiency Summit

An efficiency summit is a gathering of key stakeholders with the specific goal to identify opportunities to improve operational efficiency. This is accomplished through structured observations and data analysis.

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Foundational Approaches to Achieve Operational Efficiency

by Susan Dekker, Director, Integrated Insight

Operational processes can become out-of-date as customer expectations and technology continue to evolve. This inefficiency results in excess costs, unnecessary frustration for both customers and employees, and lower quality products or services. While operating efficiently is an obvious goal, front-line employees are often too busy fighting fires to dedicate time and resources to improving or are caught in a “this is how we’ve always done it” mentality.

The risks of operating inefficiently are too great to ignore:

Increased transaction times, longer waits for service: The longer it takes to process a customer, the longer all customers must wait.

Diminished quality: Processes prone to errors or rework ultimately result in an erosion of product quality.

Poor customer experience: Waiting longer for an inferior product usually results in lower customer satisfaction.

Poor employee experience: Inefficient processes are frustrating to all involved, employees included, as they strive to do their best.

Increased costs: Errors and delays cost real money, both in terms of wasted product and additional holding costs.

Decreased sales: The universality of online product reviews and social media means one poor customer experience can deter multiple future customers.

Identifying potential improvements can be done through structured observations and data analysis. Observe the process in person with key stakeholders to be sure they can visualize opportunities. Analyze historical system data to understand the impact of the issue. See “How to Conduct an Efficiency Summit” for more details.

Often companies focus on “big picture” initiatives, resulting in company-wide standardization or major organizational changes. But there is always opportunity to make incremental progress by optimizing lower-level processes as well. Types of changes, both big and small, could include:

1. Organizational: Align roles in the organization that can result in a streamlined process. For example, a centralized scheduling group may be more efficient than a dedicated scheduler within each business unit.

2. Transfer of responsibility/information: Often times the ball can get dropped as product fulfillment or customer service is handed off from one department to another. Clarify responsibilities and standardize communication to prevent issues.

3. Technology: Ever-changing technology may mean some processes are now obsolete and can be eliminated. Or, there may be newly-available software that can automate processes currently done manually.

4. Resources: Quantify the amount of both labor and physical resources needed to ensure there is sufficient capacity available to meet customer demand, at your targeted service level.

5. Facility: Optimizing customer or product flow may require adjustment to facilities. Quantify the cost/benefit of such changes to see if warranted.

6. Layout: Even minor layout changes can make big differences. Do employees have to walk 3 steps to pick up materials to finish a transaction? Is there an opportunity to move those supplies to within reach of the register?

7. Communication: Identify what aspects are currently confusing to customers, and improve communication through signage, mobile alerts, and how employees are trained to explain products and services.

8. Production/Inventory: Evaluate production levels to make sure the right amount of inventory is available at the right time.

Creating lasting change takes work, so be sure to set your company up for success from the start. Ensure front-line operators have buy-in from the beginning by including a representative on the project team. Pilot and test any changes before widespread implementation to work out all the kinks and avoid negative perceptions from the consumer or employee. Retrain all employees on the new process – and make sure they know WHY the change was made, not just WHAT the change is. Update any training documents or SOPs to reflect the new method so employees have the right information. And give them permission to STOP doing what is no longer necessary.

Achieving operational excellence doesn’t just happen from a one-time analysis. Regular maintenance is needed to avoid stagnation. Regularly revisit and observe processes and create forums where front-line employees can share their improvement ideas. Recognize and reward innovative ideas, as well as the employees who are advocates of changes. Measure and report out on progress, both so employees can see the impact of the change and also hold the right personnel accountable to the new standards.

proven approaches to achieve operational efficiency

Operating efficiently is not easy – it requires active work and input from all organizational levels. But the results are worth it: improved customer experience, minimized costs, and increased employee morale.

How Can We Help?

Schedule a free consultation to discuss your business needs.

Read More Insights

Building It Right The First Time: A Guest-Centric, Analytical Approach to Capacity Planning

New experiences and facilities require a high upfront investment, and often are difficult and costly to adjust after building. And so, strategically building the right amount of capacity for the right guests can save a number of headaches later. This article lays out the major steps to planning capacity using a guest-centric, analytical approach.

Read More

Foundational Approaches to Achieve Operational Efficiency

Focus on foundational operational efficiency principles so processes do not become out-of-date as customer expectations and technology evolve. This inefficiency results in excess costs, unnecessary frustration for both customers and employees, and lower quality products or services.

Read More

Identifying Safe Reopening Strategies for Ski Resorts Using Agent-Based Simulation

We are liv­ing in unprece­dent­ed times. More like­ly than not, your busi­ness has been impact­ed by the unique events of the world­wide COVID-19 pan­dem­ic. How­ev­er, even in the most challenging of times, con­tin­u­ing edu­ca­tion remains crit­i­cal­ly impor­tant. In an effort to con­tin­ue sup­port­ing our client part­ners dur­ing this dif­fi­cult time, we will con­tin­ue shar­ing insights …

Identifying Safe Reopening Strategies for Ski Resorts Using Agent-Based Simulation Read More »

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Identifying Safe Reopening Strategies for Ski Resorts Using Agent-Based Simulation

We are liv­ing in unprece­dent­ed times. More like­ly than not, your busi­ness has been impact­ed by the unique events of the world­wide COVID-19 pan­dem­ic. How­ev­er, even in the most challenging of times, con­tin­u­ing edu­ca­tion remains crit­i­cal­ly impor­tant. In an effort to con­tin­ue sup­port­ing our client part­ners dur­ing this dif­fi­cult time, we will con­tin­ue shar­ing insights and guid­ance to help you strength­en your busi­ness and serve your val­ued cus­tomers when the time comes to wel­come them back to your venue. Learn more about our COVID solu­tions here.

As ski season quickly approaches, figuring out how to safely welcome your skiers back in the COVID era can be a daunting task. At acces­so, we’ve been work­ing tirelessly to help our ski clients plan for a safe and successful reopening. We recently partnered with Integrated Insight, an analytics consulting firm, to analyze how virtual queues, timed ticketing and social distancing will affect your guests and ski area. Watch as acces­so Solutions Architect Kevin Brice and Integrated Insight VP of Industrial Engineering Ben Dubiel take us through their 3 simulations for COVID crowd management for your ski resort and read on for your guide to avoiding an unexpected avalanche of traffic on open­ing day!

Tools for Reopening Safely

-Timed Ticketing & Reservations: As COVID-19 con­tin­ues, many ski area oper­a­tors are focus­ing on a reopen­ing plan that limits the num­ber of guests vis­it­ing each day. Your tick­et­ing sys­tem can help you achieve this in sev­er­al ways. Offer­ing guests timed tickets on your eCom­merce tick­et­ing site is essen­tial. Timed ticketing can great­ly help your oper­a­tions team pre­pare for and safe­ly accom­mo­date guests. This allows your resort to safely spread out skiers throughout the day on the mountain. Guests can make their reser­va­tion to ski any­where, on any device—even when they are on the gondola! Oper­a­tors can eas­i­ly enforce capac­i­ty based on local restric­tions or oper­a­tional needs.

- Virtual Queuing: Vir­tu­al queu­ing is a great way to keep skiers safe while allow­ing them to ful­ly enjoy your resort. Long lines are almost as much of a staple for ski areas as fresh powder. During COVID-19, enforcing social distancing with long lines would mean your resort would need miles of line area. Empowering your guests to join virtual queues can eliminate these lengthy physical lines in a way that promotes social distancing. Plus, when guests no longer have to spend a significant amount of their day standing in a line, they can have more time to enjoy your ski resort, making long-lasting memories that help boost guest loyalty. Not only can virtual queues be helpful for your lifts or gondolas, but also, they can be a big help for rental shops and other high traffic areas around your resort.

 

Agent-Based Simulation Scenarios for Ski Operations

In order to show how operations perform under different scenarios, the Integrated Insight team built a sample ski resort. Using agent-based simulation, they modeled the effect of different operational scenarios on guest traffic flow to identify potential friction points, crowding and/or excess queue times. Agent-based simulation uses Artificially Intelligent agents to create models of guest behaviors and navigational flows. The team created three scenarios to understand the impact that different operational methods have on system performance.

 

Free-For-All (Baseline)

This is the baseline model to show how guests would have arrived prior to COVID-19. It is important to see what would happen if no adjustments to the arrival experience are made. Data shows that the majority of guests show up between 8:15-9:15 am, but afterwards, the number of skiers arriving drops significantly. The Free-For-All scenario fills the gondola queue fastest, creating a longer wait quickly. At peak operation in this scenario, the posted wait time for guests is 140 minutes, and your resort would need over a half-mile of line space just for the gondola queue. As we can see here, a scenario that involves your ski area following through with “business as usual,” for the most part, is not conducive to a safe or efficient reopening for your resort.

 

Timed Ticketing Only

The next scenario is Timed Ticketing. This shows the result if guests are assigned an arrival time and cannot access the gondola until their assigned time. The arrivals prior to and during opening are significantly lower, but pick up once Timed Ticket and Reservation slots are active. In the simulation, we’ve also included guests arriving before and after their times to model guests needing to wait to access the gondola. The Timed Ticketing scenario only delays the concerns from the Free-For-All. Guests experience the queue filling and congestion at 11:15 am instead of first thing in the morning. Posted wait times are still at 125+ minutes and the resort still need half a mile of socially distanced queue to accommodate the guests waiting for their turn on the mountain.

 

Virtual Queue & Timed Ticketing

The final scenario shows Timed Ticketing with a virtual queue that only allows guests to enter a physical buffer queue once their assigned time is reached. In this case, the guests show up later as there is no incentive to access the queue early. This gives them time to spend at your F&B locations, rental shops or other places at the resort where they can practice safe social distancing while still enjoying their experience. At peak operations, the posted wait time is 136 minutes, but in this simulation, your guests only wait an average of 13 minutes in a physical line once their wait is over in the virtual queue. The socially distanced buffer queue or physical line only needs to be about 370 feet (.07 miles), and guests are spread out across your resort instead of crowding at the gondola line. This option not only is the safest for your guests and staff, but it also allows your resort to limit guest capacity while still driving revenue through F&B and other shops.

How Can We Help?

Schedule a free consultation to discuss your business needs.

Read More Insights

Building It Right The First Time: A Guest-Centric, Analytical Approach to Capacity Planning

New experiences and facilities require a high upfront investment, and often are difficult and costly to adjust after building. And so, strategically building the right amount of capacity for the right guests can save a number of headaches later. This article lays out the major steps to planning capacity using a guest-centric, analytical approach.

Read More

Foundational Approaches to Achieve Operational Efficiency

Focus on foundational operational efficiency principles so processes do not become out-of-date as customer expectations and technology evolve. This inefficiency results in excess costs, unnecessary frustration for both customers and employees, and lower quality products or services.

Read More

Identifying Safe Reopening Strategies for Ski Resorts Using Agent-Based Simulation

We are liv­ing in unprece­dent­ed times. More like­ly than not, your busi­ness has been impact­ed by the unique events of the world­wide COVID-19 pan­dem­ic. How­ev­er, even in the most challenging of times, con­tin­u­ing edu­ca­tion remains crit­i­cal­ly impor­tant. In an effort to con­tin­ue sup­port­ing our client part­ners dur­ing this dif­fi­cult time, we will con­tin­ue shar­ing insights …

Identifying Safe Reopening Strategies for Ski Resorts Using Agent-Based Simulation Read More »

Read More

Optimizing Restaurant Space To Increase Sales Post-COVID-19

Optimizing Restaurant Space To Increase Sales During COVID-19

by Susan Dekker, Director, Integrated Insight

Space management strategies inside restaurants look very different in a post-Covid-19 world. Regulations for social distancing have put restraints on restaurants that have limited party sizes, total dining capacity, and number of guests allowed per square foot. Additional space is needed to increase distance between dining tables, employees in the kitchen, FOH check-in, and waiting areas.

With capacity constraints and space limitations, restaurants need to optimize the utilization of space available to increase daily sales.

Maximize Existing Space
In order to increase space utilization, restaurant operators need to evaluate existing space. A few options to explore include:

- POS Stations: Guest expectations for safety are morphing, and many guests will expect contactless payment options. Consider switching to mobile tablets for both point of ordering and sales. There are plenty of off-the-shelf solutions available. This may reduce the need for the POS nooks currently dispersed throughout many restaurants in the front-of-house space.

- Storage Areas: Evaluate order quantities to reduce the area taken up for storage. The “Pre-Covid” order quantities and frequencies are no longer applicable in today’s operation. Consider ordering lower supply amounts on a more frequent basis to keep only the needed stock on hand. Restaurant operators can convert previously used storage space into guest-facing areas or increase square footage available for social distancing in the kitchen.

- Take Advantage of Available Outdoor Space: Many consumers will feel more comfortable eating outdoors because of the open space. Restaurants can get creative with utilizing outdoor space by converting parking and landscaping space into dining areas to maximize the available outdoor seating. As the weather gets colder, consider adding guest comfort measures such as tents and heaters.

 

Designate Space According to Guest Groups
Guest expectations and desires for the dining experience have changed drastically since the coronavirus outbreak. In order to optimize fulfillment space, restaurants need to identify the volume of dine-in versus carry-out orders. There are likely many more “dine-out” guests that prefer the drive-through, curbside pick-up, delivery fulfilled in-house, or delivery through third party apps.

Each one of these guest types interacts with the restaurant slightly differently upon arrival. Thus, be sure to consider each guest group and account for shifting guest behaviors when re-designing restaurant space.

Dine-In vs. Carry-Out
Restaurants should physically separate dine-in and carry-out guests since they require very different means of fulfillment. If possible, designate an entrance for dine-in and an entrance for dine-out guests. Consider retrofitting an area near an existing door to act as a dine-out counter. Conduct take-out as an independent operation from dine-in.

As an alternative, especially if separate entrances aren’t possible, consider implementing curbside pick-up for carry-out orders. Guests do not have to enter the restaurant which can free up space for a waiting area. Identify a few parking spots as “curbside pick-up.” A sign should clearly state directions and include key information like a phone number and parking spot number so the guest knows what to do upon arrival.

Reservation vs. Walk-Ups
For guests that are dining inside the restaurant, consider how to handle guests with reservations versus walk-ups. Operating by reservation-only gives restaurants the greatest ability to manage guest arrivals. However, be sure to understand the no-show rate, since you can’t fill in no-shows with walk-ins in a reservation-only operation.

If you do accept walk-in guests, look into off-the-shelf apps to utilize a mobile queue where you can text a guest when their table is ready. This allows the guest to wait in their car or other off-site location. You can also utilize apps like Yelp’s waitlist to allow guests to get in line prior to arrival.

Plan for Excess Demand
As more consumers begin to feel comfortable venturing out, demand could begin to outpace capacity and space limitations.  If venues fail to plan for this scenario, it could lead to crowds of people waiting to enter without a way to properly distance themselves.  The two most effective ways to prepare for this demand is to design a socially distanced queue or to utilize a virtual queuing system so guests can wait in their cars.

The video below shows the benefit of providing enough space to allow guests to properly distance themselves while remaining in order of arrival to promote fairness.  Many venues are attempting to do this but provide too few queuing locations and the structure breaks down with excess demand.  Providing ample queuing locations (even with masking tape!) will provide structure for the guests and prevent a dangerous situation from developing.

Virtual queuing is another great option for venues with ample parking.  Many products exist to provide automatic text messaging to guests to inform them when their tables are ready.  This allows guests to wait in their cars out of the elements and eliminates potential crowds.  Some locations are avoiding the software costs by approximating a virtual queue using a host to text guests manually when their table becomes available.

Other Considerations

Inside the restaurant, seating rearrangements will be mostly dictated by regulations, but be sure to understand both employee and customer usage. Does the route to the bathroom require guests to get uncomfortably close to an occupied table? Are there any pinch points where a server must squeeze by a table? Modify seating layouts as needed.

The back-of-house space may need to change. If delivery or take-out continue to be a large portion of sales, you may need to dedicate kitchen space to this operation. Also consider designating space to distribute dine-out orders, which can help reduce errors. Dedicate a leader with responsibility purely for delivery and take-out guests.

Always Provide Excellent Customer Services
Regardless of what changes you make to your restaurant’s physical space, guests should always receive  excellent service. Guests waiting to pick up food still deserve the level of customer experience that dine-in guests experience. Even though they may not be sitting at a table, they are still forming an impression of your business.

A great way to elevate the customer experience is to provide coverings, fans, heaters, or water to outside queues based on the conditions. Adding an entertainment factor to queues and waiting areas can also elevate the experience.

Ultimately, be sure that the operational process is clear to the guest. Customers are likely already stressed given the current outside conditions, and clearly communicating the process can relieve anxiety. Continually update all guest communication channels with the latest policies and procedures. This includes social media, website, physical signs at restaurants, and instructions on Google business listings and third-party apps.

How Can We Help?

Schedule a free consultation to discuss your business needs.

solving elevator high rise transportation with social distancing

Solving Elevator Transportation During COVID-19 With Simulation Modeling

by Ben Dubiel, VP,  Integrated Insight

Elevators are part of many people’s daily lives – apartments where we live, offices where we work, and hotels where we travel. However, CDC guidelines for elevator operation during and after the pandemic are causing new concern among landlords on what elevator capacity might look like with social distancing.

Social distancing has turned the service world upside down as the industry went from maximizing the number of guests within a space to needing to maximize space between guests. As mentioned in Marketplace, some building operators are putting in social distancing measures, but how many know the implications downstream? In locations that depend on elevators for vertical transportation, decreased elevator capacity will quickly become a bottleneck that could cause dangerous crowding if not accounted for. In our experience, we’ve found that agent-based simulation is the best option for understanding and mitigating elevator operation with social distancing.

Risks Involved in Reopening a High-Rise

As with all situations that involve potential crowds, there are added risks with reopening during and after the pandemic.  Not addressing these risks could lead to tenant dissatisfaction and a potential spike in vacancies as companies begin to adopt a work-from-home culture or residents flee from high-rise housing.

The most common risk we’ve observed is tenants congregating in lobbies due to reduced elevator capacity. Individuals will usually adhere to social distancing guidelines if they are given markers on where to stand.  If these markers are not provided, the group will begin to crowd around the door to ensure they make it into the establishment as soon as possible.

Assuming an intuitive, clearly marked queue is planned, this can then lead to a secondary risk: limited space within lobbies.  We’ve found that socially distancing a queue can require three to six times more space and landlords will find the limited space they have disappears quick during periods of high demand.

The final risks are a product of the long waits that could develop if demand is not properly planned for: lower productivity and frustration.  Waiting 5-20 minutes each time a tenant calls an elevator will add up quickly. The resulting dissatisfaction will result in higher vacancies as people are forced to make a change.

Capacity Depends on Many Compounding Variables

Elevator throughput is a complex equation that depends on many variables within the infrastructure and operation.  Only some of these variables are controllable by the building operator.

- Elevator operating methods (e.g. door close delay and operational methodology) are usually variable and can be controlled systematically. Understanding the proper settings in your environment can be difficult if the rest of the equation is unknown.

- The building and lobby layout are typically limited by the physical infrastructure and need to be worked around to determine the most efficient operation.

- Volume of demand will depend on the size and operation of the building. This can be controlled by working with tenants to reduce access to the building to only necessary activity.

- Arrival rate varies widely by the operation of each tenant in the building. Each operation or tenant will have a unique arrival rate. Combining all arrival rates along with the associated volume of demand will add up to a larger arrival curve that will ultimately determine the periods of peak demand.

- The destination of tenants complicates the equation immensely. If tenants arriving at similar times have significant variations in destination floor, the elevator travel time will grow and thus the resulting elevator capacity will shrink.

Using Simulation to Model Operation Scenarios
Because each operation is unique and the solution can be difficult to determine, we recommend agent-based simulation to find the optimal solution through experimentation.  Using simulation, we can model the base scenario to determine the extent of the concern given the expected demand upon reopening.  In the movie below, an example of a base scenario for a nine-story office building is shown:

After the base analysis is complete, the model can then be modified with the help of building operators to evaluate different mitigation techniques and remove the uncertainty from the reopening plan.

A few mitigation techniques that are being used in the industry include:

- Technology: Elevator timing and logic can be adjusted to operate more effectively with smaller groups riding.

- Manual demand management: Hosts can be used to manually sort riders to make the trips as efficient as possible resulting in increased elevator throughput.

- Demand mitigation: Solutions like dedicated floor service, assigning days and times for elevator use, and incentivizing stair use can increase capacity in certain scenarios.

These scenarios can be modeled before reopening to evaluate their effectiveness safely in a risk-free environment.

Results Provide Details on the Safest Operational Plan
Metrics are used to evaluate each scenario during modeling and experimentation.  Elevator capacity, queue size, wait times, and required operators are a few of the metrics we use to ensure we identify the optimal scenario. The final step in the process would be to justify any recommended changes, infrastructure or otherwise, with the potential avoidance of revenue loss that would come from a decrease in move-outs or safety hazards.

The movie below shows an analysis of a museum operation that depends on elevators for vertical transportation. This analysis helped the operators understand the resulting elevator capacity, which was reduced significantly (up to 70%). This information provided the needed insight for the number of tickets they could sell for a specific time period to provide a safe and fun environment for their guests.

Museum Elevator Simulation Model

Mote Marine Event Space

How Can We Help?

Schedule a free consultation to discuss your business needs.

Read More Insights

Basic Guide to Process Improvement: A Structured Approach to Optimizing Your Operation

The most successful companies are those that can continuously adapt to meet the changing needs of the consumer and their business. Process improvement can be overwhelming, and it can be difficult to know where and how to start.

Read More

How To Conduct An Efficiency Summit

An efficiency summit is a gathering of key stakeholders with the specific goal to identify opportunities to improve operational efficiency. This is accomplished through structured observations and data analysis.

Read More

Finding Operational Efficiency in a COVID-19 World and Beyond

Agent-based simulation modeling enables companies to resolve operational limitations with Covid-19 restrictions. Finding process improvements will allow venues to put on seasonal events in 2020 safely.

Read More

how companies can understand capacity with social distancing guidelines

How to Determine Operational Capacity in a Covid-19 World

by Ben Dubiel, VP,  Integrated Insight

Published June 4, 2020

Now that businesses are re-opening, owners and operators are asking, “Now what?” The safety of patrons and employees is paramount. But mandates to open at 25% to 50% of capacity without specific operational guidelines are perplexing.

Determining the right capacity for your establishment will require attention to four key components:

  1. Physical space: The amount of space you have at your disposal.
  2. Customer density: How close to each other are customers willing to be.
  3. Operational flow: How customers and employees flow through the operation.
  4. Process time: How long it takes to service a customer and how variable it is.

Determining operational capacity can be difficult as it is necessary to understand how all of the disparate parts of the operation interact together. It can also be an iterative process when done in real time. Alternatively, agent-based simulation modeling can help operators view the overall process to determine bottlenecks before a negative impact on guest safety or experience occurs.

Let's look at a case study of a museum to identify opportunities for each key component when determining capacity.

1. Physical space: Beware of changing constraints.

The first instinct when thinking about reduced capacity for a museum is to consider how many guests can be allowed to view exhibits at one time. However, you can see in the  simulation video below that the vertical transport to move from floor to floor is the more limiting factor. The operator is required to reserve one elevator for guests with mobility issues. The remaining elevators can only allow one group per trip to maintain social distancing. These constraints reduce the throughput by almost 70%, restricting capacity to the point that the space available in the attraction is not an issue.

Elevator Queue Line Before and After Social Distancing

Elevators will be one of the most difficult processes to manage as social distancing of six feet inside is almost impossible. However, there is a big difference between an office building, where most arrivals are parties of one, versus an attraction, where people visit in a cohesive group.

Another constraint is the space required for the elevator queue. Most elevator lobbies have limited space. Queue lines will need to be laid out to indicate specifically where to stand and could require 3 to 4 times more space than before. It is possible the queue may extend outdoors and reservations only (no walk-ups) could be the future.

2. Customer density: Everyone has to be somewhere.

Understanding individual components of an experience is a good place to start. But eventually, it all has to work together. Everyone has to be somewhere at any given point in time. Alleviating a crowd in one place may create one in another.

For the museum, elevator queueing space will need to be extended to accompany any excess demand, since this is the bottleneck in the operation. As a perspective, view this articulated density chart that explains the level of comfort people will have in crowded situations.

In the Covid-19 world, customers may want to avoid anything in red.  The clip of the simulation below shows a heat map that measures the average density of guests over time.  The new operation and the limited elevator throughput creates a safe environment in the venue by providing at least 10 square feet per guest around exhibits.

Museum Exhibit Heat Map

3. Operational flow: Some restrictions may apply.

In our example, guests used to be able to flow freely throughout the museum, bouncing from one exhibit to another. However, this flow created cross-traffic where guests were in close contact. In today's operations, this needs to be fixed in order to maintain social distancing guidelines.

Many grocery stores implemented one-way aisles specifically for this reason. It eliminated shoppers facing one another in a confined space. Otherwise, carts make for a good six foot distance barrier when lined up one behind another.

In order to maintain social distancing, the museum needs to transition to one-way traffic. By erecting a barrier that starts at the elevators and continues across the floor, all guests enter one way and experience the museum in a linear direction. The result is a safer experience, but at reduced capacity. As one guest slows down, so do the parties behind them. Passing lanes could be implemented to help guests flow through at their own pace. Interestingly, in the case of the museum, even though capacity on the upper exhibit floors is reduced, the bottleneck that occurs at the elevators actually helps manage exhibit space.

Museum Exhibit Simulation Model

4. Process time: Look for opportunities to offset longer waits.

With social distancing guidelines in place, experiences are going to take longer. The number of people that can fit in an elevator at one time will create longer waits. The number of guests that can use a vehicle in an amusement park may make the queue (real or virtual) longer. The number of visitors that can view an art exhibit at the same time while maintaining safe space will increase the time it takes to see it all. Understanding how long it takes to process one patron, and the variability in that timing, will help determine the capacity limits for each attraction.

Additionally, operators need to look at ways to speed up processes in the system. For example, if food and beverage locations are a potential bottleneck, a "grab and go" system may help alleviate some of the pain.

Here are some ideas to think about: Will adding another show time help spread demand and lower the process time for any one performance? Can extended operating hours better manage overall demand, while being profitable for the business?

Regardless of the business, an operation needs to be viewed holistically. Continuously monitoring the system will ensure that new processes don't revert back to old ones. This amount of focus and attention to detail will serve businesses well as safety is the top concern for today's consumers.

For more information on agent-based simulation and how we partner with brands across the globe, please contact us at info@integratedinsight.com

using agent based simulation to understand queue management post covid-19

How Agent-Based Simulation Can Help Reduce Impact of Queue Management Post COVID-19

by Joni Newkirk, CEO, and Ben Dubiel, VP,  Integrated Insight

Published April 28, 2020

Summertime is often synonymous with long lines as Americans begin to travel. Long wait times increase at the airport, amusement parks, and even entrances to beaches and state and national parks. This summer, those queue lines might also include job applicant or unemployment lines, and even food bank lines for people or cars. Lines for access to testing for COVID-19 will also pop up as more capability becomes available. And in November, add voting lines to the mix of queue lines that need to be restructured for social distancing.

Psychology dictates how consumers perceive waiting time in lines. As Lavi Industries points out in the “The Art and Science of Queuing”, consumers want to feel as though they are in control. They want to start right away, or at least be instantly acknowledged. They need to know how long they’ll be waiting before deciding to get in line. Their radar goes up if they feel someone else is cutting in. And using distractors to make the perceived wait feel like less time is a great stress reducer.

Setting psychology aside, effectively managing queue lines is the most definitive step you can take to enhance the customer experience. However, it is not always intuitive. And it is not something that is easy to optimize just by sight.

Cutting wait times significantly is possible with the right process. At a minimum, a queuing process revolves around two forces:

  1. The arrival rate of patrons.
  2. The amount of time it takes to serve one customer.

Both of these factors can vary. The added complication is how the service is delivered; primarily, how the servers are arranged and how guests in the waiting lines approach the servers. Through agent-based simulation, it is easier to both see and record the impact of different queue processes.

Here is an example of using agent-based simulation to optimize queue lines. When Florida schools shut down due to COVID-19, a free lunch pickup program was initiated. This required schools to quickly determine a distribution plan.

We took a look at the distribution process for a local Orlando high school and used agent-based modeling to identify bottlenecks. The high school currently uses a single line for lunch pickup. At the first stop, guests provide their name and the number of meals being picked up. Next, a monitor directs the driver to one of two stations directly ahead for pickup. These two stations distribute the same meal.

In this queue line, valuable time is lost if the pickup occurring in the second station is slower than the first as the next car to pick up is blocked by the car ahead. Under this scenario, the distribution process can take hours to complete and parents are consuming time sitting in their car.

We built the distribution environment in agent-based simulation software to see the impacts that single lane queuing had on the time parents had to wait in their cars. In the video below, you can see wait times reach higher than 30 minutes as the cars stack up.

Before - Single Lane Fulfillment with 35 minute wait time by 12 p.m.

Using agent-based simulation, we created a model with parallel fulfillment (using two lanes), to see if lunches could be distributed more efficiently.

The alternative process, two distinct lines, cuts distribution time significantly. Rather than cars waiting behind one another, the approaching line splits into two. Each driver is free to leave once done. This process still uses just four staff members given there isn’t a need for a monitor to direct traffic. In total, average wait time is reduced from 35 minutes to 11, and over 100 more cars are serviced in a single hour.

Recommended - Parallel Lane Fulfillment with 11 minute wait time by 12 p.m.

 

Queue management has a significant impact on the bottom line. Efficient queues increase throughput, brand loyalty, and customer satisfaction.

This is one small example of how simulation can bring to light what customers experience and help justify process changes. Relatively minor fixes can give minutes or hours back to time-starved, task-loaded consumers. For more complex processes, the intrinsic value is even greater. And with social distancing, being able to iterate potential solutions is made far easier with agent-based simulation.

For more information on agent-based simulation and how we partner with brands across the globe, please contact us at info@integratedinsight.com

 

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