Cruise Ships models of leanness
January 31, 2013 | 9:00 am CST
My wife and I recently had the opportunity to spend some quality time in the sun while relaxing on a cruise ship in the Caribbean. What a wonderful vacation cruising can be. We hopped from port to port, but never had to repack our bags in the process. Even though I was supposed to be getting away from it all, I was surrounded by reminders of Workplace Organization on Steroids. 
The pictures I have included with this article are just a few of the examples of 5S at work around the ship. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get the pictures I really wanted from the galley. However, I will describe some of the workplace organization examples I saw in the galley and post some pictures after our next cruise. I will remember to take my camera along when we tour the galley next time. 


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Lean in the galley 

If you get the chance, a cruise ship’s kitchen is a must see. Not only is it the cleanest workplace that I have been in, it is the most organized as well. Space is at a premium on cruise ships and very little is wasted on behind-the-scenes areas like offices, crew quarters, and the kitchen, so organization is critical. The kitchen is designed to be compact, efficient, and productive. The ship we were on serves almost 10,000 meals daily with most of them split between the evening meal in the main dining room and the breakfast and lunch buffet meals on the Lido Deck, which is some distance from the kitchen. To execute the preparation and serving of more than 1000, three-course meals from a wide menu selection in about one hour takes a lot of collaboration and teamwork, as well as the use of other lean tools and techniques. 
The Lido Restaurant serves an even wider variety of dishes for the breakfast and lunch buffets that are initiated in the main kitchen and completed just-in-time on deck. 

U-shaped cells 

Every one of the preparation areas in the kitchen of Holland America Lines Eurodam are organized in U-shaped cells to minimize travel distances and promote collaboration and teamwork among the staff. Refrigerators and other storage devices are positioned adjacent to each of the cells. Most of the storage devices have glass fronts so the labeled shelves can be viewed for the presence or absence of items without having to open the door. Labeling on the shelves makes it easy for food preparers to distinguish between the varieties of similar looking dishes. 
Work instructions for the meals that are being prepared are posted near every point of use. The instructions indicate which staff person is assigned to what duty and when work is to begin so it can be completed on time. The work instructions also indicate where all of the ingredients are located, the size and location of bowls, utensils, etc, and any important hazard conditions to be aware of. There are also workplace organization responsibility matrices posted in the cells so team members know who is responsible for what, the frequency of the activity to be performed, how to perform the activity, and the quality expectation. 

All lean on deck 

On deck there are other signs of good workplace organization that help the crew perform their tasks efficiently and that help guests quickly acclimate to their new surroundings. Safety is always a high priority on cruise ships. The lifeboats are maintained on a continual basis and crew members are trained in lifeboat drill procedures on every sailing. Every cabin is stocked with one life vest per person and there are extra life vests on the Promenade deck. Cabinets are clearly marked with the content so guests can quickly find the right vest in case of an emergency. 
Sanitation is also part of the safety regimen on board. With the high turnover of guests using deck chairs and the swimming pools, it is important to have plenty of clean towels available and for the guests to know where to dispose of used ones. Hand sanitizers and sanitizing tips are located throughout the ship as well. 
Getting around the ship can be a challenging and daunting mission, much like a new employee getting acquainted with the layout of your facility. The mission is made much easier with the deck plan that is distributed to every passenger upon boarding the ship as well as signs and schematics strategically positioned at every elevator and stairwell. My wife and I make it a point to get acquainted with our surroundings as soon as we get on board and these visual aids greatly enhance that objective. 

Kanban cruising 

Each deck has a staff of room stewards. Each steward has an assigned supply closet that is conveniently located in his or her area of responsibility. I also observed color coding and labeling of the cleaning equipment so it would have less of a tendency of sprouting legs and wandering off to another steward’s area. As you can see in the picture of our “spacious” bathroom, there are kanban locations for some of the most frequently used items. Kanban is a lean production scheduling and inventory control system that typically uses cards to identify when supplies need to be replenished. Facial tissues are located in an enclosure in the face of the vanity similar to what you find in better hotels with an extra box under the vanity so the steward doesn’t have to leave the room to restock the tissue. There is also an extra roll of toilet paper in a predetermined location. 
Preventive maintenance is another priority on a cruise ship. Crew members have assigned tasks such as painting, washing the deck, painting lifeboats, washing walls and banisters and other tasks. All of these routine tasks afford the crew member the opportunity to check for broken equipment, loose bolts or screws, and other safety hazards. 
All of the lean tools and techniques employed by the cruise line are intended to enhance the guests’ experience, provide a safe environment for guests and crew, enable crew members to perform their tasks efficiently, and achieve maximum productivity from each crew member without overburdening them with waste and non value-adding activities. As a guest, and business professional, I appreciate the attention to detail and I truly feel a calmness and level of comfort that can only be attained through an organized, disciplined work place. 
One last feature that I find both amusing and informative is the daily floor mat in every elevator. It is easy for days to become a blur while losing oneself on a cruise so the Captain makes sure we always know what day it is by having a new mat placed on the elevator floor as a reminder. 
I hope you enjoyed this snapshot of workplace organization on a cruise ship and that it has triggered some thoughts for application in your venue. Happy sailing on your lean journey!  

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About the author
Jim Lewis

Jim Lewis has worked in the furniture industry for 40 years with a special emphasis on facilitating the transformation process for businesses embracing the Lean Business Model.  Jim’s company, The Center for Lean Learning, is headquartered in Grand Rapids, MI, with an office in St. Thomas, ON, Canada.  He is a consultant, author, and writer.  Jim’s books include, “The Journey to Excellence – Successfully Applying Lean Thinking in Your Business,” “A Testament to Lean Thinking – Cases for Change,” and a series of ebooklets under the main title “Applying Lean Thinking.”  The books are in ebook format and are available through all major ebook retailers and through