Wondering why workflow matters?  Well, anyone who knows me, knows I like to travel.  They also know I have a love-hate relationship with Manchester Airport.  I love that it’s a few minutes down the road, I hate that for the UK’s 3rd Biggest Airport it’s an absolute basket case of bad operations and workflow management.   I wouldn’t say I was alone in that opinion either, it usually ranks consistently in the worlds worst airport rankings.

However, it makes for a unique case study as to why workflow matters.  If you’ve ever wondered why your gate isn’t ready, why your bags aren’t on the carousel or why you’ve just queued to get into a queue for border control or security screening.  Then that’s why workflow matters.

Workflow is everything

Workflow is key to everything that happens in our lives, and we all make decisions to make our future activities easier all the time.  Don’t believe me?  I know I’m not alone in putting my running gear out for the next morning, which incentivises me to go out for a run before work.  That’s workflow, I’d already got everything pre-prepared and in a state of readiness.  I may turn on the dishwasher before I go to bed, if I don’t breakfast is a small disaster in looking for crockery!

People also do it for you, when you’re a kid your parents putting your coat and shoes together before you go out to school.  It’s an incentivisation to get you out quickly, working for them but making the whole process smoother.  People, process, water – all take the path of least resistance.  So by making things easy, you get a quick outcome in the direction that is desired.

In business it’s not always as simple as one person thinking about a process or a task, there’s a combination of people and activities that often come together to create a workflow.  Many processes and workflows may also unite, interact, and align to produce what we might consider a great customer journey or experience.

At Manchester Airport, it’s this lack of systems thinking and concern about workflow that means none of the activities come together at the right time.  Processes often occur ad-hoc and they seem surprised when a plane of a couple of hundred people and their bags arrive.  In the Airport’s case, things were bad before covid – so not just covid that’s broken their processes.

I’ll cut them a little slack in that an airport is often a facility of multiple tenants, different baggage handlers, different airlines, and many different contractors.  However, it is the responsibility of the airport to pull that all together and focus on why it exists.  Does it exist to service and satisfy the passenger needs or is it solely focussed on its shareholders and making returns to them.

Workflows, customer journeys and ultimately the customer experience are very much laid out by the focus of the organisation and the “why”.  I’d certainly recommend reading “Start with Why” by Simon Sinek as a means to understand corporate strategy, but workflow – centres around the “How”, or how things are done once you’ve decided why you’re in business.  I do wish that Manchester Airport’s “why” had passenger satisfaction in it, but it’s clear that it doesn’t.  I find it quite interesting in how you can deduce the organisations strategy merely from how it’s processes flow.

There’s lots of workflow examples at Manchester airport – from being dropped off and your taxi driver being charged for a couple of minutes for dropping you off, to the check-in hall then the massive queues through security, so bad that they started selling fast passes.  Similarly on your way back there’s even a fast pass for Border Control. Then waiting for your baggage at the end.

Indeed, you could argue in the cases where you’re adding extra payment processes, strange rules that are there to get money from you – like even charging you for a trolley.  Adds more hurdles, more steps and ultimately slows the quick flow of passengers through the entire system.

There are also many processes that are almost invisible to you – there’s people getting your bags on and off the plane, refuelling, cleaning, you name it – things going on and having to align all over the place.  Some visible, some invisible and things you may never even consider.

Airport Example of Why Workflow Matters

However, I want to take an example that struck me a few years ago, pre-covid, pre-Brexit no less.   Is how the UK and Italy do border e-gates.  This is perhaps one of the best examples of explaining why workflow matters that I’ve found in a while.

Italian e-Passport Gate

Ciao Bella!  You’ve arrived in Italia!  Off the plane and you head for the next step in the workflow which is to go through the Border Gates.  Of course, we’ll pretend you’re Italian as us Brit’s can’t do this anymore as we need a stamp!

Passenger passing through an Italian e-Passport Gate

That gate looks very much like ours doesn’t it.  Perhaps with a bit more Italian style?  Let’s compare…

UK e-Passport Gate

UK ePassport Gate

I know what you’re thinking though – what’s the difference.  Why does workflow matter in all of this?   Non capisco?

What if I told you the Italian e-gates could deal with twice as many people than the UK gates, not because of software, not because of cameras, speed of the scanner or fancy computer hardware.

What if I told you if it was all workflow, and when you have an Airbus A321neo of 235 passengers you’d get through 50% faster in Italy than you would in the UK?  Keeping exactly the same number of gates and similar components.

You don’t believe me.  You still don’t think workflow matters do you?

Comparison of UK and Italian e-Passport Gates

Let’s crudely sketch this out.  Both systems have two gates, a camera, and a passport scanner.

Why workflow matters a comparison of the Italian and UK ePassport Gates

What we do in the UK is step through the gate when the passenger in front has left, with the next person queuing outside the e-gate.  We then scan our passport and wait for the photo to be taken to open the gates.

The Italians have considered workflow.  They’ve realised they can reduce queuing by having the person who’s simply waiting scan their passport, whilst the passenger in front is having their photo taken to release them across the border.  Effectively doubling the efficiency of their e-gate with the same number of components with no fancy tech needed.

Mamma mia!  I hear you say.

That’s why workflow matters, it’s why everyone should care about it.  Whether you’re irritated with an airport, supermarket, supplier, customer, restaurant – anything or anyone.  It’s probably been a lack of consideration of workflow which is causing that burning rant.

It’s obvious if the UK had specified their gates to be built like the Italian’s they’d have drastically less queuing in the airports.  It probably shouldn’t be a surprise that a country that is famous for fast cars and fast trains, a relative dislike for queuing .  Italians would not accept a hold up.

Here at Unleashed, we’re fascinated by workflow.  We’re always looking at better ways of doing things and like this example the solution isn’t often expensive, it’s just about bringing that workflow systems thinking into focus and getting the right outcome.

If you agree with us, then we’d love to start a conversation and see where things go: “Mangia bene, ridi spesso, ama molto”