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Lean reorganization: Productive into the new future


Now it is time for strategic efficiency. Filip Specht has experience in dealing with epidemiological challenges on board. The chief engineer of Lean Maritime GmbH has been at sea as a merchant marine of the third generation for 30 years now. We asked him how a lean reorganisation can successfully lead cruise companies into the new future:

How does Lean Management help the cruise industry through the crisis?

“With the flattening of the Covid 19 pandemic, the cruise industry is entering a new era of change – a new start in an unknown and uncharted territory. For owners and operators, the main concern now is to reduce costs while maintaining the same quality of service. This is exactly what a lean reorganisation can achieve. We analyse the processes on board and identify the potential for improvement. By applying lean principles, we efficiently design both the necessary new work processes and those already established. The result: a significant improvement in costs and performance as well as a stable process structure that optimally absorbs upcoming imponderables.”

Filip Specht began his cruise ship career in 1999 on board Star Cruises, M/V Superstar Leo. Since then he was responsible for the technical operation of cruise liners and has managed the newbuildings of various owners. Today Filip Specht is Chief Engineer and Technical Director of Lean Maritime GmbH. Photo: Lean Maritime

How do operators and owners manage to increase productivity despite strict new regulations? 

“While the increase in efficiency with the help of lean logic was previously a wonderful way to optimize costs and performance, it is now an absolute must in order to survive economically. Many new regulations and associated additional tasks are being faced with a reduced crew at low workloads. Realistically speaking, we have to dismantle all processes, examine them, reassemble them tightly and implement them in a series of short pilot runs. In doing so, we are strictly geared to value creation and can thus improve it. The understanding of lean within the crew is essential in this process. Employee training is thus also one of the central components of increasing productivity.”

To what extent is it possible to maintain service quality at a high level with a reduced crew?

“The guests are responsible for evaluating the service quality. We collect data from their perspective and see what exactly they expect, need or want on board. The aim is to cover these concrete needs and at the same time the unnecessary or excessive activities can be discarded. At the same time we establish the procedures of the new hygiene regulations in a lean and adapted way. Depending on the necessity, we either design these new processes inconspicuously or we present them openly – perhaps even with show character – as added value for the community on board. In doing so, we pursue a holistic planning and procedural approach that meets the emotional and regulatory requirements as well as reacting flexibly to short-term changes.”

Thus, agile management complements the lean logic of the upcoming reorientation?

“Yes. An agile mindset provides excellent support for the lean methodology in this situation. The departure into the unknown requires robust, not rigid structures. As new medical findings are made, specifications can change from week to week. A current example would be aerosols. They require different hygiene measures than lubricant or droplet infections. It is therefore important to be able to integrate new regulations into existing processes at any time – without long tests and training. We therefore implement tools and methods on board that help to quickly adapt routines in a planned, efficient and flexible way.”

Why is hygiene safety crucial? What is its big chance?

“The cruise industry has always had the stigma of being a petri dish full of viruses and bacteria. This is completely unjustified. Figures refute these claims, yet such emotional assumptions are still haunting the public. The great opportunity of increased hygiene measures now lies in giving the cruise industry a cleaner, healthier and at the same time more realistic image. This goal requires a shared mindset. If everyone works hard to prevent and communicate infections – be it Covid-19, influenza or gastrointestinal disease – on board, we can build up the trust of potential guests in the health care on board.”

Very pragmatically: Which processes should now be reorganized first? 

“First of all, it is important to reconstruct the guests’ journey – from the moment they decide to go on a cruise. The health aspect also dominates this analysis. Already with the booking, the tour operator has to know whether the guests are really fit to travel and whether there are any medical conditions that may be present. On board, every point of direct or indirect interaction between guest and ship must be examined. Good communication will also be decisive here, in order to implement new standards and to give the guests a good feeling. The subsequent reorganisation of the individual departments will be staggered according to their work intensity in order to reduce costs.”

Why is it important to make the new processes strategically efficient right from the start?

“Designing processes from scratch, training and implementing them is much easier and quicker than interrupting routines to change them. We think through the processes in advance, not only when they have become established. With new procedures we have the chance to install lean, agile and fail-safe processes according to a correct and detailed plan. This saves a lot of effort and time.”

How sustainable is the lean reorganisation beyond the crisis?

“The basic idea of lean logic is continuous improvement. If we have a vision that enriches our company, we will continuously optimize our business in this respect. Considering the amount of processes in the operation of a cruise ship that do not add value, we have beyond the crisis a lot to do to improve them sustainably with the help of lean management.”

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