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Event Lean

5 December 2023
Yellow man sat on a christmas wreath

Is it just me, and I’m going to show my age now, but do we all seem to collectively celebrate holidays with much more gusto than we ever used to? Easter Egg hunts, Pumpkin picking, Spooky Halloween Nights, Winter Wonderlands … I love this turn of events! Having a 9 year old certainly provides both the opportunity, and the excuse, to go crazy and celebrate every holiday to our hearts content!

We had a really amazing time at St Fagan’s Halloween Night recently, however, some parts of the experience reminded me of another blog I had written about a visit to Santa which involved a fair amount of painful queues thanks to a VERY chatty Mr Claus.

The Halloween event was billed as follows:

Halloween is drawing near, and it’s time to bring your little goblins and ghouls to the Museum for a night of FRIGHT-fully good family fun!

Make your way around the Museum to find our host of ghostly guests. They’re straight out of the weirdest pages of Welsh folklore – will you be brave enough to knock on the doors and see who’s home?

Each night the Wicker Man will burn. Celebrate as summer turns to winter and make a wish as the sparks fly high!

There’ll be spooky stories from the haunted cottage of Nantwallter and around the witch’s cauldron in Oakdale.

Drop into our creepy craft workshops for lantern making, potion stirring and more…

Learn about the Wicker Man in the cockpit.

Stop for a snack and a drink on Gwalia Green, where you will find a selection of hot food and drinks.

The event was seriously so good, so much time and effort had been put into everything, we loved it.  As we entered, ladies whose heads were replaced with giant Welsh hats, eerily glided amongst the queues, setting a tone of spookiness. We were also given a checklist for all of the different Halloween scenes to explore.  Each of the below characters all looked amazing, dressed up in scary costumes and fully made up with dripping blood and sallow faces, each assuming a ghoulish role to entertain those who had come to visit them.

I love a good checklist, but the problem is, I have a desperate compulsion to complete them 🤔 #tragic

We only had 3 hours to get round St Fagan’s thanks to the Halloween darkness late opening and as hard as we tried, we just couldn’t see everything to complete that list! The pain! We also made an error because we tried to attend “The Wicker Man in the Cockpit”, so we rushed to that venue to hear the story, at the right time, and were turned away as the cockpit was too full.

Disappointed, we tried to go back again to experience the next hearing, going early to avoid the same situation as we had just experienced, only to be turned away again, despite queuing for 15 minutes, because the cockpit was full again before we got to the front of the queue.

We had just wasted about 20 minutes of good checklist tick collecting time! ALAS!

We then tried to tick off ‘The Headteacher’ traipsing across the St Fagan’s site to visit the old Schoolhouse, again to be met with another queue, because the Headteacher was inside the Schoolhouse, instantly limiting capacity.

Now, I fully appreciate that these tiny disappointments were not the end of the world, but it did make me think about how useful thinking about operations management can be when designing and delivering events. There were A LOT of people at the St Fagan’s Halloween event and the weather that evening was really fine, so both activities that we couldn’t attend because of venue size capacity could have been ‘opened up’ if the Schoolteacher conducted their, what was I’m sure, scary performance, outside the Schoolhouse for example, maximising the opportunity for everyone to see it.

The night that we went was the first night of three, so I’m sure that some of these bumps were ironed out by the end of the run, but yes, as regular readers will know, there is no life situation that lean thinking principles cannot be applied to and that I won’t write a blog about!

So here are my top ‘lean’ event tips 😊

  1. Setting up expectations, and meeting them, is really important. Before you plan any activity, what are you suggesting to people that they will experience and will the event meet all of those expectations? Is it possible to complete the checklist you have given them!? Customer value is always paramount, will your visitors and attendees be consistently ‘delighted’ or will there be some ‘enragers’ which can sadly detract from all of the good things that they’ve experienced? The best way to check whether you are delivering an event which is chock full of value is to conduct what service design calls a ‘customer safari’ – i.e. try it out yourself, get involved! Engage with your activity as if you were a customer. Did you have fun? Were you entertained?
  2. Carefully plan what is going to happen at the event at each stage and what are their associate timings? How will you ensure that you, indeed, keep to time? How will people know when they move between different stages of the activity? Will it feel effortless and will the order make sense? Take time and trouble to consider how you can help them transition bridging spaces between activities. Are there any ‘dead time’ moments. Disney are great at dealing with the deadtime of a queue, increasing the process visibility and Disney characters entertain guests whilst they wait. Are you clearly communicating how long people have left to wait? Are you trying to entertain them whilst they are waiting in some way? Try to turn as much ‘non-value added’ time to ‘value added time’ as possible.
  3. Time shouldn’t be of huge concern or consternation at a brilliant event. You should be so absorbed in the experience, or having so much fun, that you are in, what Csikszentmihalyi describes as, a “state of flow”. For me, a brilliant event experience involves not thinking about the rest of the world, not worrying what time it is, how long you have left, how long you have to wait, the experience just flows and is end to end joyous, without pain points or moments of dissatisfaction.
  4. But to achieve this, you need to carefully consider the capacity you have and the amount of things that you need to achieve. Try and work out how many people will be attending your event, will it be possible for them to experience all of the different elements? This is classic ‘supply’ and ‘demand’ thinking and it can manifest itself in many different ways. Will you have enough seats? Will there be enough food? Can everyone get to see all of the exhibits? Ask yourself, is there a way of increasing the ‘throughput’ of the event – does Santa need to be briefed to spend 2 minutes maximum with each child?! Does an elf need to keep Santa in check?
  5. After your event, take time to bring the team together and really think about how it went. We are really good at this in External Engagement and Executive Education team. With each event we think about the things that didn’t quite feel right, we work out why it didn’t work, and then we make a note about what to address the next time. So in the awkward pause whilst we bring people online into a hybrid event session, Hannah created a lovely film with music to fill the silence, sharing key information about the event that they are about to participate in and providing guests with information about how they can join our community and yes, our December briefing was complete with Jingle Bells.

The lean minded amongst you will notice that steps 1 – 5 are actually an expression of Womack and Jones, 1996 Lean Principles themselves (see what I did there?! *kerching*)

  1. Who are your customers and what do they VALUE
  2. What are the steps in the VALUE STREAM that currently deliver value to your customers
  3. How can you make those steps FLOW
  4. At the rate customers PULL them from the system
  5. Constantly pursue PERFECTION

I’ve summarised them a tad, but they are there in essence.

The 5 lean principles have been so successful because they are so genius! Seriously, use them as a framework to work through any kind of scenario with your teams, you’ll always find a benefit.

*with thanks to the ladies of the Vietnamese Global Wales tour for helping this blog come together!