How a Post-it note keeps an aeroplane flying!

Believe it or not, it’s true. Post-it notes can keep a whole fleet of aircraft in the air – whether passenger or freight. You may be shocked by that fact but it’s not as serious as the title suggests. Let me tell you some more:

Last month, I ran a Continuous Improvement session for a group of managers going through a management development programme at one of the UK Airlines and before thinking about how to make things better we needed to make their implicit knowledge about their work explicit. You see, so often when I work with clients and groups they think that they know how well their operations are working and how they are “supposed” to function. But it’s only when you stop and make a proper analysis of what’s “actually” happening that you can begin to see, question and understand the current situation; identifying flow, bottlenecks, duplications and disconnects.

It was during one of these activities that one of the teams realised that unless they looked more closely at their recruitment process, a new plane that is due for delivery might not have crew to fly it on the day it is due to go into service. And when they thought about that across the whole company, delays and disconnects in their HR processes could have implications on the whole fleet staying in the air! Don’t just think about the cost to such a business of having aircraft sat on the ground but also the massive negative impact on customer loyalty!

So what’s this got to do with Post-it notes then?

Well, one of the simplest ways to start understanding any process or operation is to map it out. Grab a sheet (or sheets) of flip chart paper, turn them sideways and using Post-it notes (where each one represents one step in the process) begin to identify and lay out the process flow. The beauty of Post-its (or any sticky note) is that the diagram can be modified as many times as is necessary until what you have on paper matches what you “think” is the process. And I use the word “think” quite deliberately because you cannot say that the work is done until you have checked the map against reality by conducting a “process walkthrough”. And if you discover any differences between what’s mapped and what is really happening then you can still move the diagram around.

Done properly this activity can be fun, engaging and revealing. I’ve had teams indentify that the same activity is being carried out by three groups in at least three different ways even though they all thought that things were being done only one way. Others discover dead ends that cause customer stress and dissatisfaction. And this team discovered that a Post-it note really can keep an aeroplane up in the air!

For more information on Continuous Improvement or to find out how we can help you improve your business, email us or call us:, +44 (0)7785 391149