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Queue Management: Elimination, Expectation, and Enhancement
Weiss, Elliott N.; Tucker, Chad Technical Note OM-1581 / Published September 26, 2017 / 9 pages.
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Product Overview

The mathematical relationships predicting average waiting time as a function of arrival patterns, service time distributions, number and types of servers, and various queue disciplines are well known. In this note, we address the problem of managing queues by managing perceptions of waiting. Basic operations-management principles can easily address issues of fairness: form one line instead of many; apply first-come, first-served principles (unless an "express lane" can be formed in a way that everyone finds fair); do not allow line jumping. Innovative approaches to queue management, though, can alleviate or reverse the boredom and manage expectations, making the process less painful for customers and front-line employees through three mechanisms: (1) eliminating or reducing the wait, (2) managing expectations, and (3) enhancing the experience. We discuss numerous examples of innovative queue management that fit into this framework.

  • Overview

    The mathematical relationships predicting average waiting time as a function of arrival patterns, service time distributions, number and types of servers, and various queue disciplines are well known. In this note, we address the problem of managing queues by managing perceptions of waiting. Basic operations-management principles can easily address issues of fairness: form one line instead of many; apply first-come, first-served principles (unless an "express lane" can be formed in a way that everyone finds fair); do not allow line jumping. Innovative approaches to queue management, though, can alleviate or reverse the boredom and manage expectations, making the process less painful for customers and front-line employees through three mechanisms: (1) eliminating or reducing the wait, (2) managing expectations, and (3) enhancing the experience. We discuss numerous examples of innovative queue management that fit into this framework.

  • Learning Objectives