operations research at Disney

Kristine Theiler, Vice Present of Planning and Operations Support for Walt Disney Parks & Resorts, gave a talk in the ISyE department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison when being awarded theDistinguished Achievement Award. Ms. Theiler has a BS degree in ISyE from UW-Madison.

She leads an internal consulting team that provides decision support for leadership worldwide. She gave a wonderful talk to the students about industrial engineering at Disney. Her team has more than industrial engineers and is increasingly focusing on operations research. Her team has worked on the following issues:

  • food and beverage (beer optimization!)
  • park operations: attraction performance, operation at capacity, efficiency programs
  • hotel optimization: front desk queuing, laundry facility optimization
  • project development: theme park development, new products and services, property expansion
  • operations: cleaning the rides and park, horticulture planning
  • operations research: forecasting, simulation

Ms.  Theiler showed us her “magic band” – a bracelet that links together the services that a park-goer (a guest) has purchased as well as her room key and possibly her credit card (with a security code) to optimize efficiency. Guests can choose one of seven bracelet colors. This may facilitate personalization aka Minority Report. The magic band is under production.

She also noted that guests at Disney Toyko are willing to wait longer than guests at any other Disney park. Interesting.

Disney works on four key competencies that mesh well with tools in the OR toolbox:

  1. Capacity/demand analysis
  2. Measuring the impact (guest flow, weight times, transaction times)
  3. Process design and improvement
  4. Advanced analytics

The planning for Shanghai Disneyland is underway. Some of the relevant project planning, such as where to locate the park. Once a site is selected, the IEs will plan train lines between locations; how many ticket booths, turnstyles, and strollers will be needed; how to select the mix of attractions and lay them out; how many tables and chairs are needed; what is the right mix of indoor and outdoor tables; how much merchandise space to set aside; how to route parades; how to handles the “dumps” that happen when a show lets out; how to locate your favorite Disney characters (played by actors) for photo ops; how to plan backstage areas to coordinate complex shows; and locate and run hotel services.

Training scheduling optimization for the cruise lines was one of the more technical projects. There are many side constraints and stochastic issues for the 1500 people that may need to be trained at any given time. There include precedence constants (fire class 1 must be taken before fire class 2), time windows (fire drills can only be run on Tuesdays from 9-11), attendance randomness (employees and class leaders get sick), so contingency plans are a must.

Operations research and industrial engineering are obviously valuable at Disney. One of the main benefits of using advanced analytical methods is that they bring an unbiased perspective. It’s much easier to bring up a difficult issue when you discuss it from a numbers perspective rather than first stating your opinions. Analytics also provides a way to “connect the dots” between services: more people attending a show may lead to an increased need for merchandise space near the show’s exits.

Shanghai Disney

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