Chain Reactions

A Leaner Cup of Latte

Coffeeshop powerhouse Starbucks is the latest company to sign on to a lean transformation, with no less than IW Best Plants keynoter John Shook helping to chart the course, according to a front-page Wall Street Journal story.

One of the most fascinating details in the article is how Starbucks uses what can only be described as the "Mr. Potato Head" test, where you're stopwatched as you assemble the classic children's toy. One Starbucks worker, who had the distinction of operating one of the fastest drive-through windows in the country, nevertheless took more than a minute to fully assemble Mr. P.H. After analyzing the steps she went through to get the eyes, ears and hat on the plastic potato, she was able to get the assembly time down to a mere 16 seconds. I don't remember seeing "Mr. Potato Head" referenced in any lean textbooks before, but maybe it should be.

Reading over the various bottlenecks Starbucks has identified (e.g., spending more than an hour unloading and stocking various supplies) makes me wonder why those of us who work in offices don't really practice what we preach in terms of lean. Productivity would probably see a double-digit jump just from solving the ever-present "photocopier" bottleneck, where employees are faced with the prospect of trying to identify exactly which of a dozen photocopiers will actually be the one that hasn't run low on toner, or has a paper jam, or isn't backed up with 23 other people waiting on the same, lone working copier. Maybe instead of a Mr. Potato Head test, office workers should be timed on how long it takes to print a document, including walking and waiting time to and from the copier. If we had kaizens around here (or more to the point, if we had monthly kaizen presentations that included lunch, as I've seen at some IW Best Plants visits), then I'd definitely submit a spaghetti map of the path to the photocopier as worthy of a kaizen.

TAGS: Supply Chain
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