It’s no surprise to most of you that Starbucks Corporation, the largest coffeehouse company in the world, is in the very beginning of their lean journey. Their journey has received publicity – both good and bad – and this article aims to join that discussion.
A few disclosures:
- I really dig the Starbucks brand, but I don’t drink coffee. In fact, I haven’t consumed anything caffeinated for 5 months and I feel really good. But, when I do go to Starbucks, I love their hot apple cider with caramel.
- I’m an outsider – I don’t hold any material information on Starbucks operations, strategy, or processes. What I do know know is a little about lean, some about operations research, and a bit more about queueing theory and the theory of constraints.
- This article and series of articles on this topic is based on publicly available material – blog posts, Starbucks forums, Starbucks Gossip blogs, and Wall Street Journal Articles.
- I’m not a member of the coffee of the month club; I know nothing about coffee, green mountain coffee k cups, office coffee makers, espresso roast coffee, industrial coffee machines or single cup coffee machines. I know nothing about coffee. nada. zip.
Lean Manufacturing, Starbucks, and Barack Obama
- Hot or Cold – Not Lukewarm: The response to the lean manufacturing deployment at Starbucks is both loved and hated; same goes for Barack Obama – he’s loved and hated – not much of a middle ground in politics or in lean deployments, at least in this case.
- Bottlenecks are a Fact of Life: At Starbucks, the presence of a line of people waiting to be served is evidence of a constraint. Also, each customer represents a unit of Work-in-Process (WIP) which, in a perfect world, we want to reduce through effective and efficient service – after all, no customer wants to wait and no company wants their customers to wait either. Similarly, a stack of about-to-be-passed-into-law bills waiting to get through the US Congress is work-in-process and getting a bill passed through the United States Congress is like squeezing peanut butter through a straw with a kink in it, folded on itself 5 times.
- Service is not Manufacturing and Obama is not a Muslim: True, lean, which has its roots in the Toyota Production System, started in Manufacturing. But, it’s principles can be applied to almost any industry and in any process. But, there are clear differences. Starbucks is a service organization that just happens to have a product that has many manufacturing-like properties: coffee making. But, there’s a lot of art in coffee making also. And, let’s not forget the customer – there are some that like to chit-chat and some that want their coffee and then leave. Similarly, many people falsely accuse Barack Obama of being Muslim, looking at his actions and words from the position of judgment as if he were a Muslim and using that unsubstantiated claim as ammunition against him. I have no idea what his religious convictions are and I don’t care. My point is this: people attribute labels to other people, organizations, or initiatives and behave as if that label were true. Apparently, the naysayers have already counted Starbucks and their lean manufacturing or lean enterprise deployment out. I wouldn’t do that – I actually believe they’ll do just fine and all consumers and Starbucks fans will be grateful for it.
- Cross-Train, the Anti-Specialist: A Starbucks Barista is trained and knows how to do everything – they are, like, the superman and superwoman of beverage. Similarly, Barack Obama, while trained in the Law, knows pretty much everything and everyone – kinda.
- The Customer Determines Value: For most Starbucks customers, value is defined as (1) timely service, (2) right product, (3) exceptional quality. For other customers, 1-3 are a prerequisite but they also enjoy the atmosphere and ambiance of Starbucks. But, if Starbucks gets the atmosphere right, but fails on either (1), (2), or (3), then all bets are off: Starbucks will lose the loyalty of that customer. In the same vein, Barack Obama serves every US citizen – he promises to keep us safe and protect our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. If he reduces my tax rate from a bazillion percent to 0%, but fails to keep our country safe then that would just stink.
Put Down that Coffee, All Jokes Aside
In a series of posts, I’ll add to the Lean Manufacturing Starbucks discussion in a more serious way. I’ll discuss the following over the next several weeks:
- Starbucks, Why Lean, Why Now?
- Starbucks Lean Thinking, Turnaround, Alignment to Transformation Agenda
- Lean, Starbucks, Change Management and Resistance, Fiefdoms and Stores
- Starbucks Coffee, Queueing Theory, and Theory of Constraints
- Little’s Law Prefers Apple Cider over Coffee
Anyway, stay tuned. I’ll address each of the topics above in a more serious way, including process mapping the flow of orders, some fun stuff on queueing, visual management, standardization, etc.
I hope that you and I will learn as we follow Starbucks’ lean journey. I wish them the best and hope for their success and maybe help them along the way.