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Starbucks and Going Lean

Thursday, August 6, 2009 by Slaughter Development

Local service industry consultant Tripp Babbitt recently commented on the use of Lean Manufacturing in the coffeeshop business. His key insight is that there is more to improving organizations than reducing waste.

To quote Babbitt directly:

Lean tools tackle the customer experience as an efficiency problem and some times it is and some times it isn’t.  Think about it . . . does every service organization want their customers flying in and out of their business as fast as possible?  I don’t think so.

Although some feel that this is an unfair characterization of Lean Manufacturing, it’s certainly the practical result that we at Slaughter Development see all the time. As The Methodology Blog covered last week in Taking on Lean Six Sigma, trying to treat a product company the same way you treat a retail shop is a recipe for disaster. We’ll say it again: service is not manufacturing.

Generally speaking, though, Tripp Babbitt is correct on this point. Coffeeshop employees might waste lots of time moving around the store, but eliminating waste will eventually lead to a completely robotic customer experience. Instead, Starbucks wants to create an environment where customers feel valued, and though respecting customer’s time and filling orders promptly is essential to their business, it isn’t the only perk. By establishing a welcoming and relaxed space where employees offer friendly greetings and helpful tips for ordering the perfect drink, while dually avoiding the sensation of a fast food rush, the customer is provided a sense of calm. With the addition of warm, cushiony sofas and convenient workspaces, a distinct creation of the inviting “home away from home” feel certainly entices consumers and in turn, benefits business.

The most important question about any business improvement philosophy is this: what is the agent of results? In Lean Manufacturing, it is the identification and elimination of waste which receives the credit. Six Sigma advocates claim that the statistical analysis of variation provides a method for ensuring conformity, which in turn reduces variations and decreases costs. The approach of consultants like Tripp Babbit emphasizes thinking about business systems from the outside-in rather than trying to change behavior through top-down demands. His philosophy ensures that improvements are more individualized to the client, and help to eliminate problems that occur when someone blindly applies time-waste reduction to the lingering experience of good coffee.

At Slaughter Development, we ultimately believe that improvement comes when the people who do the work make the change. Technically speaking, a pillar of Lean Manufacturing is “respect for people”. Yet, ask anyone at a hospital or a restaurant chain if they feel more respected after going through a Lean overhaul. The principle of methodology engineering emphasizes the stakeholder as most important. To change companies for the better, we must start from the bottom up and reengage people’s passion for work. Contact us to learn more.

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Like this post? Here are some related entries from The Methodology Blog you might enjoy:

Taking on Lean Six Sigma - People often ask us if we use popular change management techniques like Lean Manufacturing or Six Sigma. The answer is definitely no, but not for the reasons you might think. Read on »
Summit: Continuous Improvement Primer - The final session at the Indianapolis Productivity Summit last Monday was an overview of popular approaches for “continuous improvement.” Read on »
Process Improvement Failure - Millions of companies have pursued major business process improvement projects. Some new evidence reported in the Wall Street Journal, however, shows that most of these endeavors fail. Read on »
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