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Monday, August 10, 2009

Lean Learning at Starbucks

There has been a lot of conversation in the Lean community in recent years about Starbucks’ Lean undertaking. This past week the Wall Street Journal had an article on Latest Starbucks Buzzword: 'Lean' Japanese Techniques. (The full article can be found here.)

In my experience it can often be more challenging to transform service segments to Lean thinking. Many times individuals in these areas can’t see they are performing steps within a process. The questioning of those steps as we work to eliminate waste and improve the way things are done can cause a feeling of personal criticism. I often say people are happy to be busy but the truth is “activity does not equal productivity”. This article and the subsequent online discussion in the lean community present a good learning experience and case study in lean transformations in retail and service type businesses.

Jon Miller talks about the lean buzz at Starbucks discussing their improvements in the process of making coffee while questioning the real intentions of this effort.

Mark Graban takes time for Defense of Lean and of Lean at Starbucks. He writes about the real of meaning of many of the Lean terms and techniques mentioned by the WSJ. Mark also sheds some light on comments online where some fear these Lean efforts go too far in automation saying Lean does not turn people into robots.

As with other articles from the WSJ on Lean they often don’t portray the real efforts well. Maybe it is from a lack of truly understanding Lean thinking. John Shook from the LEI has been working with Starbucks on their Lean transformation for some time. John writes in his management column about A Lean " Teachable Moment": Starbucks in the Wall Street Journal. He describes the truth behind Starbucks Lean initiative as unique transformation that other retailers and service companies may want to model.

As I would expect, many in the Lean community are optimistic about Starbucks’ improvements and willingness to try a new way of thinking while using this opportunity to learn and reflect on their own journey. You should consider the same.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the link. Looking forward to reading more in your blog. The WSJ has a terrible track record when writing about Lean or even Frederick Taylor. They always get it wrong or, at best, half right.