Lean Thinking – To Go!

As I have gotten older, I have tried to curtail my consumption of fast-food. I know the fat content, calorie count, and general nutrition levels are not the healthiest available. I know as we age, we should watch our cholesterol, our weight and make sure we eat healthy. I also know my diet will directly contribute to the length and quality of my life. With all that being said, I love fast-food. I am usually pretty good at keeping a balance between eating healthy and eating not-so-healthy. But sometimes, I just want something quick and cheap even though it may not be the best thing for me.

I recently decided to partake in some fast-food in spite of the long-term potential health consequences. As I was standing in line reading the menu, I was watching the processes behind the counter. This particular restaurant was moving like a choreographed dance recital. It appeared that each person clearly understood their purpose, and was executing flawlessly. I placed my order, paid and had my food which was hot and delicious in a matter of minutes.

Lean Thinking Beyond the Counter

All too often, however, fast-food restaurants are hit-and-miss. You never know exactly what sort of food or service you may receive. In some cases, the employees move slowly, while other cases, they may move quickly. Sometimes the food is hot and fresh and sometimes, not so much. Sometimes you get the feeling that the employees could not possibly care less about serving you, while others are courteous and concerned professionals. One of the challenges of fast-food chains is to drive consistency.

In fact, this is a key challenge in all businesses. Consistency will drive customers back to us, while inconsistency will drive them away. Whether we are serving cheeseburgers, small electronics or large engineered systems, our customers want us to be consistent. Our customers want to know what to expect from us, and they want to know they can count on us. They want us to do what we say, not surprise them, and deliver high-quality products and services. It is up to us to build long-term processes that drive consistency and build that confidence in our organizations. Consistency is driven by the reduction and removal of variation in our processes.

Consistency in Lean Manufacturing

In Lean Manufacturing, we reduce and remove variation of the operators by developing the “least waste way” of doing a task. We typically call this Standard Work (Work Content, Sequence and Time Components). Standard work is the best current model of doing the work in question, and when executed well, will produce consistent results. Results that you as a leader, and your customers can count on. This approach however, also applies to most any sort of job. If you run a customer service call center, don’t you want all your agents to answer the phone in the same way? If you are doing oil changes on automobiles, don’t you want a standard to ensure that you don’t let a car leave without oil in it? If you are serving cheeseburgers, don’t you want your customers to receive a consistent and delicious cheeseburger regardless of the time of day or night? This goes on and on.

If you aren’t sure where you are currently, pretend that you are a customer and call your place of business at different times from different numbers. Ask some of your friends to visit your business and give you some honest feedback. Does your business look and feel the same regardless of who is working, what time of day it is, etc? If it is, good for you! Hi-five your team and tell them to keep it up! If not, evaluate if what you are missing is consistency, and in what areas are you missing the consistency? Your goal is that regardless of what time of day it is, who is working, and what the circumstances are, your customers will experience the same sort of service and results.

So, if you have occasion to visit a fast-food establishment or any restaurant for that matter, watch the process if you can to see what they are doing. Try to see where things are located, how they are marked and how the process is defined. See if there isn’t something you can’t learn from your favorite eatery – especially if they are good at value delivery! Two of my favorites to watch and learn from are The Waffle House and Chick-Fil- A. Some people scoff at the Waffle House, but if you watch how quickly and efficiently they deliver food to you (that by the way, was actually cooked for you), you might have a different perspective.

While there, it’s also fun (if you are a Lean nerd like me) to see what you could improve and change if they asked you to help them with their processes.

LeanBeau GrooverLean