"… perhaps the queen of all proverbs. The road to hell is paved with good intentions." So said Richard Chenevix Trench long ago, and he may well have been talking about Starbucks and their lean deployment. For that matter, he may well have been talking about the vast majority of companies that pursue lean.
Most of the time when I link to an article I don't really expect anyone to read it. I just put the link there to prove I'm not making this stuff up. This time is different, however. I really hope you read the whole article on the lean foibles at the coffee company.
"The company has deployed a "lean team" to study every move its baristas make in order to shave seconds off each order." I'm sure Starbucks had good intentions when they decides to send lean teams into the coffee joints to shape things up; and I'm sure the lean 'experts' who trained and led the teams had every intention of using lean thinking and lean techniques to make things better for everyone. They all missed the point, though, and now they are grappling with a false and wholly unnecessary apparent conflict between cost and quality.
Lean tools such as 5S and standardized work – the two lean things Starbucks seemed to have cherry-picked to built their lean deployment around – were designed to compress the cycle time of the process, and thereby drive out unnecessary waste and cost. The value stream map of the process to improve does not follow the customer – it should follow the product – the coffee beans and the milk, in their case. Customer experience mapping is an entirely different deal.
It doesn't look as though they even followed the customer, however. Rather, they jumped right into the direct labor element – the 30-60 seconds of the process where some guy actually makes a cuppa joe for someone. Then they used a couple of lean tools that are really not the exclusive purview of lean at all.
Lean manufacturing and good old fashioned industrial engineering are hardly mutually exclusive. Moving the bins of coffee beans from below the counter to a more convenient place may well be something someone does in the course of a 5S effort and creating standard work. It is also something a classical industrial engineer with a stopwatch would have done in 1953. It is a lot like sweeping the floor as part of a 5S effort. Just because you use a broom in the course of the 5S, don't make the mistake of thinking Toyota and Shigeo Shingo invented brooms.
The tried and true IE techniques that trace back to old FW Taylor and the systematic abuse of people were created and perfected to support the old business model centering around direct labor optimization.
Lean techniques were developed and are still being perfected in support of the Lean Business Model centering on flow. The woods are full of 'experts' who don't really understand the difference, and they are full of business leaders who either don't understand the difference either, or who refuse to let go of their old labor cost centered understanding of business economics. Those folks pursue lean in that gray overlap area in the diagram above. It enables them to look lean and talk lean without really letting go of the old manufacturing paradigms.
What Starbucks did was hardly lean at all. It was just focusing on the small part of lean that fits with old school thinking. Starbucks is making more money not because of this misapplication of lean, but because it reduces its fixed capacity (number of stores), rolled out new products and provided a better value for its customers with the additional perks in the loyalty card program. Their lean effort didn't help them at all. It only created the cost versus quality dilemna described in the article.
So what should they do now? Truly understanding and pursuing the Lean Business Model is the best thing they can do in the long term. In the short term my advice is to get rid of the 'lean teams' and buy everyone a copy of The Goal. They are not in a lean situation at all – they are just an old time business model with a constraint problem.