Controversy over New Standardized Work at Some Starbucks Stores
As a regular Starbucks customer (especially so when I lived in Boston, a few stories directly above a Starbucks store), I try to follow the company closely, including reading the “Starbucks Gossip” blog from time to time. I’ve posted before about the blog and I’ve written about the Lean efforts in the company (including a discussion of this WSJ story from last year and a post about NPR’s treatment of Lean at Starbucks).
Starbucks Gossip recently had a post that mentioned their new “standardized work” (if you will) for making espresso drinks (at least at some stores) and it’s worth some analysis and discussion here, I think. This new approach is called the “Beverage Repeatable Routine” (or BR2).
The original comment that was post was the following, from a barista:
Am I the only one that finds the new espresso drink preparation absolutely ridiculous? How is this supposed to increase speed of service? Doesn’t Starbucks know that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line? Now I’m starting at the ride side of my machine, moving to my left, and then going back to the right. Yes, very efficient. And what was wrong with using two partners on the bar again? OH wait, we’re just doing this so we can cut labor again, most likely. If you seriously mean to tell me you can serve 80 customers in 30 minutes (our current average during peak) with one person on bar using this ridiculous method, I’m going to blatantly call you a liar.
There was an immediate response from another barista who wasn’t nearly so negative:
There are some positive aspects to the new system. I still disagree with it mostly, but the idea of steaming milk, syrup, and pull shots in that order works quite well and can increase speed of service for those that aren’t as comfortable on bar. For those of us who have been at Starbucks long enough to know the bar well, it slows us down to focus on only two drinks at a time. But, I too disagree with it.
That led to another blog post that featured the new drink making system, where a barista said this (in part):
While I was training on this, I improved my time a bit over “old ways” but also had a much less hectic time on bar. Another trainee actually gained itme, but his drinks went from horribly made to perfectly made and his time at bar was cool, calm, and collected.
Calm, cool, and collected. Better quality. Less hectic. Oh, and faster… that sounds like Lean to me. I’ve seen this many times in hospital settings. People are often afraid that a Lean environment will be stressful and quality will suffer… but, for example, a Lean hospital laboratory is a much calmer place because when turnaround times improve the phones no longer ring off the hook all the time because nurses aren’t calling to ask “where’s our test result?”
Another barista wrote:
My take on the BR2 is that it levels the playing field for all partners so there is a consistency in production, resulting in consistent bevs.
This is good for me, the customer – more consistent drinks. I normally drink black bold roast coffee (oh how I miss the Clover machine from Boston), but my wife is an espresso drink customer and she often mentions how the drinks are inconsistent from store to store and even day to day. Lean can help fix that, apparently, and create more time for interacting with customers (much as Lean in a hospital creates time for caring interactions with patients).
Another barista commented:
They are attempting (and will succeed) in lowering the standard deviations in beverage quality. More baristas will produce more drinks with fewer errors more often.
What will really open your eyes to the way things are now is by doing a Go See of your current bev quality. Most of the drinks that are made with ‘batched’ milk are under temp (or over temp) and watery (improperly textured milk).
Expect most store operations to come under Lean management, i.e., routines/repeatable routines soon. I honestly love it because it suits my OCD personality type to a T.
I’ll take a bit of exception to the “OCD” part, but pay attention how they focus on quality improvement with the new standardized drink-making process.
Again, they continued:
What is hardest is letting everyone know that we are starting over. You weren’t fast on your first day on bar when you were hired, so don’t expect to be fast when you start using the standardized work method. It takes time. That’s why they’re rolling out the milk routine first, to make it easier.
Again, this seems to be a very common Lean thread – the learning curve. What’s ultimately better isn’t always easier at first. The process may get worse, temporarily and you have to fight through that. Otherwise, if you give up too quickly, you’ll miss out on the improvement opportunity.
That barista finishes their comment with a bit of unfortunate “command and control” mindset:
Also, it’s an easy way to weed out the partners in the store who refuse to take direction and can endanger your business by not following other procedures. I catch you not using BR2 more than once? You’re gone.
When you “catch” people not following the standardized work, firing them after two times isn’t the Lean approach, I’d argue. That’s a time for more coaching and more time spent explaining why. Sure, eventually you might have to discipline a person for not following the process, but firing them shouldn’t be your first instinct.
Post continues after the ad:
Another barista commented:
This system the bar area is always clean, pitchers are always rinsed, there is NEVER milk residue on your steam wands, shots never expire and there should be almost no mistakes.
Again, as a customer, this all sounds positive.
So with all of the positive comments, it then turned negative with this comment (reprinting in part):
LEAN has always been and always will be a bunch of crock made up by people who don’t understand what made the SBUX popular in its heyday. It was never perfect drinks that drove the brand — it was good-enough drinks and happy, friendly baristas that kept customers coming back at record paces.
LEAN ignores this by trying to make everything in the store automated. Eventually there will be no need for baristas as customers can mobile pay and the Mastrena 2.0 will make the beverage for them. If it has to be written in the Frappuccino training and Beverage repeatable routine to connect with the customer, obviously there’s something wrong. As in, exactly what have we been teaching since day 1? Make faces at the customer? Spit in their drink?
That barista also writes “LEAN is dumb.”
Another comment said:
Yep; still going to use two machines. You cannot ROBOTIZE people. People are the ones who know the routine is STUPID and will work against it, people have COMMON SENSE. That’s what you want, not robots! (Cuz if you had robots, there would be no “just say yes” cuz the darn things would explode!
I would hope any Lean environment would not be “robotize” (is that a word?) people. In hospitals, I’ve heard people literally say “I feel like a robot” in a traditional non-Lean environment. Why? Because they ran automated machines and nobody was engaging them in continuous improvement.
A truly Lean culture (not one that just uses cherry-picked Lean tools) respects people and engages them in continuous improvement. If Starbucks has a new standardized method, I’d hope it was developed by experienced baristas and taught to other baristas by baristas. The challenge with Starbucks, that’s fascinating to me, is that you have 4,000 little coffee drink factories – if people aren’t robots, the challenge is what to do with an improvement generated at ONE location. How do you share it with all of the other locations? That’s quite a communication challenge.
Another barista jumped to the defense of Lean, somewhat referencing a famous quote: “If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.” Henry Ford
To all of the naysayers… you are right. this WILL NOT WORK in your store. why? because partners like you will not give it a chance. As for my store, this repeatable routine rolled out (in my area) over a year ago, and if a barista doesn’t follow this routine, I write them up for not following policy.
THIS WORKS. Trust me, I was a holdout among partners when this rolled out and I have seen it increase our SWS, order accuracy, and barista morale. When you do it right, you have enough time to keep your bar clean, your pitchers rinsed, your customers happy, and yourself calm. =)
Does a Lean “mathematically calculated” (as another commenter put it) store “have no soul”? Or does a Lean coffee shop create more time (by eliminating waste) to have more soulful interaction with customers? Personally, I don’t go to Starbucks for interaction, but I like it when the baristas have the time to say hi and get to know your name (and vice versa… like the awesome barista Jason from Boston).
Another comment that caught my eye was this one:
Most stores are designed to be visually pleasing and not functional. Ive worked in many different layouts and have noticed the layouts are actually getting worse as they get newer. Things are spread too far apart, with a pitcher rinser a good 15 feet from the bar, counters so low we cannot fit a trash can anyplace. I once worked at a store that used recycle bins as trash cans. They actually designed a store without a place to put a trash can on the floor.
If Starbucks is truly embracing Lean, maybe functionality will become more of a concern, designing stores to be efficient in their layout, not just to look pretty.
It’s interesting to follow this from afar via the internet. I would hope that Starbucks is embracing the “respect for people” principle of Lean in addition to engineering a better process. Given the coaching they have been getting from John Shook, I would strongly assume he is emphasizing this, not just raw efficiency.
There were more comments, on both sides of things. To summarize: some baristas think the new system is great, some aren’t impressed (because they say they were already making drinks that way), and some hate it. Might sound familiar?