By August 21, 2013 7 Comments Read More →

Gemba Wine: Variation in Wine Seals and Variation in Customer Needs

My wife and I just got back from four days in Napa and Sonoma counties doing, ahem, “gemba walks” at a number of wineries, both large and small.

As tourists, we like doing winery visits where you get to walk the process, from grapes on the vine, through production, and into the glass. I tweeted a few pictures and notes under the #gembawine hashtag.

I’ll write a more comprehensive post about some things we saw that reminded us of Lean principles, but here’s one picture, below, as a start (from a tasting room).

People in process improvement circles sometimes wax rhapsodic about driving all variation out of a system (or somehow creating standardized products or services that are 100% identical – not the goal of Lean, at all).

It might sound like sacrilege, but not all variation is bad.  The picture shows an example where the wax seals on bottles show a charming amount of variation from their hand dipping process…


From a customer perspective, the wax on YOUR bottle (or bottles) doesn’t really have to be the same as the others. The variation helps ensure the appearance that there’s some handicraft involved, which might be valued by some customers.

You might ask about the functional purpose of the wax – it’s primarily decorative. The cork (under the wax) is what seals the bottle, but some argue the wax helps keep the cork from drying out. Or, perhaps it’s just cheaper than the usual foil seal around a bottle top when producing at low volumes.

To some customers, the wax seal might be “value” (it looks cool). But, to others, it might be an annoyance (it’s harder to cut off than foil?).

While you might be able to reduce the variation in your process, that’s easier than reducing the variation in your customers’ wants and needs! I’d argue smart companies are able to respond to varying customer needs to a degree that makes sense for the long-term good of the organization. Lean and the Toyota Production System, through “quick changeover” methods allow a company produce smaller lots and GREATER variety, not just bigger batches that supposedly bring costs down.

Thanks for reading! I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please scroll down to post a comment. Click here to be notified about posts via email. Learn more about Mark Graban’s speaking, writing, and consulting.

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Mark Graban's passion is creating a better, safer, more cost effective healthcare system for patients and better workplaces for all. Mark is a consultant, author, and speaker in the "Lean healthcare" methodology. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. His most recent project is an book titled Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also the VP of Improvement & Innovation Services for the technology company KaiNexus.

7 Comments on "Gemba Wine: Variation in Wine Seals and Variation in Customer Needs"

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  1. Mark Graban

    Those of you with WSJ access can read an article about French bread makers realizing the customer is right.

    Dominique Anract, a baker in Paris’s 16th arrondissement, sells about 1,500 baguettes every day, and most of them he wouldn’t want to eat himself.

    The vast majority of his customers, he says, choose the whitest, least-baked baguette on display. So he and his team take 90% of the loaves out of the oven before they are done.

    “If those were for me, we’d keep them all in two to three minutes longer,” he says. “But that’s not my call-it’s the customer’s.”

    The baker can produce a variety of product (for different customer preferences) rather than 100% identical baguettes that are variation free.

  2. Mark Graban

    A comment posted on linkedin:

    A quick changeover specialist might suggest a twist-off top. No tools needed. No nasty bits of wax, cork, or foil in the bottle after uncorking, and it reduces internal steps – allowing more drinking time. Also easier to store if any left :)

    My response:

    More wineries are using the screw caps and there’s less stigma about that, as some expensive wines now use the screw caps instead of corks. Arguably, the quality of the bottle seal is better with a screw cap… it’s just not very traditional. A screw cap is easier to reseal than a cork, but you still have to worry about leftover wine oxidizing and going bad, so I use one of these with any type of bottle.

  3. I bought the same Vacu Vin re-sealer but haven’t had to use it much. For some reason, our bottles usually end up bone dry.

  4. Looks like fun, Mark. Rule #1 – Customer defines value!

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