Kitchen Kaizen — The Coffee Pot


I'm working from home this week and have a bit of a “kitchen kaizen” kick, as evidenced by my “lean oatmeal”  post.

Last Christmas, I received a new all-in-one “grind and brew” coffee pot from Cuisinart. I've ground my own beans for a long time, as I'm convinced that leads to better tasting coffee, grinding them right before brewing. I used to have a separate grinder, then I'd have to dump the grounds into the filter basket, which often made quite a mess on the kitchen counter. Also, if I wanted to set the timer the night before, I'd have to let the ground beans sit there over night, losing freshness.

So, this Cuisinart is a nice concept in a way. It seemed “lean”, perhaps, in that you just put beans in the hopper and set the timer. Then, it grinds the beans and automatically dumps them into the filter basket, and then brewing the coffee. The beans and coffee and everything just flows without user intervention, once you set it up.

One problem that's introduced — it's a “bear” to clean this thing. Plus, it's somewhat complex, mechanically, so if one piece of it (such as the grinder) breaks down, I'm pretty much out of luck. My conclusion — kind of lean, but not really.

I did find a “quick and easy kaizen” type improvement, I'll give credit to “Cooks Country” magazine.

Here was my old process with this coffee maker:

Step 1) Fill pot with water

Step 2) Dump water from pot into coffee maker

A few problems with this process: for one, it was easy to spill water onto the counter (yes, I'm clumsy), and secondly it was hard to tell if I had filled the pot with exactly 4 cups or 10 cups of water, sometimes necessitating a second trip back to the faucet. At least there's no walking involved, as I had placed the coffee pot right next to the sink (patting self on back).

But, the magazine made a nice process improvement suggestion:

Step 1) Take flexible sink faucet head/hose and fill coffee maker directly with water.

Brilliant! I've reduced a step from the process AND I can see exactly how much water I'm putting in so I can stop the faucet at the right time.

Is it dopey to spend this much time thinking about a coffee pot? Maybe. But, these are the types of little suggestions that you should be encouraging in your environment. Little ideas lead to the confidence to make bigger suggestions and to make bigger improvements!

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. Mark, this kind of activity is never ‘dopey’, it is practice! In my experience, this kind of practice is both critical to the successful use of kaizen as a tool, and also a strong indicator of the acceptance of the need for improvement. Many of the improvement ideas that I have seen either work directly or start a team down the right road have come from this type of experience – applying the concept in a non-threatening, non-critical area.

  2. Ha, I have one of these unit too, until we developed standard work to assure that the grounds are emptied we had multiple mishaps with this unit. Messy mess. Thanks for the tip I’ll impliement this right away.

  3. It seems that the Danish company “Implement” has ripped this idea off in a promotional DVD that can be obtained free of charge on their website.

    Dunno if you wanna look into, just thougt you should know.


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