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A Lean Guy Reads the WSJ


Gourmet Coffee Becomes The Latest Office Perk –

Here's another installment of “A lean guy reads the Wall Street Journal.” It's fun sometimes looking for lean concepts in the WSJ, even when it's not a front page story about Toyota. Sometimes it might be a bit of a stretch, but here goes.

The above article talks about how most office coffee is horrible and how that drives employees to Starbucks or some local coffee shop to get decent joe. Even though caffeine might help alertness and productivity, some managers obsess about the wasted time involved in a coffee break.

Mr. Corbett, 24, used to take 15-minute coffee breaks at the nearby Starbucks in the mornings until his boss asked him to stop. “It was more or less a mini-vacation,” he says. “I try not to do that anymore.”

Is Mr. Corbett working in a modern-day sweatshop, this publishing company he works for? He can't afford 15 minutes away if that makes him more productive and more rested/relaxed for additional work? I'm not saying us white collar workers are better than blue collar workers, but do you have to be that uptight about people's time if it makes them happy? Unless Mr. Corbett is missing meetings, delaying clients, or not getting his work done, why obsess about his time? Isn't that a different form of waste, that management attention?

Paul Flaherty Plumbing and Heating Co. in Framingham, Mass., now offers employees 15 different flavors of Green Mountain coffee, ranging from the Nantucket Blend to hazelnut, made with a machine by Keurig, a unit of Green Mountain. Plumbers used to relax and have a couple of beers after work in the office break room. Now, some employees kick back with a cup of coffee instead.

It also helps increase worker productivity by keeping employees from making too many coffee runs, says Paul Flaherty, the company's president.

Before the company upgraded to specialty coffee a few months ago, two 10-cup coffee makers filled with bitter-tasting sludge were set up in the kitchen. “It was gross,” says Jody White, a 37-year-old plumber. “You didn't know how long it had been sitting there.”

Some of the companies that install their own fancy coffee machines have trouble with standard work and preventative maintenance, apparently:

Some bosses who have upgraded their office system have found that higher-end coffee makers can bring their own set of problems. Late last year, SpineUniverse LLC, a Wheaton, Ill., medical-education company, purchased a Starbucks Barista machine — which can make lattes, cappuccino and espresso — so that people could save money on going outside for coffee.

Unfortunately, the machine turned out to be too complicated for Jeremy Longhurst, 40, the company's president. Although he has stuck Post-Its on the kitchen walls to help remember how to use it, he continues to have accidents. He has had hot water shoot onto his pants three times while he has tried to brew a cup.

Recently, the machine got clogged with too many coffee grinds and was plastered with an “out of order” sign until an employee cleaned it with lemon juice, water, and a paper clip. “I'm beginning to hate the thing,” Mr. Longhurst says.

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Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and speaker who has worked in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. 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 book is the anthology 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. He is currently writing his next book, tentatively titled Measures of Success.

  1. Anonymous says

    we have a ‘fancy’ flavor coffee maker by Flavia and it’s pretty easy to use and the coffee is better than normal office coffee.

    my company also recently put in a small coffee/sandwitch counter in the main building. here they serve a limited variety of starbucks coffee that matches what you’d find in the read deal.

    i think it did reduce trips out for quick lunches, but probably not for coffee since there’s no starbucks around here anyway. it’s a ‘happy employee’ investment I guess….though we pay for the stuff, we’re here more, and I’d say glad to have it.

    -will averill
    houston, tx

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