Starbucks Tests "Lean" Operations In Some Stores


Starbucks Gossip: Starbucks tests “lean” operations in Ohio and Kentucky stores

We've known for some time that Starbucks has been trying to figure out how to use Lean principles in their stores. If you click on the “Starbucks” tag at the bottom of the post, you can see some of the archives.

This recent post from the Starbucks Gossip blog discusses some details of the pilot program “Lean” operations in Ohio and Kentucky.

What does this entail?

Basically, the backlines of stores are being completely re-arranged and the processes for labor deployment plus customer drink crafting are being re-engineered to:

  • Increase efficiency/speed of service
  • Maximize lower labor levels
  • Save the company money/resources
  • Follow the “Shared Planet” platform (environmentally friendly)
  • Prevent workplace injuries

Sounds OK — changing the layout, engineering the process, increasing efficiency and reducing labor costs, improving worker safety, saving money, and being “green” could all fit into the Lean concept of management… eliminating waste and serving the customer needs. What about the “respect for people” principle? Is this being “pushed” by corporate in Seattle or is this an effort that engages all Starbucks associates in “kaizen” (continuous improvement)?

They are actually having everyone read John Shook, which is an encouraging sign:

SMs under the guidance of their DMs and RD are executing the transformations, plus they all are required to purchase and read the book “Managing to Learn: Using the A3 Management Process to Solve Problems, Gain Agreement, Mentor, and Lead” by John Shook to know theories of:

  • Continuous Improvement
  • Everything in Place/A Place for Everything organization
  • Repeatable Routines

So it sounds like standardized work and a good effort at 5S at Starbucks. Has anyone seen evidence of this?

As usual on the Starbucks Gossip blog, the comments are where the real information is.

One employee has a cynical view:


Customers come into Starbucks,at least they did, to experience something that could only happen without LEAN – friendly banter with a barista, sampling coffee or a pastry, etc.

LEAN is best suited to assembly lines and factories. Not so for managing human interaction which is never a “repeatable routine”.

Ah, we hear the same thing in hospitals, that Lean is not suited for caring hospital environments. But, in hospitals, eliminating waste and engaging the staff in kaizen can often free up time to be spent on patient care instead of running around searching for supplies and equipment. Don't you think the same could be true at Starbucks, that staff members who are spending less time with waste could actually be friendlier to customers?

There's nothing about Lean principles that says you have to change the nature of your customer relations. If the customer really does value a nice friendly encounter with the barista, then Lean can be a way to free up time to allow that to happen.

Another employee sees the potential for Lean:

i totally see ways the store can be lean. they way the store is set up is not lean we have to go back and forth for mocha lids etc… weh ave no communication on how much prep to make so most gets thrown out. our store has 2 people everynight so you can't get much leaner than that. we have way to much old crap sitting aroung in the back. 


Too much back and forth? Poor communication and planning? Junk cluttering up the space? Sounds like a classic opportunity for Lean methods and management.


This comment talks about a standardized work method for rotating and brewing coffee according to a routine. I assume the goals are fresh coffee for customers (quality) with minimal wastage?

This comment provides some interesting corporate perspective:


Lean is a word, not an acronym…no need for all caps.

The lean thing has been cooking for a year + and there are some good ideas. Everyone should be aware that there was little interest in it from senior managers prior to the $500 million cost savings promise to Wall Street. Now it's the “answer” and largely a smokescreen for the continued fast food izing of our stores. Where we need lean is in our supply chain and back of house…the stores actually do a good job serving customers when they are allowed to have enough people working.

This comment provides even more detail about the work study and continuous improvement methods. “Can there be a better way?” Isn't that the key question with Lean?

This comment talks about the standardized work for a bar-back type role to help with flow and rink making.

None of it sounds really too off base. I guess the magic is in how effectively this is “rolled out” to the staff and how much input they get into the process. Rolled out or rolled over?

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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,

    Living in the Ohio/Kentucky area, I’d be curious to know what stores are trying this. Do you know? Couldn’t find anything in the interweb.


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