Do Ideas Go "Poof" at Starbucks?


    By Mark Graban:

    I'm always fascinated by Starbucks. For one, I'm a regular customer and Starbucks has a reputation for hiring pretty educated people as baristas given their health benefits and all. So it seems like a huge opportunity to engage those employees in each and every Starbucks location (how many???) in kaizen, sharing those improvements across locations.

    Ordering a drink for my wife and myself, I handed by “Gold Card” to the woman running the register. She ran the card. Then a few seconds later says, “Oops, I need to swipe it again for payment.” Some, but not all Gold Cards are used as stored value cards, some are just used for the discount and people pay cash or credit. There was a “defect” in the process (she almost forgot to take my money and it required more effort on her part).

    She says to me, unprompted, “You should only have to swipe the card once. It would be nice if the computer could determine, on that single swipe if it's stored value and, if it is, just take the money off.”

    Now that's not a Norman Bodek “Quick and Easy Kaizen” style idea… in his approach, the idea should be something the employee can take action on, such as moving where the lids for cups are stored to reduce walking.

    But the employee has a valid idea — it's an idea that has to flow up. It's similar to a scenario where a nurse has an idea about the Electronic Medical Record system that would make her job easier. She can't fix it, but there needs to be an avenue for the idea to be heard.

    I asked the barista, “That sounds like a good idea you have. So what happens to the idea? Does it just go poof into the air?”

    I was checking to see if she would find it worth the time to tell her shift leader or store manager.

    She smiled and said, “I dunno. There's probably a good tech reason why they can't do that, but they haven't told us.”

    So if she *did* go to her store manager with that idea, the least she should deserve would be an answer back explaining why it wasn't possible (of course it *is* possible — it's just software) or why it's not possible right now. Or, is that a P.O.S. (Point of Sale) register feature that they *plan* on implementing at some point. She can't be the only one who has made that suggestion.

    It would be a shame if the idea just went “poof.” I wonder how often she makes that same mistake. Do we blame her or the system? Is there a better process that they can put in place for the existing P.O.S. to make it harder to forget to swipe the Gold Card twice? Would that be a good short term fix?

    Stay tuned, later this week I will blog about a very detailed article from the WSJ about two weeks ago that outlined some operational improvement efforts at Starbucks.

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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. For some readers, they may need to know that "a P.O.S. register" refers to a Point-of-Sale cash register used by retailers. I've worked on some hardware/software system development in that realm and realize that POS has another possible connotation.

    2. I'm afraid that to the average front-line employee, the computer systems he uses feel like an unalterable fact of reality–that he has no more feeling of being empowered to suggest changes to these systems than a medieval peasant felt empowered to suggest changes to the policies of Church or King.

    3. Some Lean people seems to be fan of Starbucks. We have some here in France, and I feel like they're just the opposite of Lean.
      1- Wait in Queue to arrive at the desk. Benefit: plenty of time (!) to read the offerings on the wall in small letters, with non standard coffee sizes. Have difficulty choosing from the list and what you're allowed to ask for, or not
      2- tell what you want
      3- move to cash register
      4- answer to someone else at the questions "what did you order?" then "do you want something else".
      5- move again to the desk where you a) wait for your order, then b) answer a third person about "what did you order?", sometimes to get served the cup of the people next to you.

      In this process, I, the customer, had to move myself, tell 3 times in arow what I wanted (need to remeber of the specific details of my command which where written on thecup, btw), all for, sometimes, being served the wrong cup.

      What's Lean in this ?!

      Ok the coffee's not bad, but what about the experience ?!

    4. Droppa – agree that process you describe isn't very Lean at all. Full of waste and frustration for all.

      The Starbucks nearest me at least has a system for writing your drink order on the cup so you, as the customer, only have to order once.

    5. Gee,

      They do that also here. But the cashier doesn't know which cup is yours (nor do the person serving you at the end of the process).

      If only they'd write your name on it and asked you for it, I guess that would simply things (at least for the customer).

      Of course, telling them to do so would be like… taylorism ? :)


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