5S the Coffee Pots


It's time for some coffee talk other than Starbucks… afternoon coffee break here.

In Philadelphia last week during our LEI workshops (have you seen our new web design?), I was there three days, teaching my workshop for two and attending one other day.

Day One, the Regular coffee was to the left and Decaf was to the right. Each was clearly labeled, no big deal.

Day Two, the hotel staff set up things in reverse, Decaf was to the left (ugh this was a blurry iPhone pic):

Why not standardize the location? Is it that hard? What if a decaf drinker wasn't paying attention and took coffee from the same location as Day One? This could cause health problems (or drowsiness, depending on the direction of the error by the coffee drinker). Maybe I should have moved them rather than just taking a picture…

Now the signs were correct each day. But, would you blame the coffee drinker for “not being careful” and not reading the signs? Or is this a systemic error? Thoughts?

On Day Three, the coffee was back to the original Day One configuration, of course.

If you come take my Key Concepts of Lean in Healthcare course at the LEI office in December, our single cup (small batch!) coffee maker is always in the same location…

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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. One of my roles as a hospital volunteer (miss those days) was to retrieve coffee – yes, one decaf and other regular – in the morning on my way to cover the surgical waiting liaison role. In a somewhat similar situation, there was a little pot and a big pot – visually distinct. Yet, I was instructed (verbally via tribal knowledge) that the decaf was always the one with green showing on the top (when actually green was an indication of whether the spout was open or not) and I labeled them thusly with a little card at the information desk counter. I also worried, as Mark did, about people getting something different than they planned-to-pour. Also, invariably, there would be one item missing – napkins, cups (most often), sugar, creamers, etc. which instead of having a replenishment method with some standardized milk-run or watermark signal became a reaction of someone scurrying around to rectify – often with some discussion of authorization…or by-passing the "normal" process.
    Can simple things really be that complicated? Does it really take a lean background to see a better way? Why is common sense so uncommon?
    By the way, I just drink tea. Simpler.

  2. Try this for size … in our bathroom at the office, there are two basins with mixer faucets. They are identical in every respect except …

    In the left basin if you turn the mixer to the left you get hot water and to the right cold water.

    In the right basin if you turn the mixer to the right you get hot water and to the left cold water.

    Howe did I find this out? When I used the left basin for the first time and promptly burned myself!

  3. Mark,

    Did I send you the photo from Fernie where they got round that problem by laminating the labels for items permanently under a glaze on to the table………..




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