Misplaced Milkshake Blenders & Unclear Water Dispensers


Last week was the annual LEI Lean Transformation Summit (see my notes here).

There were many inspiring stories, but are always reminders that it's not always a Lean world around us.

Tom Ehrenfeld (who blogged about the two days of the Summit here and here) shared a crazy story from his trip to the airport on his way home (shared below with his permission):

Getting to the airport involved worlds of waste. Then there was the muda of, well, air travel. And to top it off, at the terminal I asked for a milk shake at the Cold Stone Creamery ice cream store. The lone guy there gave me a friendly smile when I ordered it; and then asked me to wait a minute. He then left the store (leaving it open and unmanned) and walked 100 feet through the airport food court to get a blender to mix it in. Yup. When he returned I asked him why. Why not keep the blender right there since he makes shakes all the time? Just because, he replied. That's the rules for this store. Every single time he makes a shake he leaves the store to get the blender. Every time he makes one he walks it back.

That's just mind boggling… the wasted motion for the employee, the wasted time for the customers. I wonder how many customers they lose due to that delay. The poor guy would walk back to find the customer gone… and then have to walk the blender back, unused?

It's sad to think of a workplace where an employee either can't bring up that problem or a workplace where the employees aren't listened to.

I wonder why Cold Stone doesn't have their own blender if a milkshake is one of their main products.

While I was at the Summit, there were many water dispensers provided by the hotel. As pictured below, the presence of the “push down” sign, to me, indicates a badly-designed dispenser. It should be designed as to be obvious in its use. The buttons should be shaped and placed in a way that makes it obvious to the user how to get water out. This dispenser might have been designed to be more pretty than useful.



What's that have to do with Lean? It comes back to the idea of having processes that are designed to be easy for people to do the right thing.

Sometimes, a product design fails us (and the designer might blame the users) and sometimes a hospital's processes and systems fail the staff, which then leads to the patient's needs not being delivered.

Similar posts:

What can we do to make our workplaces easier for people? How can we engage the people who do the work to make their work easier, more intuitive, and less frustrating?

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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. Along the lines of the water dispenser, this hotel desk lamp is more pretty than obvious.

    It wasn’t real obvious how to turn it on, but I figured it out… without the hotel adding a “press here to turn on” label.

    Is it that hard to design something that’s obvious to use?


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