Podcast #344 – David B. Reid, P.E., Lean & Kaizen Across Chick-fil-A Stores

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David Reid

Joining me for Episode #344 is David Reid, a mechanical engineer whose career has taken him from improvement work at Michelin Tire, to being a pastor, to now helping the Chick-fil-A restaurant chain improve through Lean and Kaizen practices and mindsets.

I was really excited to see the cover story that was in the May 2019 issue of ISE Magazine (Industrial & Systems Engineering). The headline inside reads, “From lean modules to a lean mindset — Chick-fil-A's success shows how leveraging your greatest asset speeds up cultural change.”

In this episode, I get to ask David about some of the drivers for Lean at Chick-fil-A, which is already a high-growth company with many happy customers and employees.

How do they influence the owner/operators of stores to embrace Lean and to engage every employee in continuous improvement? Why did they learn that a top-down engineering-driven model couldn't possibly drive enough improvement? How does a Facebook page enter the equation for employees (and note that using Facebook was an employee idea) instead of “building an app.”

There are many great “nuggets” of wisdom here from David, pun absolutely intended. I hope you enjoy the episode!


Streaming Player:



For a link to this episode, refer people to www.leanblog.org/344.

For earlier episodes of my podcast, visit the main Podcast page, which includes information on how to subscribe via RSS, through Android appsor via Apple Podcasts.  You can also subscribe and listen via Stitcher or Spotify.

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Questions, Topics, and Links:

  • David's LinkedIn page
  • IISE article: “From lean modules to a lean mindset — Chick-fil-A's success shows how leveraging your greatest asset speeds up cultural change” — IISE members only
  • Before we talk about Lean at Chick-fil-A, can you first introduce yourself and your career as an engineer and a Lean practitioner? Where did you get started?
  • How did you end up at Chick-fil-A?
  • What's the need or opportunity for Lean at CFA?
    • African proverb: “Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up, it knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve. It doesn't matter whether you're the lion or a gazelle-when the sun comes up, you'd better be running.”
  • Why is it important to engage EVERY employee as a lean thinker and practitioner? Can you talk about that evolution from a top-down, engineer-driven approach?
  • Examples of employee-driven improvements?
    • “Forgot to scan?” message on receipts
    • Biscuit roller cutter
    • Sauce display for customers
  • How can you influence the owner/operators to utilize Lean and to engage people? Pull?
  • Why is it important to have “sandbox boundaries” and what are those? What would be out of bounds? What happens if there's an idea that can't be implemented for some reason?
  • “I'd much rather have to restrain mustangs than to kick mules” ?
  • I know the drive-throughs are fast… 300 cars per hour PER LANE? That's a take time of 12 seconds… How? :-)
  • How do you spread and share ideas across so many locations??
    • Lean Facebook site
  • Why is it important to celebrate wins?

From the IISE article:


Thanks for listening!

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Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker who has worked in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. His latest book is Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. He also published the anthology Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.

3 Comments
  1. Curt Douma says

    Mark – Great guest and podcast. I liked the observation that a form of waste may be identified, but that step or process is of value to the customer, it is not waste.

  2. Bob Hubbard says

    Great interview Mark. As an Atlanta native, a full-fledged Chick-Fli-A fan, and a full-time lean practitioner, I loved having my worlds collide in your interview.

    Those of us who make our living doing process improvement know that none of the wonderful things David spoke about would happen, without an incredibly strong culture of servant-leadership. I’ve been to many CFA’s across the country and seen leaders doing what ever it takes to serve their customers. As I understand their system, CFA franchisees (operators) have to work in a store for at least 1-year, before they are “eligible” to spend a substantial amount of money to become franchisees. This one step ensures that future leaders “get” the corporate culture.

    I heard a couple of wonderfully surprising things as well. Hearing that CFA corporate funds big changes to the restaurant / capital equipment is awesome. I was happily amazed to hear that field leaders can ask AND GET someone from corporate to come to them to teach lean principles. Wow! Both of these actions demonstrate far-sightedness and wonderful leadership in an era where companies have been working for decades to hammer out every expense that will not return hard-dollar benefits in the current quarter. (maybe a podcast on how this attitude is incompatible with lean’s “respect for people” tenant is in order?)

    Adding Lean this wonderful culture will surely result in CFA becoming the world’s largest and most loved place for fast good food in the very near future!

    Thanks again Mark!

    1. Mark Graban says

      Thanks, Bob. Glad you enjoyed it!

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