Saturday, August 07, 2010

Lean is for bakeries, too

There is a problem once you learn the Lean philosophy and techniques: Every setting prompts you to imagine how much better it could be if these principles were adopted.

Earlier this week, a friend gave me a sample of some marvelous cranberry bread from a new bakery in Wellfleet, PB Boulangerie. She warned, though, that the place has long lines and that I should be prepared to wait, unless I arrived at the 7am opening time. I arrived at 7:05 and found a line of 20 people. Here is a picture of the ones behind me after I had been there ten minutes.

Now, it is summer on Cape Cod, and who really cares if you have to wait? You meet people from all over and compare notes about beaches, restaurants, and the like. But, then we noticed that the line was scarcely moving. Earlier customers set up their coffee and pastries at a nearby table, and they were practically finished eating by the time I approached the front door.

Once inside, the problem was made evident. There were plenty of serving people (four), but the bakery was rife with batch processes. Two people were in charge of taking orders for bread and pastries; one person was in charge of coffee orders; and one person was the cashier. After the bread person took your order and put it carefully in bags, s/he would place the order on a low shelf, under the counter near the cashier. Meanwhile, the coffee person would hand you your coffee directly.

By the time you got to the cashier, she had become a bottleneck. She would reach under the counter and grab the closest order, and lift it up and place it on the counter and say, "Did you have two baguettes?" and you would say, "No, I had the brioches," and she would bend down and replace the first order with your order. Meanwhile, some independent process would be going on for the coffee.

The person next to me was a process engineer, and so you can imagine the conversation we started to have. What if there had been a continuous process, with visual cues, all focused on the needs of the customers? The possibilities were endless.

In this case, though, the elapsed service time, start to finish, was 55 minutes.

But, here are the almond paste and raspberry brioches, along with the cheese bread and cranberry bread. Worth the wait!


Mark Graban said...

Thanks for posting that, Paul. Interesting and realistic scenario that most businesses might face.

I'm glad you are advanced enough in your lean journey, that you realize that labeling where the bread goes isn't necessarily "5S" -- it sounds like finding the right bread was the least of their concerns.

I'm curious about the human side of things behind the counter -- we can only speculate, unless you go back and talk to someone at their gemba.

Everything that you saw -- do the employees realize there is waste or is that just "the way it's always been" and "what we have to do to get the job done"? That will seem familiar to nurses or other hospital front-line staff, I'm sure.

So either A) they don't recognize there is waste, B) they don't think they can make it better, or C) there's no compelling reason to get more efficient, since you were willing to wait 55 minutes!!! :-)

But I'm sure there's some frustration for the employees when there's confusion with the customers - fixing the process could certainly be win/win for employees and customers.

So let's say a new employee is hired tomorrow - when they inevitably ask a question about "why don't we...." or "what if we did it this way....", the reaction from the existing organization speaks volumes. The core question might come down to -- are they allowed to make improvements? Do they see the waste from the customer perspective and can they make improvements.

There are many many parallels to a hospital, as I'm sure you saw!

Margaret Polaneczky, MD (aka TBTAM) said...

55 minutes? You could almost have meade them yourself in that time - Here -I'll give you a recipe..

(Just kidding - They look delish.)

Anonymous said...

From Facebook:

Beverly: I don't think the bakery will need to raise its prices to render the # of customers manageable; the wait will eventually do that. Follow up in a year.

Eileen: I was there earlier this spring when it first opened so it was just the locals and the wait was still bad - ironically, the people I was with (BIDMC staff) all talked about how this place needed a LEAN review. I'll be back in the area in a couple of weeks and am not sure I'll go back knowing that the lines will be even longer with the summer crowds.....but, the baked goods are some of the best I've tasted.

Anonymous said...

More from Facebook:

Matthew: Sure, it's Adam Smith's pin factory vs. Kaoru Ishikawa's auto factory. On the surface. But as you point out, things are different at a vacation spot than they would be in the city, serving commuters rushing to their morning meeting. "Hey,... there's this amazing bakery we went to on vacation. We got there at 7AM and there were 20 people in line." It's part of the experience.

Just playing devil's advocate, of course; but maybe they can't scale up their artisanal baking operation to serve the 4x greater customer throughput they could process. My question wouldn't be to ask whether they could increase the number of customers handled per hour, but whether they ought simply raise their prices until the number of customers becomes manageable.

Blindness to this possibility happens all the time in business. I had a friend who was knocking himself out in a consulting engineering job because business was so good it was affecting his work/life balance. "Say no, to some of the work," I said. He couldn't bring himself to do that, so I said, "Then raise prices until you have only as much work as you're willing to do."

Of course, given the business YOU are in, I certainly don't want you to take my advice.

Jack: Dinner is good there - but there's nothing "lean" about it.

George G. said...

Of course the bottlenecks behind the bakery counter could be a clever strategy to make the lines longer, thus attracting the attention of the passers by. :)

Anonymous said...

From Facebook:

Suzanne: If you jog in place while you wait for 45 minutes, you can burn the calories in anticipation of the brioche. Alternatively you can hit the bike path and head for a second stop at the Chocolate Sparrow in Orleans!

Alice Lee said...

I wonder if patients say that about their visits, "It's worth the wait..."

Food for thought - no pun intended!

Anonymous said...

As someone who just spent two weeks in Wellfleet, I can attest that the bread and pastries at this bakery are absolutely worth the wait. Can't say that about many of my medical visits.

Every commercial transaction in life is not just waiting to be made efficient. Chill out and enjoy the ocean air, read a book or newspaper, or chat with the other people in line. Those with weaker constitutions than Paul's could even work on their Blackberries. Nancy

76 Degrees in San Diego said...

"Lean" is to "Bakery"
"Dilemna" is to "..."

Anonymous said...

Ah, 76 - always late but worth the wait! (:


Anonymous said...

Washington Post review:


Lauren said...

Hi Paul,
Did you see this story from the HBR re: BMW? It seems like a Lean-esque initiative to me. I just saw it highlighted on CBS this morning and the results were impressive! BMW needed to improve the decline seen in productivity due to their aging workforce. Instead of firing the older employees, forcing them to retire, or giving them 'easier' jobs, they implemented 70 small tweaks to how the factory is run and they have seen a rise in productivity, a decline in absenteeism, and a decline in defects (the rate is ZERO.) Fascinating!