The Wall Street Journal’s Story on Starbucks and "Lean"

Okay, I am glad that Starbucks is recovering and they have found efficiency in “lean.”  But such articles (The Wall Street Journal’s article, “Latest Starbucks Buzzword: ‘Lean’ Japanese Techniques”) should come with a warning label as people need to understand that copying Starbucks will be a huge mistake.  Lean manufacturing tools and the pursuit of the customer experience do not always go together.  Lean tools tackle the customer experience as an efficiency problem and some times it is and some times it isn’t.  Think about it . . . does every service organization want their customers flying in and out of their business as fast as possible?  I don’t think so.

Working with a bank in North Dakota I found that large groups of customers like to come in and stand around, eat cookies, have a cup of coffee, some conversation.  Could you imagine someone rushing them out the door in this setting?  The point is your service organization may need something different than Starbucks.  A Service company shouldn’t start to go nuts on “lean”, “six sigma” or “lean six sigma” tools . . . like I know will happen anyway. 

“Lean” manufacturing tools really don’t transfer very well to service industry anyway (see: Lean Manufacturing is Not for Service Organizations).  The variety of demand gets in the way.  Although Starbucks is almost a “pseudo-manufacturing line” they will miss opportunities if they just have the “lean team” do the work for them.  They would be better off understanding the customer demand and purpose and allowing the front-line to figure out ways to absorb the variety of demand.  Business improvement need to be unique to each organization and their customers, demands, structure, management thinking, work design, technology, etc. it is what makes you different.  Copying will only lead to trouble.

So before every service organization runs around with stop watches and spaghetti maps, can we stop and think first before implementing “lean” manufacturing tools in service?

Leave me a comment. . . I can take it!  Click on comments below.

Tripp Babbitt is a speaker, blogger and consultant to service industry (private and public).  His organization helps executives find a better way to make the work work.  Download free from “Understanding Your Organization as a System” and gain knowledge of systems thinking or contact us about our intervention services at [email protected].  Reach him on Twitter at or LinkedIn at

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