I Just Made 700 Peanut Butter Sandwiches

By Ron Pereira Updated on January 13th, 2011

pb-sandwich.jpgWhat’s the most peanut butter and honey sandwiches you’ve ever made before?  I just got done making over 700 in 45 minutes.  Yep, that’s right 700 in 45 minutes.  Besides how… you may wonder why someone would want to make that many sandwiches.  That part is easy to answer.  My church makes these sandwiches a few times a month for some local homeless shelters.  And tonight was our night.

My friend, Frank, is in charge of this project.  Frank is a former corporate executive and now superstar executive recruiter.  But in all his spare time he does amazing things like coordinate the making of 700 sandwiches a few times a month. 

Well tonight me, the wife, and 3 kids loaded up into the Toyota Sienna and went to make sandwiches.  It was our first time there.  I had spoken to Frank earlier today and joked that I was going to “lean out” his manufacturing process.  I mean Frank is good and all… but come on.  I know lean. 

Well, I arrived at the gemba and stood in the circle for a few minutes to see what I was going to optimize.  Here is what I saw:

  • Frank, the water spider, was emptying peanut butter and honey (very yummy) into bowls and mixing it up.  He then replenished the work stations as needed.
  • There were a few tables set up with people already working from bowls Frank had already prepared.
  • The bread, bowls, small sandwich baggies, and large bags to store the sandwiches were all at point of use.
  • There were three main processes: 1) spreader (smeared the PB onto the bread), 2) small bagger (put the sandwich into a baggie), and big bagger (put the bagged sandwiches into the big bag).

Honestly, I wasn’t sure how I was going to improve the process.  I decided to get involved, genchi genbutsu style.  So me and my wife (and kids for about 5 minutes) took our positions.

My wife assumed the spreader role and I took the small baggie role.  For some of the time we didn’t have a large bagger so I had to stack the completed and bagged sandwiches up.

I’m not sure if it is because we have been married 9 years or what… but me and my wife kick butt at making PB sandwiches.  It took her about 10 seconds to spread the PB and it took me the same if I hustled.  I did, shamefully, fall behind her a few times.  When this happened she stopped and helped me catch up.  What a gal. 

A young girl finally came and helped with the big bagging process and that was that.  Short of improving the small bagging process through some standard work and properly manning the stations I can’t think of how I could improve the process.

In the end, the key isn’t how well things flow I suppose.  The far more important lean lesson is the respect for others we are teaching our children.  If I can get them to learn this now kanban and heijunka will be a piece of cake in a few years.


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  1. Mark Graban

    June 29, 2007 - 5:48 am

    Were materials supplied by a kanban system? More importantly, was there “downtime” due to lack of materials?

    How was the balance of work across stations? Was there much WIP in between stations?

    Was there “kaizen” and discussion amongst volunteers if a problem arose?

    Interesting stuff. Bring me along with you one time, we can have some real fun.

    The one time I volunteered at a Food Bank, I was soooooooo frustrated with the bad process (and that nobody wanted to listen to the new guy), that I decided not to go back.

  2. Ron

    June 29, 2007 - 6:42 am

    It was more of a two bin kanban I suppose. The balance of work was amazing. The cycle times for the three processes were quite balanced. Although, like I said the small bagging process is tricky, especially with gloves on. There was discussion… but mostly people laughing and having fun (does that count?). I did comment to my wife about her “quality” a few times. She told me to shut up and keep bagging. I will definitely ring you the next time we make them. We can use all the help we can get!

  3. Muhammad Nabeel Musharraf

    June 15, 2015 - 2:51 am

    Were all the activities taking same time??

    Was there a waiting involved.. Spreading.. putting in small bag.. putting in large bag…

    If there was (which to my understand should be), people could create some intermediate WIP (it helps) and divert the resources to task that is slow.. then go back to the activity requiring lesser time and clear up the WIP…

    Considered against Lean by some, I believe task switching is more productive (especially in manual work settings)…


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