The Coffee Kaizen

By Ron Pereira Published on September 22nd, 2009

By Rick Foreman, Lean Development Manager

Note from Ron: This is a guest post from my friend,  frequent LSS Academy commenter, and most importantly Brother in Christ – Rick Foreman. Enjoy!

coffeeWe’ve heard of the phrase, “rose-colored” glasses, but what about implementing “Lean- colored” glasses?

At what point in a cultural change does Lean become a part of our DNA or become the way we see and think?

Every once in a while we may hit on a Lean moment or event. Yet, in the pursuit of perfection or excellence, we focus on simply doing something more efficiently and improving daily through the elimination of waste (non-value added activity).

This is “kaizen,” which means small, daily improvements. True Kaizen is a key element in sustaining our culture which continues to contribute toward a culture of profitability in tough economic times.

As noted in the Hitchhikers’ Guide to Lean, everyone is responsible for Lean. I recently received this great analogy from our company’s Estimating Manager after participation in our Lean Champion Book Club meeting. It really hits on the characteristics of a Lean thinker. Let’s reflect upon our current, Lean thinking state in the journey of the Coffee Kaizen.

Here is the email with the Lean analogy:

The next chapters [of Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lean] contain good information for what they call “event Lean.”

I was getting myself a cup of coffee this morning and thought of an analogy: The coffeemaker has two pots of coffee that are half full. Both burners are turned on. Employee Number 1 never heard of Lean. He gets a cup of coffee and walks away.

Employee Number 2 has been to Lean training and participated in many “events,” but only does what he’s been trained to do. He gets himself a cup of coffee, notices both pots are half full, so he pours the remainder of one into the other and shuts off the unused burner to save electricity. He does this, not because it was his idea, but because he was trained to do this to the coffeemaker during a Lean event session.

Employee Number 3 thinks Lean: He gets himself a cup of coffee, notices both pots are half full so he pours the remainder of one into the other and shuts off the unused burner to save electricity. He does this, not because he was trained to, but because he’s always looking for ways to remove waste and noticed there was unnecessary electricity being used.

The next day the same scenario unfolds. Employee Number 1 does the same thing he did the day before, and so does Employee Number 2. Employee Number 3 does the same thing he did before, but this time also notices that it’s 4:00 in the afternoon, and he’s the only coffee drinker left in the building, so he turns both burners off after getting his cup.

The difference is Employee Number 3 will continue to make improvements without even being asked to because he “thinks” differently than the others. He’s the one you want working for you.

For Employees Numbers 1 and 2, doing the same thing they did yesterday is “normal.” It’s all they’ve been taught to do. For Employee Number 3 looking for another way to remove waste is “normal.” It’s the only way he knows how to work. Someone changed the way he thinks.

  1. Mark Graban

    September 23, 2009 - 6:08 am

    This is an interesting exercise, but it feels a bit “blame-y” toward employees #1 and #2. What’s wrong with guy #1 anyway? Sheesh.

    Maybe guy #1 just doesn’t have the innate knack for improvement. Is everyone born with that? Maybe not, just the way I’m not born with an ability to leap higher off the ground than former Piston Bill Lambeer ever could (which is about zero inches).

    Or, more likely, guy #1 USED to have the knack for improvement, but it was beaten out of him by previous management at this parable company or at a previous company. After being told “just do your job” so many times, most people just quit and give up trying to make anything better. “Meh, that’s the company’s money, I don’t care if it’s wasted on electricity” — that’s a mindset that develops over time due to bad management.

    So I like the parable — great contribution, Rick. But I’d ask the readers to take it a step further. What’s the root cause of employee #1 and #2’s behavior here?


  2. Tim Stewart

    September 23, 2009 - 8:29 am

    Mark, I think the point is employee #3 “thinks” lean.

    This is important since training (which employee 2 has) is not enough. The person must take this training and do something with it. At least that is what I take from this story.

    As far as root cause for why these problems exist – not enough info to say.

  3. Rick Foreman

    September 23, 2009 - 9:38 am

    You’re point is well taken and represents past dictatorship type management systems, which do not empower or show respect for employees. In this instant, Tim’s response is accurate in pointing out that the Estimating manager is getting the importance of thinking lean and is actually thinking about how others might approach lean. We’re having lunch today, for discussion on how to get lean into the DNA of an organization that used to have poor structure for embracing lean and change. This is simply an analogy of someone pondering the difference between a one-time lean event vs daily continuous improvement thinking. Although just an example, a real scenario would present the challenge of engaging and influencing employees #1 & #2 on how to view an improvement through their eyes. I think it correlates with root cause analysis and the tendency for people to stop with the 2nd “why,” while never getting to the real meaning of a situation. Thanks for the feedback. Rick

  4. Vaughan Parry

    September 24, 2009 - 3:41 am

    The most fundemental point I take from this analogy is that no matter how much training one may receive it cannot be deployed in isolation. The application of basic training must also be amalgamated with ‘common sense approach’ (an element of training not always explored) which we use almost daily in our private lives. This invariably enables us to find the best way forward to reduce waste and also makes change more palatable.
    I believe employee #3 has engaged fully with the above enabling thinking outside the box to be employed.

  5. Jamie Flinchbaugh

    September 26, 2009 - 6:09 pm

    Thanks for the mention of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lean (www.hitchhikersguidetolean.com). Interesting analogy. Of course I would probably just brew a pot for myself.

    Jamie Flinchbaugh

  6. Rick Foreman

    September 28, 2009 - 6:17 am

    Vaughan; Great point about common sense and the fact that lean implementation can not be done with isolation and still be successful in changing thinking patterns.

    Jamie; We’re having fun in our book clubs with the Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lean. We highly recommend it.

    Il Meglio; Sorry but I’m not so good with my Spanish.

    Thanks for everyone’s feedback.

  7. Jamie Flinchbaugh

    September 28, 2009 - 4:34 pm

    I’m glad you’re using The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lean for a book club. I think that’s my favorite use of it. Maybe you’ll share your impressions either at Amazon.com or on http://www.theleanlibrary.com. I would really appreciate it and I know potential readers do as well.


  8. larry p

    December 6, 2009 - 10:27 am

    Enlightening employees #1 and #2 may work and you can always include reminders near the coffee pot. Changing their behavior is ultimately your goal but i am sure this is the way they act at home so you have tough job ahead of you. You should have hired people that were going to act more like owners than customers. Employee #3 should purchase a coffee pot ith a timer to turn off the burner and pour the hot coffee in to an insulated pot.

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