The Importance of the Storefront in Lean Manufacturing

A little while ago P Cunningham asked:

“What is a storefront and how can it help my lean manufacturing system be more flexible?”

I haven’t found a reference to a “storefront” as such in any lean sources. Storefronts are the interface between the customer and the producer. That fact makes this a key concept in the customer-focused lean culture. There are at least three ways that storefronts can enhance lean manufacturing systems.

The first thing we think of when we hear storefront may be the supermarket system. Supermarkets are well-ordered stock keeping locations within a value stream that are designed to enable pull systems between upstream and downstream processes. The removal of the work in process or finished goods inventories within a supermarket gives the signal for replenishment to the upstream process. The supermarket by itself does not help a lean manufacturing systems be more flexible. Synchronization of the processes within the value stream based on a single downstream scheduling point (i.e. pacemaker) using logically defined buffers (supermarket) can make lean systems responsive to changes in demand.

The second example of a storefront concept applied to make lean manufacturing systems more flexible is the yatai system. The yatai is the Japanese word street vendor cart seen across Asia, not unlike the New York City street corner hot dog stands. It is a small, simple, mobile, temporary storefront that allows a chef-proprietor to serve 1-4 customers fresh food on demand.

Many Japanese companies adopting lean manufacturing methods use the analogy of the yatai to help people understand and accept the logic of a small, flexible production cell. The yatai system is what we would recognize as a flexible manufacturing workstation that contains the parts, tools and jigs necessary to complete the entire process, such as assembly, inspection and packaging.


These yatai are so popular that you can buy one on the internet and start your own lean eatery. Food service license not included.

The third example of a storefront within a lean manufacturing system is what I recently heard called a fish market. Many of us know this by another name such as the defect display, sample board or scrap table. The fish market is a small table at or near the production area, typically by the team communication board. It is used to display the latest defects during the team leader meetings. It is used both to raise awareness among team members about the defects that were produced on the last shift, as well as to call engineers, managers and support staff to action on taking root cause countermeasures. Like fish, the defects should be “sold” or taken care of that day, because old fish begin to smell bad. Size the fish market appropriately small to force rapid response.

There is nothing like showing the actual defects in the actual workplace, rather than as data on a computer screen or on a table in a conference room. The genchi genbutsu principle requires leaders to go see on a routine basis. The supermarket, the yatai and the fish market all create simple, visual standards that make it easier for leaders to see and respond to problems quickly.

3 Comments

  1. John Hunter

    July 26, 2010 - 6:08 am

    The idea that defects need to be dealt with quickly is so important. Too often non-lean companies treat fixing the causes of defects as something that has to be accomplished outside the “normal” work. So they delay and delay as “normal” work keeps them too busy to address resolving causes of defects.

  2. Joseph

    July 26, 2010 - 2:13 pm

    To Mr. P. Cunningham.
    Hope this helps. Your terminology is Storefront. I think you are referring to what I call a Shop Window. I think this is a Rose by any other name.
    When a product is passing through a work station then all of the stock & tooling that is to be used & fitted on that station must be located line side on or about the station in question. How the stock & tooling is laid out can make the operators work pattern flow along with the product or have him walking forwards and backwards along stock & tooling adding lots of walking waste. I have seen stations were a poor stock / tooling layout sequence can make an allocation 25 – 30% less efficient than the same stock & tooling laid out correctly.
    On a work station with a good SHOP WINDOW as the operator drifts along through the work station he should complete fitting one part and as he places out his hand the next stock or tool should be there for him to start the next operation in his allocation.
    You can not trust a material handling department to locate the stock on the station. They will be happy if they just get all of the stock onto the area. As a lean manufacturing Engineer you should draw out the current stock / tooling locations Storefront. Plot the operators walking pattern in pencil on a sheet of paper. Then look at the pattern and count the number of paces he makes to complete his job. ( 50 paces ).
    On another piece of paper move the stock / tooling to give the most efficient layout of the same stock / tooling layout and count the number of paces ( 34 paces ) lets say. With one step being worth ( 0.6 of a second ) you have saved ( 16 x 0.6 = 9.6 secs. ) Not bad for a first go at saving waste.
    I hope this helps or is along the lines of what you are looking for.
    Making the most efficient Storefront is a work if art. When you have moved the stock / tooling to your new position do PDCA. The operator will take some time to get used to the NEW pattern. Then you will see your savings. Do this on every station and you can re-allocate the whole line with the savings removed and take out 1 or 2 people. Now you are a Lean Engineer ( Grasshopper ).
    Some are born great, some acquire greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them. Make them have it you know it makes sense.

  3. John Santomer

    July 26, 2010 - 11:10 pm

    Dear Jon,
    As in all lean endeavors, the “yatai” and the fish market is very practical and effective. The case may not be so for operational and internal procedures. By experience, it has proven to be very detrimental whether you bring the root cause/defect in the procedure or chose to resist passively. Several occasions have brought me to these loop holes because the flow was not well thought of or was not given enough time fora “gemba” before being implemented.
    Then again, there is also a case wherein the process was already outdated and nothing was done to address the change/s. For recurring office procedure/s, this should not be taken against the employee. Nobody wants complications for one’s self and the employee certainly does not create procedures nor do they approve such to be implemented. And yet by being stuck in the loop hole/s, people who have the authority to help blame the person experiencing the problem. Instead of addressing the loop hole – they “manufacture” reasons pointing to the employee being the cause of the problem.
    This is rooted in the reason that they would rather point fingers instead of addressing the root cause. What is the reason behind this? The first step to be done is for the people concerned need to accept the fact that there is a problem in the procedure and also to accept the responsibility for the cause of the problem before they can address it. Yet they would rather point fingers at anyone. You have already warned us several times about the risks in implementing lean. It has come to us even in a renewal of an office document.
    The case has always been the same even if you address only the procedure/s and not he people who can do something about the loop holes in their department. Everything has been taken personally and never taken as an opportunity to assist colleagues at work or to better their services to the company. I guess their egos are more valuable than opportunities presented for improvement. These people have deeply seated themselves in their comfort zones. Probably, another good subject to write about in your next blog. Hoping that it will not be too late before the fish get too smelly. I’ll be waiting for that…Thanks.