Preparing Coffee

By Ron Pereira Updated on May 17th, 2017

Last night, before I went to bed, I set my coffee maker up to start brewing at 5:45 AM.  I also placed my coffee mug and a spoon next to the coffee maker so I wouldn’t have to fumble about in the morning.

This morning, around 6:05 AM (I hit snooze a few times), I went to the coffee maker and poured a cup of steamy hot coffee.  Worked like a charm!

As I went about the rest of my morning I thought about the simple aspect of preparing coffee like this and realized how SMED like this simple, everyday, action is.

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Everyday Lean

You see, the lean thinker inside me is always on the look out for everyday lean concepts like this.  I could have waited until this morning to prepare the coffee maker.  But doing so would have wasted valuable time I could have used to write this article, answer customer emails, etc.

Additionally, had I waited until this morning to prepare my coffee maker there is a VERY good chance my jostling about in the kitchen would have woken up one of my children who would have then climbed into bed with my wife who would have woken up early.  Not good.  See where I’m going?

What do you think?

So, what do you think of this process?  Do you agree that preparing coffee makers the night before is lean and SMED like?  Or do you think I’ve definitely consumed too much lean koolaid over the years?  Be honest.  I can handle it.

  1. Jason Stokes

    September 9, 2010 - 9:03 am

    I think it’s a great SMED-like preparation. Ever been in a restaurant kitchen? Everything is prepped and ready to go prior to starting the evening’s service. You prepped your coffee before the morning and had everything ready to complete the process.

    You could also get a Bunn coffee maker that keeps hot water at all times – then you just need to add cold water and it brews a pot within 30 seconds – no programming required.

  2. Jeff Hajek

    September 9, 2010 - 8:30 pm

    I think you are touching around the edges of SMED. It has some of the functional characteristics of it, but the purpose of SMED is to change from one product to another more quickly, which in turn allows smaller batch sizes. Since you made the same size pot, and did no changeover from one type of bean to another, I don’t think it is pure SMED. Now, if you had an espresso machine, and did all the cleaning and tamping of the attachment while coffee was brewing through another attachement, that would be SMED.
    I’m a coffee nut, though, and have a one-piece flow espresso machine with a built-in grinder. Push one button (pulls signal) and get a single cup of fresh coffee. It also ejects the used grounds (hanedashi).
    Funny–this is my second resonse to a coffee-related post today. Not only am I addicted to coffee, I’m addicted to posts about coffee.
    Hope all is well with you.

    Jeff Hajek

  3. Ron Pereira

    September 9, 2010 - 8:39 pm

    Good point, Jeff. Although limiting SMED to the changing over of a machine is probably not what I would do… for example, the principles of moving internal tasks to external tasks have far reaching applications beyond typical shop floor changeovers (think of preparing for training class or meeting in a conference room).

    When we tie SMED to machine changeovers only we fuel the fire of those who claim “we don’t make widgets so lean doesn’t apply for us.”

    In my coffee case, the “changeover” is the time and effort I need to spend when I am sleepy and don’t feel like waking up my kids by rustling around in my kitchen which I’d liken to internal tasks. So, I take the time and do my “setup” externally – or the night before – so I am not burdened with it in the morning.

    Good comments though. Makes me think.

    Oh, and it also reminds me that I have to go get the coffee maker ready to go again. Ha!

  4. Jeff Hajek

    September 9, 2010 - 10:36 pm


    Isn’t the ‘ED’ in SMED ‘exchange of die(s)’? By definition, it has to have a changeover. Plus, isn’t prepping the filter & adding the ground beans still an internal task regardless of whether you are doing it in the morning or at night? In both cases, the pot is not brewing while you are doing the work.

    I still think the preparation work is good practice, though, given your equipment’s capabilities. I’ll just be pushing a button tomorrow morning for my coffee, though…

    (By the way-I’m only debating this issue, as it would make a great ‘real world Lean’ example if we can iron out the details. I like using things like Netflix to demonstrate pull, checkbook reorder forms for kanban, etc. Makes Lean an easier sell when people realize the already do it.)

    Regardless of what we call it, though, your process is still an improvement, and it still focuses on the customer (i.e. sleeping kids!).

  5. Alan Watson

    September 10, 2010 - 6:22 am

    We don’t have a single “die” in our shop yet I feel like we’re getting a lot of value from SMED principles. For us the key is moving from Internal to External tasks. We’ve even seen our accounting team begin to practice aspects of this thinking to reduce end of month close much like the brewing example Ron shared.

  6. Mark

    September 10, 2010 - 7:59 am

    I am a bit concerned that by brewing a full pot of coffee is creating waste. Will the entire pot be consumed? The waste of energy of the coffee maker keeping the entire water reservoir hot all the time and the heater to keep the coffee pot hot while waiting to be consumed. The amount of hot water required to clean the coffee pot etc. I think you get it by now. A more efficient one cup coffee maker which heats on demand (average 30 secs. per cup) and turns itself off when not required seems to make better sense. My cup of coffee is finished with a recyleable cup. Thanks guys?

  7. Jeff Hajek

    September 10, 2010 - 8:02 am

    Maybe I am just a stickler for terminology. An external task is one that is done when the process/machine is running. Preparation work, while it makes sense, is only external setup if it means a person used to have to shut down a process to do it, but now can do it while the the process is running. Plus, preparing in advance, while it helps with time constraints, probably actually introduces waste. Something gets moved during the time between when it was done and it was needed, or it introduces another interruption on a different task.
    It would be like telling a person to come in an hour before their shift to change over the die in the machine, and calling the work external setup. It may squeeze out an extra changeover, but it would be hard to argue that coming in early makes the setup external.

  8. Alan Watson

    September 10, 2010 - 9:16 am

    Mr hajek, yes, I know what the formal definition of an External task is. But the point you’re missing is as not everything is so cut and dry in the real world. At my company we have to think out of the box to make Lean work since we are not a typical production outfit. So the idea of bending the principles a bit is what we have to do. If we tried to follow the exact advice of consultants reading Shingo and Ohno books back to us we’d get no where.

  9. Ron Pereira

    September 10, 2010 - 9:28 am

    Great discussion everyone. The best part of this blog is when people discuss and think about lean principles in a different way. Keep it coming folks!

    @ Mark – Great point on the potential of overproduction! I actually struggled with this initially but have now optimized the process. I use exactly 6 cups of water which, and I am not sure if if I should admit… I have no problem consuming each morning!

  10. Jeff Hajek

    September 10, 2010 - 9:41 am

    Mr. Watson,
    Didn’t mean to offend, if I did. Sometimes tone is hard to read on comment sites.
    All I mean is that using terms precisely prevents communication waste, as we are clearly having right now. I agree completely that you should take the gains where you can find them, and modify the principles as needed. I just don’t think, as good as it is, what you are doing is external setup. It may be an improvement on the process, but calling it external setup can stop you from looking for true external setup, which is where you can find even bigger gains.
    This is really a question to everyone–is using precise language in Lean important, or am I being too much of a zealot? I don’t mind doing things differently, and even encourage that, but just prefer to call it something else to prevent confusion.

  11. Ron Pereira

    September 10, 2010 - 10:00 am

    @ Jeff – Thanks for sparking such a great discussion… it’s funny how basic articles like this one do this!

    My thoughts on your last question are that it is important, in my opinion, to ensure people truly understand what the terms mean… but I do encourage folks to think out of the box. I once worked with a team admins on how to reduce the waste of meetings starting late. I taught them the concepts we used in the machine shop to improve traditional changeovers. They got it immediately. I then asked them if they thought the principles applied to their world. They came up with many great ideas for how to reduce the time it took for meetings to get started on time. Was it true blue SMED? No. But they were on fire for lean thinking like never before… and that, to me, is priceless!

    Have a great weekend and be blessed, Jeff!

  12. Ed Kemmerling

    September 11, 2010 - 5:08 pm

    Think about all of the potenitial variables in brewing a pot of coffee:

    Material: Coffee, Water, Filter, Temperature of Water, Outside Temperature
    Method: Grinding Time, How much coffee? How much water? Measuring tool
    Machine: Coffee Maker Temperature Control, Cleanliness
    Man: How does each person replicate the process?

    This is how to fill out an Ishikawa diagram, and it is an excellent training tool. Your SMED example compliments it perfectly.

    Ed Kemmerling
    [email protected]

  13. Adam Schwartz

    September 22, 2010 - 5:57 pm

    I can’t decide if this is SMED or not. As it goes to the coffeemaking process, it definitely is not, since you simply moved the prep time from start of the day to end of the prior day. No moving of internal time to external within that little process.

    However, in the perspective of your day, this might be SMED-like. I’m inclined to think it is more like multi-processing than SMED. By setting the coffeemaker on auto, you could allow the machine time (like a CNC machine running a job) to work and work on something else in parallel (answering emails, brushing your teeth, etc.).

    Of course, from your customer’s perspective, would they even view this activity as value added? Maybe you could learn to live without coffee (probably quite a feat from 6 cups a day to none) and save all the time and cost associated. 🙂

  14. Rui

    December 20, 2010 - 12:49 pm

    Ron, I do the same thing, so in my opinion you have not drunk too much Lean kool aid, SMED? Maybe just using common sense, learning from prior experience (the kids woke up) and planning ahead. If I have to put it in a category, I would say it lines with with our grass roots employee implementation initiative – if you see a better way, just do it. Rui

  15. R.Dhamotharan

    July 18, 2011 - 2:04 am

    Dear all
    I have gone through through article & some of of friends comments. It is good that this small article through some light on SMED and provoked.

    It has come to my mind that I had similar experience when I attended a Training at France during 1990 in a company where the Trainer & his wife used to set the automatic cooker while leaving for duty to cook the food & kept ready for consumption at preset time.
    As both were working in different companies but in the same area, they used to follow this so that both can have lunch togther without wasting time.
    One must understand the concept and adopt as per requirement.
    Good learning.
    Regards/R Dhamotharan

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