Hand Washing Conundrum… at a Major Coffee House

By Ron Pereira Updated on April 18th, 2013

I was recently washing my hands inside an establishment that sells coffee. I am not big on calling companies out, especially companies trying to improve… which this company is.

Anyhow, after I washed my hands I went to dry them. This particular establishment has one of those super duper blowing contraptions that dries your hands in seconds. I must admit… I love these machines.

Hand Washing Standard Work

As I stood there enjoying the, um, hand drying process (that could have come out wrong) I happened to notice the sign that explained how all employees are required to wash their hands.  Click the image to the left for an expanded view.

This sign went a step further and provided specific instructions.  You know, since most people don’t know how to wash their hands.  Here are the recommended steps for hand washing.

1. Wet
2. Soap
3. Wash (for 20 seconds)
4. Rinse
5. Dry
6. Turn Off Water (with paper towel)

Now, don’t get me wrong… I am a BIG proponent of Standard Work which, I presume, is what this company was attempting to do. But there is one MAJOR problem with their instructions.

No Paper Towels!

Specifically, the problem lies with step 6.

During this step the employee is told to turn off the water using a paper towel. I get why they recommend this… but there is one problem. There are no paper towels to be found in this bathroom as the second picture shows!

So, are the employees supposed to come to the restroom with a spare paper towel in their pocket so they can successfully follow step 6?

Again, I happen to know this particular coffee serving company is working hard to improve their business. They’ve even hired some top gun lean consultants to work with them… but they are missing the boat in this particular bathroom.

What do you think?

What are your opinions on this apparent Standard Work conundrum?  How would you change the process?

  1. Mark Graban

    October 13, 2010 - 5:04 am

    It seems that they’re not paying attention to details there…

  2. Mike Alderman

    October 13, 2010 - 6:12 am

    What could have happened was the fact that when the sign was made…they had paper towels at the time… but due to the high costs of paper towels, they changed to the dryer and just haven’t changed the sign yet??

  3. Dragutin Vukovic

    October 13, 2010 - 6:16 am

    Most propobably there was a paper towel dispenser some time ago, which was replaced with this super duper blower. Documentation did not follow this change. Seen this hudreds of times …

  4. Mark Graban

    October 13, 2010 - 6:28 am

    Or, Seattle created a standard sign for bathrooms that are not standard across all Starbucks locations.

  5. Mark Welch

    October 13, 2010 - 8:17 am

    Their instructions forgot steps 7 and 8, which are, “Curse machine” and “Wipe Hands on Pants.” Just kidding.

    Seriously, if the lean culture were developed then maybe such a reminder/standardized work wouldn’t be necessary. Also, I sometimes wonder if these instructions are put up more for the customers than for the employees, as in, “Oh, it’s nice to see that this establishment is serious about its people practicing hand hygiene, since they handle my orders.”

  6. chris

    October 13, 2010 - 9:38 am

    As is the case, unfortunately, with most companies, it appears that the standard work was a one-time shot at looking like they were practicing Lean. It’s obvious that it hasn’t “stuck” yet and that there is no management system to sustain and continue efforts. Obviously, they need to revise, but more of an alert is that they don’t have a mechanism in place that requires standard work to change when “equipment” or processes are changed. Do we really need to know how to wash our hands; no. I agree with Mark’s comment about being for the customer as a “feel good” about the company. It is also a good way to satisfy and auditor when hand washing is a mandate for compliance to standards. I’m sure they don’t really expect people to “use” the standard in this case. Dog and Pony show if you ask me.

  7. krunal

    October 13, 2010 - 9:31 pm

    They could have put the 6th point (turn the tap off) after the 4th point. as they could have conveyed the message of unnecessary wastage of water during the drying process. 😉

    one should try to identify waste in each and every situation…
    regarding the paper napkins….its true…they should have put a kanban system of replenishing the same once done….someone should have told the admin….

  8. Mark Graban

    October 14, 2010 - 4:22 am

    Krunal – the reason you turn off the sink with the paper towel is so that you don’t re-contaminate your clean hands. Some recommend you would ideally open the door with that paper towel and throw it away OUTSIDE the bathroom.

  9. John Hunter

    October 14, 2010 - 10:47 am

    Very nice illustration of failing to have standard work be a living document. And also I would imagine it is not actually followed (even forgetting step 6). Standard work isn’t just instructions but the practice of those steps.

  10. Lou Cirelli

    November 5, 2010 - 5:40 am

    The point of the paper towel to shut the water off is to keep your hands somewhat sanitary after you have washed them. If you shut the water off with your clean hands, you have de-sanitized your hands.

    I think a sensor operated faucet which requires no touching solves all the problems. One might then want to tastefully cover up step six.

  11. Thomas

    November 15, 2010 - 12:30 pm

    I suspect the sign is a catalog item purchased for all stores in the chain, not something designed specifically for that restroom. And I agree that attention to detail is important.
    I would suggest that they 1) install sensor-controlled faucets (to eliminate the need for the paper towel to turn off the faucet) and 2) replace the sign with a new one that utilizes the available tools.

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