I recently saw the movie “The Founder”— the story of Ray Kroc and the McDonald’s empire. The movie does a good job of illustrating what one can do with the right opportunity, enough drive, and a lot of moral flexibility. We’ll just say that respect for people was an improvement opportunity for Kroc.

What I found more interesting was the earlier story of the McDonald brothers and the speedy serve process they had developed at the original McDonald’s store in San Bernardino, California in the early 1950s.

Seeing Problems

The McDonald brothers saw opportunity in a problem they had experienced in fast food service. The fast food trend at the time was drive-in car-hop style burger joints, which is what they owned. While novel and fun at the time, their menu was too complicated because it included hot dogs, hamburgers, and barbecue. To make matters worse, service was slow and food prep errors were common.

Break the Problem Down

Being a bit of a Lean geek, I found this to be the most intriguing part of the story. The brothers knew there had to be a better way to provide good food quickly and correctly. They broke the bad customer experience problem down into smaller problems and began evaluating them one at a time and implementing countermeasures to improve the customer experience. In deeply examining their current state they discovered that about 85% of their sales came from hamburgers.

Continuous Improvement

Each countermeasure was then improved through PDCA. While this term was never used, the concept was clear.

They simplified and standardized the menu to include hamburgers, fries, milkshakes, and soft drinks. Burgers were standardized to include a precise amount of ketchup, mustard, onions, and two pickle slices. Fryer oil temperature and time settings were standardized to get a consistently excellent serving of french fries every time.
Every process had been measured and standardized and all team members were well trained to the standard.

The process had been improved through point kaizen to the extent that the next improvement would require a major kaizen event.

Obsessing Over the Process

The McDonald brothers closed the store and took all of their team members to a local outdoor tennis court. They used chalk to draw what they thought could be the ideal kitchen layout on the court. Then, they had the team members take their places on the full size kitchen layout to simulate the processes of making burgers, fries, shakes, and pouring soft drinks.

The simulations revealed problems that interfered with smooth flow. Over and over, they tried different layouts, discovering problem after problem. After about six hours on the tennis court, the team came up with a layout that supported flow.

Sometimes There Needs to be a Major Improvement

The next step in their kaizen event was to tear down the restaurant and rebuild it to support the process. A few months later, they were back in business. This time they were serving burgers within 30 seconds and sales soared.

The McDonald brothers were fanatical about creating value for the customer, standardized work, continuous improvement, and respect for people. Their process, the Speedee system, as they called it, is what allowed the brothers to do enough business in one location to attract Kroc’s attention. It was also what made the McDonald’s business model attractive to franchisees and investors.

2013 Annual Revenue More Than $28 Billion

According to the film, McDonald’s now feeds more than 1% of the world’s population per day. Say what you want about the food. This is an incredible fete. And, the process made it possible.

  1. Rodney Robbins

    March 27, 2017 - 10:05 am

    Great analogy! Now, if I can just find “The Founder” at my local video store.

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