Although I am not a coffee drinker (if you are interested -here's why), I found the recent article in the WSJ very interesting. It is about the direction that Starbucks is taking its processes. A while back Starbucks tried to take ideas from lean manufacturing trying to find ways to shave seconds off their service process. Here is an example from the article of the things they found:
That team discovered that many stores kept beans below the counter, leading baristas to waste time bending over to scoop beans, so those stores ended up storing the beans in bins on the top of the counter.Although So, that sounds great except that it turned out that baristas seemed to get a bit too efficient at the expense of their core product:
Amid customer complaints that the Seattle-based coffee chain has reduced the fine art of coffee making to a mechanized process with all the romance of an assembly line, Starbucks baristas are being told to stop making multiple drinks at the same time and focus instead on no more than two drinks at a time—starting a second one while finishing the first, according to company documents reviewed recently by The Wall Street Journal.The WSJ article makes it sound like Starbucks is making the changes for the sake of product quality, mainly that by working on too many drinks at a time, drink quality goes down. This could be the case if each drink may take slightly longer than if it was worked in isolation. It seems baristas don't buy the time saving part, they claim that the new policies will make things slower. One of my favorite lines in the article:
When asked whether changes have created longer lines in the test markets, Starbucks spokeswoman Ms. Smith said she didn't have "that level of detail."Hmmm, pretty sure that means either, we didn't think of that (unlikely) or "well, yes, but it will be better for the customer." Will it?
Quality might also be reduced in multi-drink-proccessing because each drink has its own process unique from the one before and after making mistakes more likely. So, the new policies are acting as a sort of mistake proofing, poke-yoke if you will. This may insult the multitasking capabilities of the baristas, again a tough sale.
So, where does this bring us? Is it better for a process to be faster with a slightly higher risk of mistakes and un-freshness or should baristas be told to slow down at the sake of longer queues? This is not an easy question to answer, hence(in my opinion) the more interesting problems that arise in service operations.
My opinion is that Starbucks has seemed to find a paradox: applying operations management principles directly into a service process might impact the customers experience. If asked what makes service operations management different from manufacturing operations a good answer would be that services involve customers in the process - you have to consider what they do and what they think about what you do. For traditional manufactured products, customers don't particularly care about how a product is made apart from that it has the features and quality that they expect.
Starbucks barristas seemed to be forgetting that they are in the service business. If they were making coffee in a bottling plant then efficiency is the best principle, but because customers are in front of them seeing and experiencing (and paying a hefty price for) the process of making their drink they may need to emphasize something different:
To boost the freshness of the coffee and to bring back some of the "theater" that had been lost, the baristas also started grinding beans for each batch of coffee, instead of grinding the day's beans in the morning
Starbucks sells more than the liquid in the cup, it is in the business of the experience of the "fine art of coffee making" (at least it used to), but because of its popularity and high demand it has transformed into a service factory - spitting out drinks as fast as possible. The danger is that it is losing its hard fought brand promise.
So, what would you do if you were Starbucks management? How do you handle the barristas fear that lines will get longer? Who do you side with - baristas, customers, management? What are the needs and concerns of each of these groups? How are these needs and concerns out of balance and how can you align them?