What Do Starbucks and Lean Six Sigma Have In Common?

Lean Six Sigma vs Starbucks

In essence, both are not new. They are derivatives from older businesses or trends that have been in existence for at least some decades: Lean is a mass-market Toyota Production System and Starbucks is a mass-market coffee retailer.

Both are using proprietary terminology based on a language which is foreign to their key markets. Moreover, “Lean Six Sigma” per se is not known in Japan; likewise, there’s not a single Starbucks store in Italy.

The weird lingo helps to create an aura of exclusivity. And perceived exclusivity means that someone can charge a premium for it without adding real value. In addition, certification is required if you plan to build your career in either of the businesses. The certification does not add value either but it creates another revenue stream for some “partners.”

In both cases, the principal purpose of the proprietary terminology is to create barriers to entry into otherwise the same river.

About 10 years ago, Starbucks attempted to implement the Lean methodology. After a few success reports, their management toned down the campaign rhetoric, as the “lean” results were obvious but not necessarily desirable. Making their shops more efficient, Starbucks was stripping them off of their ambiance.

Before setting out on the crusade against waste and for efficiency, it is always good to determine the real value that your customer is willing to pay for. To do that properly, you need to apply common sense and not a new methodology.

Seemingly, that’s what they did at Starbucks – and scrapped “efficient” processes that reduced customer satisfaction. At the same time, they scrapped all the mentions of Lean in Starbucks official publications.

Now, what do you think Agile and Lean have in common?


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