Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Intelligentsia Coffee Kaizen

Just before Christmas I visited a coffee shop owned by Chicago based Intelligentsia Coffee and Tea. Intelligentsia cares about their employees and their employees really care about their customers. The shop’s staff was friendly, product knowledgeable and expert baristas. Part of Intelligentsia’s mission statement reads, “Intelligentsia exists to provide both a fulfilling work environment for our employees and the highest quality products for our customers. Both goals are equally necessary to the success of our business.” Everyone I interacted with, and the product I was served, was proof that the corporate mission is more than just words on their website.
I had recently read the New York Times article about Starbucks beginning their lean journey. Obviously if the lean approach of process evaluation and improvement was applicable to Starbucks I thought there must be opportunities at Intelligensia. While sitting there sipping my latte I had time to observe the retail delivery processes of the business. Opportunities were immediately apparent to me due to my lean safety orientation. Repetitive bending to retrieve individually portioned canisters of beans, using an awkward hand and arm position to pour boiling water over the ground beans and excessive travel distances between front and back counters were just some of the opportunities I observed. I wanted to, right there on the spot, form a kaizen blitz team to design and implement a new work station that would reduce both ergonomic injury risks and the delivery cycle time. If I could so quickly recognize these opportunities just imagine how many the experts, those behind the counter brewing coffee, could identify if they were provided some training, a facilitator and the gift of time to do so by Intelligensia’s leadership.
In January I sent an email to Intelligentsia’s webmaster (with a request to forward the message) suggesting I share a cup of coffee, at this same retail outlet, with the company founder. During our time together I would teach him to observe, while wearing lean safety lenses, the business opportunity that exists – a chance to engage his employees in the redesign of their workplace. The end results would be improved safety and reduced product delivery cycle times and ultimately the opportunity for this group of employees to take this design to other Intelligentsia retail outlets. All of this activity would support the corporate mission for it would add a new level of meaning to “a fulfilling work environment.” As of today there has been no response from Intelligentsia. Do you think they will respond?