Lean Thinking – Get More From Your Team With Small Changes

When you optimize workflow, it saves time and money while achieving peak performance from your foodservice operation.

Your foodservice team puts in the hours, and you couldn’t do it without them. Even so, there’s room for improvement. Make the most of your resources with lean thinking, a process that helps your employees work smarter, not harder.

Lean thinking relies on optimal workflow, saving your operation time and money by maximizing the productivity of each and every team member. In addition to becoming more efficient, your team will gain a sense of empowerment. Employees who feel valued are less likely to leave, helping you cut recruiting, hiring and training costs.

In today’s competitive environment, you want results that deliver huge dollar savings and influence the quality of your foodservice program. Lean thinking assures you are using the team you have in the best way. 

For example, if you free up just 30 minutes a shift from two people a day, you create 30 hours of new and free labor per month, where you can focus on activities that matter most.

Understanding Lean Thinking

Operational excellence that sets your team up for peak performance starts with lean thinking. It’s all about eliminating tasks that don’t add value.

Your ultimate goal may be feeding people well and achieving positive satisfaction scores, but reaching that goal requires attention to many smaller goals during steps along the way. And there are a lot of steps to consider. 

Kitchens are process-driven operations. There are processes for ordering food and supplies, putting away deliveries, making meals, delivering meals, cleaning and so on. You can practice lean thinking by examining each process to find and minimize wasted time.

If you can find room in those processes to save 30 minutes a day from three $15-an-hour employees, you can repurpose that 30 minutes into another, more important task. In monetary terms, it removes over $3,000 a month in potentially idle time and puts it toward results that improve your service.

Looking for Waste

The best places to find waste are in the processes your team performs most frequently, especially tasks that involve higher cost materials and workers. The most commonly cited processes to uncover time savers are in the purchasing and inventory of food and supplies, meal production, and workflow in the front- and back-of-house.

As you examine these processes in your operation, look for the seven major wastes of lean thinking:

  • Transport – the unnecessary moving around of people and equipment. 
  • Inventory – excessive inventory requires resources to manage it.
  • Motion – walking or moving more than is required.
  • Waiting – waiting for the next step so work can be done.
  • Overproduction – producing more than needed. 
  • Overprocessing – doing more than customers want or need.
  • Defects – managing the effort to fix errors or defects.

Asking the Right Questions

Solutions always start with questions. In lean thinking, asking “why” questions to a problem is a common strategy. If you see waste, try a popular approach known as “The Five Whys.”

This simple problem-solving practice finds the root of a problem quickly. When you see something that doesn’t make sense, ask why it’s done that way – and then drill down to address the problem properly.

When people have downtime from their primary role, ask why again and again to get to the bottom and solve the issue. Perhaps they are waiting for someone else to finish a task before they can do theirs, suggesting a workflow solution. Maybe they are waiting for a piece of equipment being used elsewhere, suggesting more supplies are needed. 

Here’s an example of how using “The Five Whys” can locate a hard-to-spot solution:

Susan, the dishwasher, is waiting around a lot during her shift, yet working a considerable amount of overtime.

Why is this happening? “I can’t get all the dishes done on time.”
Why not? “The last load of dishes comes in 10 minutes before my shift ends.”
Why is that the case? “Chad told me that the chef needs him to do the dinner prep before he heads out to clear dishes.”
Why is he slowed down? “The chef said the new dinner menu takes longer to prepare.”  
Why is prep taking longer? “Chad has to monitor the sauce as it simmers.”

Five simple questions show the dishwasher is working overtime because the new dinner menu takes too long to prep. With this information, a manager can work with the chef to determine a solution.

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