Coffee lovers, you know this too well. It’s early. You’re trying to get your “morning burst of energy” (aka caffeine), so you drive to your local coffee shop. There are two types of people:

1. The people who go through a drive thru line
2. The people who park their car and grab their coffee inside

However, the coffee shops who have a drive thru option can have a tough job.

They have to keep both lines moving at a very fast pace. You can’t have a terribly long drive thru line (people will see how long the line is and decide to go elsewhere), but you also have to cater to those who came inside to grab their coffee. Both lines are full of people who need fast service.

If there is anything we all know about coffee shops it is that people can get very angry without their caffeine. That’s why baristas need to be as efficient as possible. They’re in the trenches. They can realize what needs to be done in order to make everyone’s morning move smoother.

Let’s take this as an example: In order to move both lines along quicker, a barista may ask for the cappuccino machine to be moved to a more centralized location so that there is not as much running back and forth between the two lines (drive thru and in-store customers). The barista making the claim for the move is most likely a subject matter expert because they experience this issue on a daily basis. This is when a Six Sigma Quick Hit called a “DMAIC” can be used. DMAIC stands for: Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control. Out of all of these steps, the “control” proves to be the most challenging.

For the most part, this process is straightforward. To “define” a problem, talk about the problem, why it is a problem and why it should be addressed. This keeps your problem in scope.

As for “measuring,” it basically means the consumption over time. You probably have that number, so establishing your baseline for comparison is usually not the issue.

The “Analysis” can employ a number of techniques depending on the situation including fishbone, root causes, and analysis of variance. Pick the best analysis tool for your situation and remain consistent.

Now it’s time to “improve.” A lot of people get bogged down on whether they are taking the best approach on this. Remember, business process reeneingeering is iterative. Apply an improvement, measure, analyze, improve, measure, analyze, improve. Record your data over time and stick with what is working. Record the process change as a marker on the graph so you know what worked at a particular time. Now comes the tough part… “control.”

You get measurable results and then you have a “Eureka!” Moment. When this happens, a lot of people will run off to tell everyone that they were were “right” the whole time. Slow down. Without the “control,” your process will slowly revert back to what it was before. It may sound crazy, but there is a reason why it was that way to begin with.

Let’s go back to our barista. Imagine that one of the measurables was that a cup was consumed from the cup counter hopper. If the user moved the cappuccino maker over next to the cup dispenser, then you should see an activation from the cappuccino maker within seconds.

Compare that to the data from our baseline (which would have been at least 10 seconds because they had to run across the store). If the investigator sees inconsistent or erratic times from the cup hopper to the cappuccino maker, then that is a red flag and a follow-up conversation with the barista should be conducted. (This is when some organizational change management comes in handy!)

You must control your new process and verify it with quantitative data collection and identification techniques. At the very least, give it a solid month or two of implementation so that you have the data to back up the process improvement initiative. After that, even if the users revert to old ways, you have the report to tell the boss that it worked, but that it needs oversight, executive buy-in or a corporate mandate.

Process improvement is not “hard,” but it requires a methodical approach. Most of the time we eyeball process improvements and hope for the best. Depending on your pay scale, this can be expensive or at the very least, divert unnecessary resources away from primary operations. If done methodically and with an iterative approach, the tasks of the DMAIC process can be relatively passive. Give it a try, you might just like it. Either way it shows you’re a go-getter and know how to make things happen.

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