Bubble Tea and Visual Factory

The line to get drinks

So a couple days ago, my girlfriend and I decided to get some bubble tea before dinner. We heard about this place called Half and Half in Rowland Heights, CA which serves a special bubble tea with honey and pudding; sounded interesting so we decided to give it a shot. We were already prepared to wait based on some reviews on Yelp. After a 15 minute wait in line, we finally ordered – one ginger tea and one honey bubble tea. We sat down and started waiting for our drink (7:34 PM).

As we were sitting there, I noticed that the store just kept filling up. They weren’t calling any numbers but they kept taking orders. The seats around the room quickly filled up and the line kept getting longer. After about ten minutes, I still hadn’t heard a single number called. I was sitting there mumbling about takt time to my girlfriend who was clearly looking at me like the biggest lean nerd in the world.

I get pretty annoyed by poor service and I’m thinking to myself – how can they not output a single drink in ten minutes? I decided to stand up and see what the heck was going on. How can their flow really be that crappy? Well… here’s what I see when I try to see into their work area:

The glass opaque barrier

You couldn’t see anything through this giant wall. How were they doing on our drinks? Was there actually anyone working back there? Could I expect my order shortly? How long would it be? I think this lack of transparency (no pun intended) is a failure in any business. An informed customer is a happy customer. If there was a visual signal that told me that my order was going to take an extra 15 minutes, I would probably be less annoyed. I could maybe go somewhere, do something and then come back. Even if I was able to see that there was X orders in front of me, I could estimate my wait.

A giant wall blocking your production area also kills your visual factory. A production area that isn’t visible to customers and other stakeholders often hides waste. Who knows what was behind there? Could have been a monkey and a panda mixing bubble tea. When you hide your work areas, your employees may also be less hesitant to leave the area in shambles. The thought may be “well the customer can’t see it, it can be messy”. Well, a messy work area just creates more workplace inefficiency. Creating a visual factory is key to seeing waste, identifying bottlenecks and creating flow.
Just in case your wondering – we finally got our drinks at 7:53 PM – 19 minutes after our order. At least it was delicious.

One comment

  1. But lack of transparency works the other way too – employees can't see (directly) that huge line of customers piling up (and how grouchy they're getting).This used to be a common phenomenon at the post office. One time customers got so mad (the line was huge), they started an uproar and – lo and behold – another employee came out from the back. It shouldn't have to get THAT bad before employees know they aren't keeping up.BTW, I don't mean to diss the post office, really. They've gotten a lot better in recent years (though big budget cuts loom here in the U.S.). I make a practice of noting what time I arrive and when I get served. It's rarely longer than 12 minutes at my post office.But people still get grouchy, because it's a matter of perception more than reality. They have learned to expect poor service there.

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