Lean Review: McDonald’s

Expected Value: Inexpensive fast food of mediocre quality or better delivered within a few minutes. 

Delivered Value: Inexpensive fast food of average quality within a few minutes in a noisy environment. 

Lean Concepts Identified: McDonald’s has perfected many of the ideas behind lean production. Below are my notes illustrating where they are strong, and where they can use improvement.

  • Cellular Production: Work stations with associated equipment arranged in assembly line format. 
  • Standardized Work: Anyone can do the job at any station. The work doesn’t change with the employee.
  • One piece flow: The food is prepared only when ordered. 

Pull Systems:

  • Kanban: The paper in which sandwiches are wrapped tell what the food contents are. There are signs and monitors in key locations keeping everyone informed about the status of each order placed and how long it is taking to fill the orders.
  • Poka Yoke: Bins with condiments are arranged neatly and refilled regularly. The condiment and utensil bins are not large so only a small amount of stock is available at any time in the restaurant, though the stock in the back room is considerably greater.  

5S/7S: Everything at McDonald’s is designed and executed within the 5S/7S philosophy. The biggest challenge is that greasy floor that most fast food places suffer from. It’s normally in the kitchen, and I saw employees shuffling along in the kitchen rather than walking to keep their feet on the ground at all times. That environment is very difficult to keep clean throughout the day, especially during high traffic times, but the “template” is visible. Things are stored where they are clearly defined and easy to reach at each station.

Eight Types of Waste: Overall, there was little waste seen. Below are the eight categories of waste as detailed in lean literature. 

  • Defects: My order was incorrect. The food that I received was not what I intended to order. I may have misspoken when placing my order, but I don’t think so… Though incorrect, what they brought me was acceptable so I ate it rather than wait for them to replace the order.
  • Overproduction: Since each meal is prepared only when ordered there are no stockpiles of prepared food waiting to be purchased as in the “olden days” when prepared food sat under heat lamps until ordered. The exception to this would have to be french fries because the employees simply grab a handful of fries to cook since there is no easy way to measure a serving. Therefore some fries can sit under a heat lamp for extended periods.
  • Waiting:
    • Employees: There are occasional waiting periods around certain food preparation processes like frying French Fries – which take a specific amount of time to cook, and therefore can cause delays if many orders are placed at the same time. Having fries prepared before an order is placed would be considered overproduction. 
    • Customers: During periods of high volume orders can take longer creating poor experiences for customers. However, it’s McDonald’s, not Ruth’s Cris. I expect short waits, not instantly filled orders.
  • Non-Utilized Talent: There are people of all shapes, sizes, and levels of skill working at McDonald’s. I’m quite sure there are people working at McDonald’s who are highly trained in a particular field, but are maybe on hard times and are doing what they can to make ends meet. Perhaps their talents are not being fully utilized. However,
    they are working at a fast food restaurant where the jobs are very simple. Customer service is likely the most important skill.
  • Transportation: Other than the big rigs bringing stock to the restaurant, transportation plays virtually no role in this environment. Completed orders only have to be transported a few feet to the customers. 
  • Inventory: Inventory is kept mostly out of sight except for the Kanban and Poka Yoke items previously mentioned. 
  • Motion: The working environment is designed to minimize excess motion. Unless a store is short-handed there will be very little movement or “roaming” between stations except by store managers.
  • Extra Processing: When an order is incorrect the staff will have extra processing to perform. Orders can be incorrect due to staff errors, but can also be caused by customers who pick up the wrong “to go” order, or get out of line in the drive-through causing confusion for the customers behind. Typically, a fast food restaurant will replace an incorrect order with little hesitation.

Environmental Considerations: Is it an inviting place to be? What are the high and low points? 

  • Cleanliness: Each McDonald’s varies because of the teams and management at that franchise location. Dining rooms are basically bright, colorful, and clean, though at high traffic times can be messy. Also, I’ve seen filthy bathrooms, and also very clean bathrooms. McDonald’s also strategically places their restaurants along highways to get customers into the building for a bathroom break and to stretch legs, and then entice them into buying food while they are there. For that reason the restrooms in those stores may get more traffic than in other locations so they can be hit or miss in terms of cleanliness.
  • Noise: The noise is the primary cause of frustration and distraction at a fast food restaurant, and McDonald’s is no different. There are televisions in the dining rooms potentially turned to different channels with the volume audible around the dining room, children can be loud as they play and eat, and the kitchen is always very loud. There are usually anywhere from one to five kitchen appliances beeping at the same time at different pitches, frequencies, tempos, and volumes. It can seriously drive a person mad!
  • Lighting: Normally not a problem. Big windows for natural light.
  • Facilities: McDonald’s does a good job keeping their buildings and facilities up to date on plumbing and fixtures in the restrooms, and cooking equipment in the kitchens. The dining rooms are normally in good condition and clean, though they take a pounding during high traffic times and can be quite messy at times. 
  • Art/Entertainment: The art is generic wall decor. There are televisions normally on a news channel. 
  • Staff: Can vary wildly. Normally competent for a fast food skill set.
  • Other: NA

What would I improve and how? 

McDonald’s has refined lean concepts to a high level for the fast food industry. However, the area I would work to improve all McDonald’s restaurants would be to minimize the kitchen noise. I would look for ways to eliminate the beeping equipment in the kitchen or replace the loud beeps with a different type of alert sound – something specific to each station and audible to kitchen staff, but not so obnoxious to customers in the dining room.

For example, as I ate my meal there were three different “machines” beeping at the same time with no one seeming to notice for an extended period (or they were busy helping with other orders). It told me that someone’s deep-fried or microwaved food was going to be overcooked or that someone was away from their station for some reason, while the dining room was full of people all trying to block out the noise. The dining environment, though basically clean, was overwhelmed by kitchen noise. It was not only audible in the kitchen, it was loud in every corner of the dining room.


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