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Kaizen Examples: what everyday life can teach you about lean

Updated: Sep 13, 2023

A cafe with the process marked up to find lean problems

A magazine once asked lean practitioners where their inspiration to fight the good fight was drawn from. This got me thinking and I concluded that mine comes from seeing glaring opportunities every day, hence the café picture above.

Where do kaizen ideas come from?

Train stations, aeroplanes, blood donation, rugby dressing rooms, parties, gardening - you name it, kaizen is available for mining. In fact, anywhere there's a process to do something of value for you or others. Our Sempai LinkedIn feeds are full of examples like this:

LinkedIn post about the lean principles in blood donation

Back to the point; I found myself in the café of a large UK department store reflecting on the coffee & cake queue I’d just invested 11 minutes of my life in. As it happens, upon entering, my companion had sniffed the air, sized up the queue and concluded that her best plan was to bolt for a table. The picture below summarises the story, the numbers in the picture aid in telling the tale. 

A cafe with the process marked up to find lean problems

Kaizen examples and The 7 Wastes in everyday real life

(1) People join the queue here

(2) they get to this point in the queue to choose a delicious panini...

(3) ...from the range in large panini rack (crucially, these all need heating up)

They clutch their cold panini for another 5 minutes until:

(4) they reach the cashier (we'll call her "Claire") who completes the transaction &

(5) calls her kitchen associate ("Katie")

(6) who comes walking (7) to meet her at

(8) where the cold panini is handed over.

Katie then takes it back to...

(9) where the ovens are sited to allow the warming magic to happen, meanwhile Claire at

(10) gives the shopper a numbered block (visual signal) to place on their table awaiting the warmed panini.

When it's ready, Katie takes it out (11) walks back to

(8) sometimes confirms the number with Claire and

(12) goes in search of a panini starved shopper.

Of the 7 wastes we've bagged a few here:

Operator Motion

a good deal of walking around

Bad Quality

cold panini


unnecessarily complex process


walking to deliver the rapidly cooling panini

Idle Time

for me - queueing and waiting unnecessarily

Improving the work - Continuous Improvement ideas

I watched this cycle repeat and bored my companion by wondering aloud why they couldn't work differently by:

  • Having some kind of laminated picture and a chute at (3)

  • so that you pick your panini, despatch it down the chute

  • grab a laminated picture of it (there'd need to be a certain number in circulation, with a barcode on).

  • By the time you get to the cashier your panini may well be ready and the laminate can be scanned to pay.

Other countermeasures are available and this one needs some work (to link shopper & panini if lead-time varies) but there's an easy way here to:

  1. Increase customer satisfaction (reduced leadtime)

  2. Reduce operator motion waste (less tired associates)

  3. Increase throughput and reduce labour cost

Why bother increasing your lean skills outside of work

This is just a cafe and one school of thought is that I've wasted 5 minutes of your existence on pulling apart a first world problem. Except, imagine this thinking applied to an emergency Medecin Sans Frontier (MSF) treatment camp for ebola victims or a refugee camp on the Syrian border, or, or, or...there are any number of scenarios.

To their credit, Toyota (and others) have helped in these kind of situations and I'd heartily recommend the following:

Society won't collapse if this cafe maintains its wasteful practices BUT it does afford us the chance to hone our skills by finding kaizen examples in everyday real life. Let's eradicate cold paninis and hone our lean skills in the process.

I’d invite any lean, shopfloor or business leaders in manufacturers to complete our lean scorecard here – simply considering the questions will challenge your path and give a little insight into lean transformation

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