10 Minute Kanban Pizza

April 14, 2010

It never ceases to amaze me how poorly organized the work is in many restaurants and bars. Many lunch restaurants only get one seating per day because they haven’t planned their work properly. Bars often have a long line of customers waving their money and waiting for service instead of sitting at a table sipping their drinks. Even though I’m a software guy at heart, I’m seriously considering starting a lean consulting business aimed at restaurants (probably more on this in future posts).

However, there is one type of institution that often impresses me; the pizza place. These guys seem to run a Kanban-based manufacturing process, knowingly or not, with very good results. One of the more common process designs I’ve seen is where there’s one person running the cash register and answering the phone. He takes the orders and writes them on a note which he puts at the end of a que. The next person in the value stream is actually making the pizzas. He pulls the next work order from the que, flattens the dough and puts on the toppings according to specification. And finally one person is responsible for putting the pizzas into the oven and then taking them out again and putting them in the boxes. The WIP limits aren’t written anywhere but instead they seem to be self regulating. Whenever there are too many pizzas ready to go and there’s a line of customers, the first guy stops answering the phone and concentrates fully on payments and getting the inventory down. The guy baking pizzas has a table that can only fit two pizzas so his WIP limit is quite obvius. The oven can only hold a certain number of pizzas so once again we have a forced WIP limit.

The result of this design is that these guys can deliver their product with very high precision. Whenever you order a pizza the guy always says that it’ll be ready in ten minutes. And lo and behold, ten minutes later your standing there with a warm pizza box in your hands. Most product owners would probably die for this kind of predictability in their processes. Wouldn’t it be awesome to work with a development team that answered each new request that was prioritized to the top of the backlog with: “It’ll be ready in ten minutes.”?

Homework for tomorrow is to look at how the pizza place follow the 5S’s of Lean workplace organization. Knowingly or not, a lot of them do.

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