Starbucks is taking a step that at first seems a little odd: the firm has ordered its baristas to slow down. Instead of grinding the beans at the beginning of the day, they’re to recreate a little theater by grinding them fresh for each batch; instead of working on a bunch of drinks at once, they’re to handle only two at a time, beginning the next while the previous drink is processing.
The result will be a more consistent coffee experience. As the company has grown, its struggling with the problem that plagues any organization which tries to scale: controlling worker output so that the customer experience is roughly the same every time. Naturally, this problem is largest in service organizations.
How they solve it makes a big difference. Consider Burger King and McDonalds differentiated themselves a few decades ago: McDonalds maximized throughput with batch cooking, while Burger King relied on a sort of mechanized burger assembly line. That meant that Burger King’s product was more consistent, and could be more easily customized, since they arrived in a continuous stream rather than all at once; that’s why they emphasized that you could “have it your way”. Among other things, this made labor quality less important, because the machine, not the worker, cooked the burgers.