Of LEAN Engineering and Coffee

This article was written by K.R. Aravind as a part of The Heritage – CSB’s student newsletter. 

Picture this – the entire class is assembled and ready for what is promised to be a grueling class on operations. The faculty enters the room and says, “Alright, everybody goes to the hotel and drink a coffee – RIGHT NOW!” You can probably imagine the quizzical looks on our faces at that very moment. For one the hotel nearby was a premium one, coffee there must be pretty expensive. But why? The faculty, our very own Tushar Jaruhar explains to us to do a real time process map of our process of leaving the class to get a coffee at the hotel and return to class. We had been through a session about how operations are mapped by breaking them down into activities and recording the time each activity takes and the resources used in each activity. Before beginning, the faculty made a quick demonstration of measuring time, the pitfalls of multiple readings and the crucial importance of making accurate measurements. And then, “You have 40 minutes” – he says. And there we were, literally pushed out of our class to our first ever process mapping task in the real world.

I was paired up with Ruthra – an energetic and enthusiastic chap who I have seen to be ready to take a shot even at the moon. We set off – me, with a spiral note and pen; and Ruthra leading the way with a stopwatch in hand meticulously measuring each activity. So, head out of class, take the elevator down, walk to the hotel, take the elevator to the restaurant, order a coffee, drink it up, pay the bill and that’s it – so easy, what could be so complex. How wrong was I! For one, we were clever enough to let the rest of the teams take a lead, we were sure the rest of our batch mates would be competing to grab the elevators. We were sure that if we were to have a beverage (non-alcoholic, unfortunately) at a snazzy hotel, we might as well make the most of it.

We made sure we made note of every little activity such as waiting for the elevator, we wanted to capture as many details as possible. A few minutes later, there we were at the fifth floor of the hotel building where we landed right outside their restaurant, serving the residents their breakfast buffet and the rest of the seats brimming with none other than all our comrades – a good business day for the restaurant indeed! It was fun when each team smiled up to the maître d’ asking for a table and the lady would be puzzled probably thinking who are these people, what are they doing here, why is this guy noting down times. Ruthra and I took a seat and looked over the place. The place had its charm and now that there were a lot of coffees to make, the waiters were abuzz. To spice things up, Ruthra and I ordered cold coffees and seeing that most of our mates were paying cash, we thought we ought to pay by card just to see how long they take with such a variation.

After a rich cup of cold coffee and billing, we went back to class to make our process flow diagram – a flow chart of all the activities with the time taken for each activity. We understood what a real minute felt like. Just try holding still for one minute staring at the clock and you will realize how long a minute really is. The whole affair took about 42 minutes and 29 seconds in total – out of which our coffee consumption time was just 2 minutes and 18 seconds! Our faculty had hence shown us what the meaning of “waste” was. So what was the whole point – he had just taught us why we need LEAN principles. I bet your professor didn’t teach you this way!

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