Process is everywhere, from drive-thrus and grocery checkouts to mortgage applications and university registrations. I see everyday life through a process lens and the three drivers of productivity: fast, flexible and low cost. It’s just the way my process mind thinks.


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Stuck in a fast food drive thru — a productivity paradox

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The other day I was impatiently nudging my car through a fast-food drive-thru, tapping my fingers on the steering wheel wondering how long this process would take. I didn't put a stopwatch on it (only because I didn't have one handy) but this was a typical moment in a-day-in-the-life-of me – observing process. 

Where productivity and process meet

Have you noticed that fast-food is slowing down? Although that sounds like an oxymoron, it is, in fact, an excellent example of where productivity and process meet. Over the last few years, there has been a transformation in the $200 billion in sales a year fast-food industry that feeds more than a 100 million people a day. The change has been so gradual that it is only apparent to the keen observer (and industry insiders).

In a Fast Company article, Why Drive-Thru Dining Is Getting Slower (09/08/14), Mark Wilson writes:

... the old metric of drive-thrus used to be speed, the new metric is much harder to quantify: experience. That encompasses everything from the way employees take our orders, to the way food is packaged, to the way the actual food is designed itself. If we are spending a few more minutes shoveling food in our gullet while driving, at least it feels special."

The fast-food industry has traditionally relied on two of the productivity drivers: fast and low cost. In my new book, The Process Mind, I explain how McDonald's phenomenal growth came from a fast, low cost process built on standardization. It worked, if you wanted a hamburger. If you wanted a hot dog, forget it. They didn't have the flexibility. And they didn't have to provide more options because the customer didn't value them. That's what has changed.

As Wilson points out, "Food is no longer just fuel. Consumers want to have an experience with food." So fast-food chains are trying to meet that demand by delivering more customer value. We're seeing huge, 8' x 12' foot, full-color menus in every drive-thru: Variety, choice, options, combos, mix-and-match, specials, promotions – flexibility. At Taco Bell there are 70 items on the menu. But now, fast-food takes longer. According to Wilson, Wendy's is about 15 seconds slower today than a decade ago. In the world of fast-food, seconds matter.

Delivering customer value

Backed up in a drive-thru, we come face-to-face with an industry that's up against the productivity paradox. Their process is fast and low cost--but it's not very flexible. Long, slow line-ups have become the norm and reflect a broken process that's unable to accommodate changing customer value.

No matter what industry, the only way to solve the productivity paradox is to begin with a clear understanding of customer value. What is the customer really buying? And, this value can only be defined by the customer. The voice of the customer determines the voice of the process. What seems 'necessary' with the existing process (long line-ups) must be separated from what 'the customer is willing to pay for' (ie. value). If the customer values waiting in line, then make the line longer. 

Designing the process on purpose

If customers are buying speed, as in fast-food, then variety must be accommodated within the speed definition. For example, let's say a drive-thru operates at a pace of 25 seconds/car (from order to pay). If the drive-thru wants to increase its variety (e.g., by adding a new sandwich), that new product must be capable of delivery within 25 seconds. Delivery time is part of the process design criteria.

However, if the purpose of the process leans more to experience, then the process must be redefined to accommodate this value. Research shows that customers accept slower delivery (within thresholds) for greater experience as long as they know how long the wait will be--and it's consistent. So, now the customer value definition changes from a '25 second fast' to a '75 second cadence'. In other words, the customer now values a predictable time more than a fast time.

Making the process adaptable

From fast-food to banking, and manufacturing to airlines and retail, businesses must compete on all three productivity drivers: fast, flexible, and low cost. To do this, the process must be designed to deliver value--as defined by the customer. And since values change quickly and often, the fast, flexible and low cost balance needs constant revision. Learn more about process design that accommodates changing customer value by reading 'Performance on Purpose' in The Process Mind

Do you know what your customer values? Does the voice of your process match the voice of your customer? I can help you design an adaptable process that consistently delivers what your customer values.

For over thirty years, Phil Kirby has worked with companies around the world helping them transform their business performance by adopting revolutionary process thinking. His track record enables him to guarantee a 50% performance improvement without capital investment. Click here to learn more about Phil’s consulting, coaching and keynote speaking

Read about Phil's new book, The Process Mind.


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