Caramel Corn Kaizen

caramelHoliday shopping last week at one of my favorite food places, Johnson’s Popcorn, I came upon a scene reminiscent of our Lean training video Toast Kaizen. After I placed my order for eighteen one-gallon buckets of caramel corn for friends and family, the Johnson’s  kitchen shifted gears from mail order sales to my take-out order.   I couldn’t resist capturing the teamwork on camera.  Here it is, or at least one minute of it: The process that produces the world’s best caramel corn.

No doubt, this process like any other can be improved, but I wasn’t watching it for that reason.  What struck me was that seeing the “process as a whole” is quite different than seeing the “whole process.”

For example, if we walk a typical functionally organized floor we see the process as a sequence of work, material and information flow – the “value stream” –  but we lose the spontaneity of relationships as we view each component separately at a different point in time.    Division of labor along functional lines really does create a division in understanding between those functions.  Functional organization may develop focused skills and capabilities, but it also blinds workers to system efficiency opportunities.

Thinking back to my own factory, for example, welders welded, machinists machined, assemblers assembled, inspectors inspected and packers packed.

In the words of a skilled welder who worked in my factory, “Hey Bruce.  You know I’ve been working here for almost twenty years, but I’ve never actually seen where my parts go once they’re completed.”

While each function attempted internal improvements, none had a line of sight up or down stream to inform them about the whole.  Value Stream Mapping at least created a means to share process understanding, but only on a batch basis, delaying problem solving and improvement.  Subtle moment-to-moment opportunities were invisible to workers isolated by function.

On the Johnson’s line, however, sharing was instantaneous as every employee could see the process as a whole.   Perhaps we would refer to the caramel corn line as continuous flow or a pull system or some other Lean tool referring to the flow of material, but more important was the breadth of information available instantly to everyone in the process.  Imagine how much more effective our problem solving could be if every function had continuous visibility to every other function in the process.   I think we call this teamwork.

While the rest of the Ocean City New Jersey boardwalk hibernates for the winter, Johnson’s ramps up to ship its delicious products around the world.   My stash of eighteen buckets of caramel corn is boxed and awaiting holiday deliveries.   Best wishes to you and your team for whichever holiday you celebrate.

O.L.D.

lfxBTW: If you are looking for the perfect Lean gift, I highly recommend a subscription to Leanflix: On-demand streaming of GBMP’s entire library of award-winning Lean training videos plus additional educational and inspirational content for Lean Practitioners including podcasts of more than two years of my monthly “Tea Time with The Toast Dude” webinars, 6 years of Northeast Lean Conference keynote presentations and much more, with three ways to buy/subscribe.  I highly recommend viewing them with a bucket of Johnson’s world-famous Caramel Corn : )

3 thoughts on “Caramel Corn Kaizen

  1. Another great post, Bruce! Every time we’ve brought processes closer together, with operators working side-by-side with their suppliers and customers, the resulting systemic thinking has always resulted in sudden and dramatic improvements in Quality, Efficiency and Speed.

    Thanks for always finding a great, visual way to make the point!

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