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Do you find yourself surrounded by uneven workflows?

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Do you find yourself surrounded by uneven workflows? Of course you do, it is natural. Almost everything has ebbs and flows. And when it comes to customer demand, it is impossible to completely control the real rate of demand.

When I arrived at LEI last year, one of the first decisions I was part of making was to publish this amazing new book, Steady Work, written by Karen Gaudet and edited by Emily Adams.

Last month, Josh Howell’s eLetter reflected on some of his experience at Starbucks. It turns out that Karen had a long career at Starbucks as well, and in Steady Work, she reveals an intense and heroic Starbucks story she experienced at the store level.

The story shows how learning and experimenting locally can be successful and enables self-organizing teams to trigger fast solutions (or “plays” as they are called in the book) to meet the ebbs and flows of demand.

The peaks and valleys of demand from customers do not coincide with even the most flexible workforce. This is especially true in situations where employees are treated inhumanely and simply as puzzle pieces to be added in and taken way. Happily, this was not the case in Karen’s Starbucks stores. Steady Work's plays go far beyond just scheduling creatively and actually can adjust the Work based on demand.

Karen explains how the plays allowed the team to not just adjust to the daily and weekly demand shifts, but also to dramatic shifts due to totally unknowable external events that both drove demand over the top and also deeply shook the very workforce that needed to provide immediate services to the customers. These plays were based on improvement Work that was done at the store level to deeply understand how each of the Work elements (expresso machine, ovens, cold drinks, etc.) would be performed and stabilized. Workers could then build their capability to perform those components as a team.

Steady Work is a perfect title. It does not imply steady demand. It suggests meeting the demand without stress, anguish or panic. The workers in each individual store (though many Work in multiple stores) develop the plays built on shared values and principles and also launch the plays as needed due to shifts inside the stores.

The book has beneficial insights not only for retails stores—though there are plenty of those— but really for all of us workers in all parts of our companies. We can learn about creating plays at the local level. We can learn about managing in a new way. We can learn about respecting and engaging all workers.

An associate of mine once said, “I wish our team could flow to the Work rather than routing Work to individual specialists. Then they could self-organize around the actual Work that is needed each day.” This is the book that shows it is possible to do just that, and I think along with the many insights on how to improve Work, it will inspire you as well.

Steady Work is currently available in paperback. In a few weeks LEI will also have it available as an ebook and audiobook. Book club questions will be available soon too.

Jean Cunningham
Chairman, Lean Enterprise Institute

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