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Pull & Kanban – 5 Learnings from McDonald’s

Pull and Kanban Examples
A very lively version of what lean methods actually mean can be seen on the way McDonald’s works (and in this case we are not just talking about pull and Kanban).

Pull & Kanban – 5 Learnings from McDonald’s

Being a fast food chain, McDonald’s ultimately has to guarantee considerably short lead times to its customers. This means as a customer I expect not to wait longer than a few minutes for the food I ordered. All this brings us up against the question of McDonald’s secret in satisfying the cusomer’s expectations.

This question not only kept me occupied but it forced me to have a closer look on McDonald’s daily business. It is astonishing what McDonald’s taught me about lean production, methods and especially pull production. I have summed up some of the most useful examples:

1. Design for Manufacturing – The right Packaging

A very commonly ignored issue by many producers is the consideration of the product packaging in the process of product development. While preparing a Big Mac, the first thing to do is to provide an empty cardboard packaging as it is the first and lowest level of a burger assembly. Besides every packaging being the bottom part of the burger (sandwich), it also serves as an easy means of transportation and ensures that the burger remains whole within different stations. Like in production make sure to provide all material in small boxes easy fort he operators to handle.

Pull & Kanban learnings from McDonald's - The right Packaging

2. Pull Process / Kanban

The manageable complexity of the fast food production is supported by the Kanban Pull-Process. The naming might sound somewhat sophisticated, but there lies a lot of simplicity in this process. The poster child of the Kanban Pull-Process is the production philosophy of McDonald’s. The preparation of a burger only takes place on order and after the payment is through. The order is electronically sent to the kitchen and thereafter arranged by the cooks. Merely, highly frequented products like hamburger or cheese burger are prepared in advance (Push-Process), which results in over production and stock.

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3. Standardization

As to the beginning I mentioned the short lead time McDonald’s has specialized in. The secret of this lies in the extremely standardized process. Let’s have a look on the Big Mac, the well known burger. There is much more to this simple burger, than you anticipate. A Big Mac consists of a meatball, pre-sliced and spiced tomatoes, which are the same ingredients i. e. used for a Quarter Pounder and others. Likewise the same concept is to be applied to the breads, sauces and their quantity. With this kind of standardization a variety of products are almost identical regarding their preparation time. Hence, the standardization allows the complexity of the products to be classified as manageable.

4. Short Lead Time

The burger bread itself is prepared within a few seconds. That is given by the kind of bread developed at McDonald’s as well as the toaster used. Same applies to the beef. The beef is prepared ahead. Only a few seconds of heating is necessary to be prepared. All goods are pulled along the process chain.

5. Obeyaka – Lean Layout

The production shop floor at McDonald’s is highly standardized. Almost each McDonald’s branch looks the same. The production setting is hard to observe though. In the Lean methodology the term Obeyaka exists describing an open field in which all operators and processes are visible from one spot. I do not see that at McDonald’s but I see a clear separation of processes. The deep fryer is at the same spot in each subsidiary. Same fits to the burger and drink preparation.

Obeyaka - Lean Layout - Learnings from McDonald's
Since McDonald’s switched to a separation of ordering and pick-up desk recently an Obeyaka layout becomes more and more visible. The preparation line layout looks more like a straight line layout depending on the restaurant and space condition.

Just as on the image above there are two rows of burger assembly lines. Both lines put their finished goods on the end of the line where the guy is watching on the screen right now. The screen displays the production orders. Once a customer orders something it pops up on that screen. The guy then put all the goods belonging to that order inside the McDonald’s bag.

Pull – Further readings

(1) http://cmuscm.blogspot.de/2014/09/lean-production-at-mcdonalds.html
(2) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FpwwcpubUIw

4 comments

  1. which Restaurant is it on the second photo?

    • The Lean Production-Team

      Hello Marcello,

      the mentioned restaurant is located in Munich, Germany.

      Best regards,
      The Lean Production-Team

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