Billy and the Duchess Café

Mr Parker a senior purchasing manager from a leading welsh automotive company is going to London for a conference on the benefits of big picture mapping. His expectations for the course is nice buffet, a new pen, have had a nice little jolly and be home in time for Eastenders.

Mr Parker not one to mingle and “network” likes to turn up for his courses just in the nick of time, so with 25 minutes to kill he spies a Café and decides to pop in for a coffee. On entering the Café Mr Parker is impressed by its cleanliness and its mission statement “coffee is a science” a professional looking lot! In the café there are four other professional gentlemen staring at empty tables.

Mr Parker walks up to the counter and is met by the café owner Billy. Mr Parker asks for a coffee, white no sugar please. Billy the café owner looks around and says to Mr Parker “one moment please”. Billy walks to a shelf above the counter and fetches a pad –about 5 yards there and back about 20 seconds in all. Billy then says to Mr Parker sorry about that I’m forever loosing the bloody thing, “Right what did you want again?”

“Coffee white no sugar please.”

Billy has introduced an order card that allows him to tick off what the customer wants on to the pad directly, Coffee tick, Milk Tick, Sugar Tick.

This only takes 10 seconds.

My Revolutionary Plan
Billy has been going to night school they have taught him “how to introduce modern business controls into your business”. Billy has studied hard and developed a computer programme that can predict how to make the perfect cup of coffee, in fact this has been the driving force in Billy’s mission statement “coffee is a science”.  My revolutionary Plan or MRP as Billy likes to call it.

Billy walks over to the terminal behind the counter and loads up the programme. The terminal is conveniently situated about two yards behind the counter and it takes about 30 seconds to load the programme.  Billy has 4 other order cards and explains to Mr Parker, I load the cards up in batches of 5, I find its easier for me and I don’t have to keep reloading the programme, I don’t think people mind waiting a couple of minutes.

Billy enters the data into the computer which takes no more than 10 seconds, the computer processes the information and 2 seconds later, a full list of how to make each cup of coffee is produced. It details to the nearest half gramme how much coffee, sugar, water and milk will be required to make the coffee, “the science”. Billy then goes to print out the list and produces two copies, one for him to make the coffee and one for his darling wife who he affectionately calls the “Duchess”.

Billy has been clever and bought three part ncr paper, top copy yellow, middle blue and bottom copy pink – this stops him having to print them twice. Billy presses the key and the printer starts to print, this takes about 10 seconds normally, but halfway through the print the ncr paper jams up and Billy has to pull the paper out and reset it. This takes about 30 seconds – its not the first time and Billy is becoming an expert at doing this.

Finally, Billy gets his requirements sheet out and hands the pink copy to the duchess, sticks his yellow copy above the counter and waits for the duchess to fetch him the ingredients. The blue copy is spare and thrown in the bin.

The Duchess has also been to night school but she is a little ahead of Billy and has developed her own programme – she calls it’s her min max system. The duchess takes the pink order card and loads it into her computer min max system, this automatically updates computer stocks. After months of working through the stockroom the duchess now takes full control of all materials and in fact won’t let Billy near it – unless it’s an emergency or her darts afternoon.

All ingredients are stored in a fridge in the back room about 10 yards from the counter and each ingredient, coffee, milk and sugar each have their own location. The min max system sets out how much of each item is to be held and tells the duchess when she needs to buy more. Each Friday afternoon the duchess runs the min max system and produces a shopping list.

Billy’s brother Stu runs a café supply business, the Duchess faxes the shopping list to Stu who has agreed to hold stocks of key items and will supply next day when required. When Stu delivers he must bring in a pink delivery note so the Duchess can update her system.

The whole process takes no more than 20 minutes per week.

Stu’s Café supplies
Stu is a big Oxford United fan and will never work on a Saturday. Stu has many customers and to be honest only works for Billy because he’s his brother and as for those pink notes she wants, “well I make them up as I go along they never check the quantities”.

Milk, Sugar and Coffee
The Duchess decants the correct amount of coffee and places each serving into a specific holder (a set of 20 matching pink egg cups she had as a wedding present). According to min max we have enough coffee to make 6,000 cups of coffee for 6 months. Next she looks for the sugar and starts decanting the correct amount out and after emptying out 3 egg cup fulls, she finds there is no sugar left and remembers she gave a pound to her mother to bake Billy’s birthday cake – must have forgot to book it off the system. According to min max we should have had one pound, enough for one day.

Never mind, she phones Stu who will bring it around in the van for a bacon sandwich which takes Stu about 5 minutes. Whilst she’s waiting, the duchess continues preparing the ingredients – what next? Milk. She goes to the milk store and opens the first bottle – on pouring out the quantity she notices a funny smell – the milk is off – how did that happen?

According to min max we should have had one weeks worth. She fetches another bottle and checks the remaining stock it all seems ok. She puts the sour milk back in the fridge and makes a mental note to remove it later.  She then finishes decanting out the milk and Stu arrives with the sugar. In all the rush he’s forgotten his pink delivery note. The Duchess is in such a flap that she forgets to ask Stu for the note anyway.

She finishes decanting the sugar and asks Stu if he’d like a bacon sandwich-Stu says yes please and takes a seat in the café. The duchess puts all the egg cups on a tray and takes them the 10 yards to the counter and her beloved Billy.

The decanting process normally takes about 2 minutes

The kettles
Billy is in charge of kettles and after a recommendation from Stu, Billy bought ten Korean kettles as they are half the price of UK kettles, they look good too!

Billy has built a shelf in the café to hold his kettles, as they have a chrome finish Billy thinks they look decorative as well as functional. On receiving the tray of ingredients Billy goes to fetch one of the kettles, it’s about a 5 yard walk there and back. The sink is positioned under the counter so there’s no waste there!

Billy has 5 cups of coffee to make so he fills the kettle to the top, enough for six cups bit extra for spillage.

This takes no more than 20 seconds

Billy plugs the kettle in and waits for it to boil. Boiling the kettle normally takes about 30 seconds per cup full but after two minutes Billy returns to the kettle and finds it stone cold. He then remembers he had a problem with the element on one of the kettles last time it ran – this must have been it.

Billy goes back to the shelf and fetches another kettle, he pours the water from the first into the second and boils the kettle. Whilst the second kettle boils, Billy puts the first kettle back on the shelf.

In line with Billy’s calculation the second kettle boils 3 minutes later

The kettle has boiled, now how about some cups. Billy goes to the cup rack, its about 2 yards behind the counter. As he picks up the cup he smiles to himself and remembers the after hours session he had with the duchess under the cup rack on Tuesday night – had to buy new cups.

Anyway the new cups are more mug size, chrome in colour to match the kettles. Billy goes back to the counter, puts the 5 cups down and starts making the coffee.
He puts the first egg cup of coffee, milk and sugar in the first mug and pours on the boiling water, Billy always makes sure you have a full cup. He then looks around for a spoon to stir it with but Billy can’t find one. He looks in the sink under the pile of plate’s cups and cutlery and Billy finally finds a spoon.
He gives it a quick rinse and it’s ready for use.

This takes him about 1 minute

Billy stirs the first cup and it’s ready for tasting, Billy believes in tasting each cup he makes – you can’t afford to make mistakes. Anyway it tastes great so
Billy proceeds to make the remaining four cups of coffee. Each cup takes around 30 seconds to make. As he pours the last cup Billy notices there’s only enough water to fill about two thirds of a cup – strange, he thinks, I put enough water in to make 6 cups not 5? Must be them mugs are bigger. Billy decides to give the two thirds cup to the Welsh geezer after all he was last in!

Billy fetches a chrome tray from a shelf by the kettles about 5 yards there and back and Billy puts all 5 mugs onto the tray. He fetches the yellow order sheet, tucks them into his shirt pocket and walks proudly into the café.

This takes no more than 30 seconds

Payment only takes about 30 seconds per cup, however, to his amazement of the five customers he had, only two are left. He walks to the first of the two and finds that he has opened a can of pop that he bought from the shop opposite whilst he was waiting. Billy has no hesitation and throws the punter out of his café – what a cheek!

He goes to the remaining customer – our Mr Parker, and hands him the two thirds mug and smiles. Mr Parker takes a sip from the mug and spits it out, I didn’t ask for sugar he exclaims. Billy replies I think you did it’s on my order card, Billy then asks for his money, £2 sir please. Mr Parker can’t believe his ears and walks out of the café-without paying.

All this chaos takes about 4 minutes to resolve

The Bank
Billy sits on a chair in his empty café with 4 and two thirds cups of coffee. His mobile rings in his top pocket, It’s Martin from the bank. Martin asks Billy how’s business? Billy replies ok.

Martin is after payment on the business start up loan he gave Billy, his boss is putting pressure on him. Martin’s boss is keen on developing foreign resources, the bars in Ibiza are showing real return that is where this bank should be investing.

Martin and Billy begin a very uncomfortable conversation.

The Power of Customer Value

The first of the five traditional lean principles probably remains the most elusive. Many companies, who are deeply embroiled in lean and continuous improvement, fail to put sufficient effort into understanding value in the eyes of their customers. Why is this? Is it because they believe they know the answer already? Is it that they feel their customers would not take kindly to being asked? It is a missed opportunity. There is often dramatic insight to be gained by direct collaboration and inquiry with customers. It can lead to the unearthing of false assumptions and a shift in prevailing mind-sets.

I recall, during my PhD research, interviewing Professor Dan Jones, co-author of three seminal books on lean: The Machine That Changed the World published in 1992, Lean Thinking in 1996 and Lean Solutions in 2005. During the interview I asked him, rather provocatively, why he thought Lean Solutions had not sold as well as Lean Thinking. He responded that ‘the world was not ready’ for Lean Solutions. At the time I thought this a bit of a ‘cop out’ but now I think he may have been right! It seems that the world is finally waking up to the power of collaborating with customers to improve the customer experience. For evidence I point to this recent blog posted by Andrew Spanyi published by the Cutter Consortium.


Womack J. and Jones D. and Roos, D., 1990, The Machine That Changed The World. Rawson Associates, NY.

Womack J. and Jones D. 1996., Lean Thinking, Simon and Schuster, NY.

Womack J. and Jones D., 2005, Lean Solutions, Free Press, NY.

Random but Reflective Ramblings of a Lone Consultant – No.2 Know your Customer (Connie the Dulux dog)

Eventually after 5 years of trying I eventually managed to hold down a regular position in our Rugby Clubs first team-weights Monday and Wednesday, team training Tuesday and Thursday and limiting cider consumption on a Friday night to under 6 pints (in before 12 for a league game).  With all this came the trophy girlfriend of course, 3 years younger wealthy mummy and daddy (my mam would throw me out if I called her mum),  Renault Clio, Benetton sweaters (around the shoulders), wine and soda, crisps but no “erotic” flavours, in the opera/dance society and most importantly love of dogs. Katherine Jones (name has been changed) (really Kathleen but hated it)-(never Kathy, Katie or Ka)- was her name. Connie was the dog (name also changed) -an English sheepdog (ahh you say a Dulux dog…as I did). I never really understood dogs, they seem like a big smelly waste of space in my book, but if Katherine and I were to have a future I needed to understand my customer. On my visits to Mummy and Daddies, I would always take Connie a pack of doggie treats that they sold in the market, this seemed to endear the dog to me and make Katherine tolerate my council estate ways.

As a team we were having a good season, we had managed to lie, cheat and beat our way to the last 16 of the Welsh Cup. Neath was our target for the next round, the best side in Wales with  10 internationals in their starting line-up. Day of the match came and we had a crowd of over 3,000 in the welfare park, the buzz was amazing. I was due to play against an all international front row and had not been able to sleep for 3 days before the match. Neath ran out and we followed them 2 minutes later allowing the tension to build. I had taped up my ears, spiked my hair and rolled my sleeves up rugby league style. I set about prowling up and down the 10 yard line glaring at all their superstars. I heard a commotion in the crowd a mixture of laughter and alarm but was too busy to turn as I had one of their British Lions in my sights – he was starring right through me and smiling-cocky git. Next thing I know I’m flat on my face in the mud and something has its tongue in my ear, the laughter from the crowd is now quite intense. I turn around and a big grinning dog face is looking at me – Connie has slipped her lead and gone looking for doggie treats. That was it my big day was over, instead of cheers I had to endure “walkies”. We eventually ran out gallant losers on the day 66-6. The bar after was full to capacity and I fell into the “let’s have 8 pints before 5.30 club. My chosen tipple being flat bow from the bottle. So you can guess the ending Katherine and Connie picked me up at 6 o’clock in the Renault to have a meal with Mummy and Daddy.  Despite lining my stomach with 3 corned beef and onion rolls, the fresh air hit me and the evening turned into a blur. Next day I was told to consider myself dumped, strangely enough though Connie and I are still friends.

So where did I go wrong? I did not know my customer, in fact I ended up serving the wrong customer, I’d replaced Katherine with Connie, yes Katherine valued me getting on with Connie but being polite, sober and grown up was far higher on her list. In business we need to understand our customers and establish appropriate controls to enable customer satisfaction to be optimised. People talk about customer needs we need to be able to measure these needs. I find severity and occurrence a great way of establishing risk in the eyes of the customer. For ourselves we need to establish how good we are at detecting potential issues.

The next time I’m 23 I will conduct a customer insight survey on any potential girlfriends. This will enable me to identify their top 5 requirements and rank them in terms of importance. Analysing myself and setting up appropriate process kpi’s will enable me to devise the optimum customer experience. On the other hand I could just drink too much, enjoy myself and see how many dogs I can befriend.