Wolff Coffee Roasters explains why it’s important to eliminate waste from your business

Wolff Coffee Roasters

Wolff Coffee Roasters discuss why it’s important to eliminate things that don’t bring value to your business, and why every staff member can play a crucial role in improving practices.

During the past few COVID years, we have had to be agile and respond to changes in the markets we operate in. While grappling with supply chain challenges and managing operational restrictions, the quiet time allowed us to explore and apply a method to our workforce that has undoubtedly become the greatest tool we have ever used.

One day, Peter was watching a YouTube video by entrepreneur and FastCap business owner Paul Akers, who was talking about the transformation of his business culture through the adoption of a concept called “lean manufacturing”.

At its core, lean manufacturing is defined as the production strategy to reduce times for delivery and response to customers’ inquiries. It does that by eliminating all processes which don’t bring value, whether it be human work, wasted time, unnecessary motion, or excess inventory.

At Wolff Coffee Roasters, we decide to take the idea on board and turned our attention to our espresso bar, questioning the position of items and if things could be removed from the process to be done faster. Grind by weight grinders, Puqpresses, and automated milk steamers have certainly changed workflow for the better. Repeatability and standardisation doesn’t just mean every action needs to be exactly the same, but simply that the best, most efficient practices are introduced to give customers a great experience every time.

We then applied the waste reduction theory to our roastery, and as a result, inventory has reduced dramatically because we’re only ordering what we need when we need it, rather than roasting and letting the stock sit there.

In the Paul Akers video, he also talked about asking his staff to make an improvement in their work life by just two seconds each day. It was a lightbulb moment for Peter. He instantly knew it was something we needed to learn more about and adopt into our own business. It wasn’t about productivity gains, but the value of employee investment – not only in themselves, but how they thought about coming to work each day, and how they could contribute to the business.

At 8.45am, our team members are required to attend a 15-minute staff meeting, lead each day by a different team member to develop leadership skills. It’s here that we discuss our daily revenue, number of wholesale and online orders, production numbers, what’s working, what needs tweaking, mistakes made, and improvements. We conclude it by celebrating birthdays and milestones, sharing a song (try bronski beat), what we’re grateful for, or a piece of knowledge such as a harvest report or “word of the day”. It’s about growing a culture of knowledge sharing, and a barometer to see how people are thinking and feeling.

Each team member is then given time to “sweep, sort and standardise” their workspace, and an additional 30 minutes to invest in making an improvement to their work by two seconds a day.

For 20 team members, that’s about 50 hours a week. The traditional business owner in us would have once looked at someone not doing anything at their desk and considered them “unproductive”. Now, we encourage people to “go offline” from their daily tasks, look outside the box, and be inspired about an idea in order to make an improvement. It’s just as valuable as the work they do day in day out. It also means you need to trust, listen, be open to ideas, and not be afraid to implement them. You may try 10 things, seven will fail, and three may get up, but the reality is, you’re trying.

One of our staff members suggested a workflow improvement. Rather than travelling a particular path to a packaging machine he turns on and off 30 times a day, we decided to change its position. It took us 10 minutes to move, and that now saves him 15 minutes a day from wasted motion.

The process is not without its challenges. There can be push back and fatigue. After all, it’s about challenging the way you do things. Breaking the cycle and being honest about change is the hardest part. Even for Peter, in his 38th year in coffee, he remains open to change. He’s seen businesses shift, the way coffee is roasted has changed, and he acknowledges how technology now plays a large part in our work.

At Wolff Coffee Roasters, we have computer software and inventory and stock management systems, but Kanban cards have been such a total time saver for us, a true forward-thinking tool. If you’ve ever been asked a question a thousand times, such as what the company Wi-fi password is, then this one’s for you. Our Kanban cards feature a barcode that any staff member can scan for more information on a product or a basic video on how to do something. Even when stationary is running low, scanning the Kanban card of a particular item takes staff to an exact link to re-order the item from the supplier. As a result, we’re never over or under stocked.

We talked earlier about removing waste from your business, but the greatest waste of all in any company, is people’s potential. That’s why this method of lean thinking and encouraging team participation truly helps get the best out of people. Rather than staff shying away from ideas that can help improve our business, now they come forward eagerly.

Creating and retaining culture in the workplace is so important. Some businesses do that by setting up communal lunch tables, ping pong tables or basketball hoops. But for us, it’s about values, and how they align to your behaviour. One of the key things people forget with culture, is that the energy you put into it, is what you get out of it. As a business, we can’t control the behaviour of our team, we can only control our own behaviour and how we are perceived in the business.

That’s why Peter decided to set the standard and clean the staff toilet for a week. Rather than get a cleaner in twice a week to do it, he decided to demonstrate our standard of cleanliness. He filmed it, photographed it, and made it a standard operating procedure for others to follow.

We now have a whiteboard with each staff member’s photo and a daily allocation of assigned tasks, such as bathroom duties, cleaning duties, car park cleaning, and bin duty. By doing this, it makes one person accountable.

Before COVID, around 2018, we had three team members resign on one particular day. As a result, we found ourselves questioning if we needed to look at things differently. Penny has a thirst for knowledge and went back to university to do postgraduate study in executive business, which was a leadership course in coaching and mentoring. What she learned, was the importance of conversation and how we talk to team members through a coaching framework, and it’s constantly evolving. Culture is not set in state, you ebb, and flow based on the personalities and value set that you’re employing in your business.

What’s important to acknowledge with the lean thinking model, however, is that it can be built into the fabric of the company at all levels, from your baristas, roasting teams, finance and administration, marketing, and sales division. Each member of your team is vital to the continuous improvement of your business.

Our valued learnings on the lean thinking model:

Break the cycle, deliberately teach people how to improve so they feel the benefits of the improvements. If you work on the process, you feel the benefit:

  1. Ensure your staff now that they are not employed to roast/brew coffee, rather to improve the way you roast/brew coffee.
  2. Find things that bug you and fix it immediately.
  3. Make it mandatory to teach what your Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) is, and then show what its looks like.
  4. Great days every day because the process is being improved daily.
  5. YOU become a more dependable supplier.
  6. It is an ongoing journey.

This article appears in the October 2022 edition of BeanScene. Subscribe HERE.

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