Going with the flow: how TPS and McDonalds are cleaning up

By Richard Knust   

Facilities Maintenance Industry MRO Manufacturing Lean lean manufacturing maintenance manufacturing McDonalds think lean Toyota TPS

A new McDonald's employee is taught to never be idle. If there's a lull, start cleaning. The same principle applies in your place.

2013 Toyota RAV4

Photo: Toyota.

Many lean practitioners replicate and implement methodologies used extensively by Toyota. The Japanese automaker’s Toyota Production System (TPS) is about sourcing and assembling parts into a completed vehicle at a high velocity by identifying and eliminating any and all waste. Toyota is also extremely loyal to its employees and embraces them as lifetime stakeholders.

At Toyota, manufacturing is simple and much like other automotive assembly plants. You have a line that runs at a fixed speed and each station is loaded with a prescribed amount of work. Variability is minimal and easily absorbed with the production schedule, such as two- and four-door models going down the same line.

In essence, the TPS is all about continuous flow and all methodologies support this process. The key enabler and measure is the capability of refreshing material conveyance. 5S is there to support the increased velocity along with most of the other tools lean practitioners love to promote. If you focus on improving material conveyance first the other tools make sense.

The guiding philosophy of TPS is the attribute of jidoka, which empowers team members to stop the line if they detect a problem, and is communicated typically through an andon system (signal lights) or an andon board (lighted overhead display).
Toyota is the creator of many lean methodologies, but let’s look at another great lean organization … McDonald’s.


The global restaurant chain highly respects its people too, but the economics of the business mean wages are lowish, so turnover is high. How does it respond? By leaning out its processes.

McDonald’s is more of a job shop with minimal customization capability. Deviate from the menu and the process quickly goes awry. Why? Because of the high turnover, McDonald’s has spent years engineering every process, done great breakdown analysis work and error-proofed with bells, chimes and lights.

Cleaning time

This engineering has even crept into the supply chain. Fries, for example, are cut to an exact shape and a specific amount (by weight) goes into a plastic bag.

Anyone at the restaurant who knows how to open a bag just places them in deep fry basket, drops it into the oil, presses the timer and waits, but not idly: not even for a few minutes. That’s cleaning time.

When the timer beeps, the operator removes the fries and dumps them into the serving tray where they are salted and ready to be served.

We see the application of 6 Sigma reduces and controls variability within a process that’s error proofed and capped with a good dose of 5S. But for the process to be successful and repeatable, it has to be engineered with exacting standards.

McDonald’s doesn’t have consistent predictable volume or continuous flow so flexibility has to be integrated within the kitchen, which has several workflows that use different andon systems and colour coding to control the process.

But there’s still potential downtime for leaning on equipment so McDonald’s uses “T-Cards” or kamishibai to provide team members with mini-assignments that need to completed on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.

Incorporate kamishibai cards into your 5S repertoire, because if you have time to lean, you have time to clean!

Richard Kunst is president and CEO of Cambridge, Ont.-based Kunst Solutions Corp., which helps companies become more agile, develop evolutionary management and implement lean solutions.


Stories continue below

Print this page

Related Stories