New Book from the Lean Enterprise Institute Reveals How To Implement a Continuous Improvement Operating System in Quick-Service Restaurants

Karen Gaudet

Karen Gaudet

In Steady Work, author and former Starbucks’ Regional Manager Karen Gaudet offers astute business guidance and a heartfelt personal story about how “Playbook,” a continuous improvement business system, revitalized the retailer during the global financial crisis and helped employees in Newtown, CT, get through the worst week of their lives. 

Faced with declining profits and sales during the global financial crisis, #Starbucks responded with a variety of improvement efforts that included having thousands of U.S. retail stores share discrete best practices. The “blizzard” of good ideas – too many to fully understand or support – created pockets of unconnected work routines that managers and employees couldn’t sustain.

In 2010, the company began linking the pockets by introducing “Playbook,” a complete operating system based on the #lean management principles of delivering more value to customers, consuming fewer resources, and training frontline people to solve problems.

“Playbook taught us how to create work with a steady cadence built on standardized routines that could absorb the busiest hours at Starbucks,” said Steady Work author Karen Gaudet, Starbucks’ former regional director in New England, where she was responsible for 110 stores. Published by the Lean Enterprise Institute, a management publishing and training nonprofit based in Boston, the book explains the benefits of the system, how it flexed to meet demand at busy times in individual stores, and how it was spread throughout the chain.

During a national tragedy, the Playbook system enabled Gaudet’s team to successfully scale up from 500 espresso beverages daily to 1,500 following a December 2012 mass shooting in Newtown, CT, when people used a local Starbucks as a place to meet and mourn. “In that awful week, standardized work was not a yoke. It was a comfort,” Gaudet wrote. “It gave us breathing room. It guided us to synchronize our efforts and work as one.”

Steady System Handles #Restaurant Demand Fluctuations

Clear, concise, and actionable, Steady Work is a must-read for managers and executives in retail, restaurant, and service industries as well as continuous improvement professionals in any business. It explains in detail how a lean operating system solved a critical problem that every business faces, especially quick-service restaurants (#QSR): How to steadily meet huge fluctuations in customer demand with the right levels of staff and product mix.

Leaders who read #SteadyWork will learn:

  • How Starbucks leaders implemented the flexible operating system by becoming immersed in the daily work of frontline partners — baristas, cashiers, and support persons — as they made espresso drinks, brewed coffee, steamed milk, heated sandwiches, restocked food, cleaned, replenished cups and other items, and interacted with customers.
  • How managers observed, timed, and mapped the steps required to do the frontline work and broke every task into timed components;
  • How point-of-sales data was combined with work components to create standardized routines or “plays” for every job so managers and partners could respond quickly and efficiently to surges in  customer demand;
  • How task standardization and steady work cadences improved employee productivity and turnover, and customer satisfaction;
  • How the operating system supported Starbucks ’ initiative during the financial crisis to get back to its founding principles of people, community, and good coffee.
  • How the shift from ad hoc work methods to robust standard work routines allowed managers at some of the busiest stores in New England to take scheduled days off – in a row! – without getting frantic calls from stores.

About Steady Work

Editors/Producers/Bloggers: For review copies of Steady Work or to interview the author, contact LEI Communications Director Chet Marchwinski, or 617-871-2930.

Karen Gaudet is a team leader at the nonprofit Lean Enterprise Institute (LEI), where she oversees operations and personnel. As a regional director at Starbucks, she added 20 new stores annually for five years, hitting profit goals while increasing the continuous improvement capabilities of staff. Previously, she held management and executive posts in operations, marketing, and training at large restaurant chains, a retail consulting company, and a technology startup preparing for an initial public offering.

Lean Enterprise Institute Inc. (LEI) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit based in Cambridge, MA, with a mission to make things better through lean thinking and practice by helping companies create more value and prosperity while consuming the fewest possible resources. Founded in 1997 by management expert James Womack, PhD, LEI conducts research through co-learning partnerships with companies, teaches on-site and public workshops, publishes books and ebooks, organizes conferences, and shares practical information about lean thinking and practice at