This may seem like an odd question, after all McDonald’s is all about fast food and smiling at the customers, so what can they teach a manufacturing plant where there are no customers on the shop floor, where the end products are nothing to do with fast food?

Well actually a manufacturing plant can learn a good deal from the McDonald’s philosophy. Indeed McDonald’s is about efficiency without sacrificing quality, speed, again without sacrificing quality and finally it is about consistency.

McDonalds is really a mini manufacturing plant – different work cells prepare various “components” there is an assembly area, there is a supply chain coupled with “customer support” (i.e. the sales clerk).

McDonalds thrives on some core fundamentals;

• Standardization – a Big Mac is a Big Mac – go into any restaurant across America and you’ll get these same result every time coupled with a fastidious approach to quality
• A production process approach – different work cells combining to make the finished product
• Just in Time production – make what’s needed – small numbers of ready finished product
• Flexible and multi skilled workforce
• Lean production – face it – the backroom kitchen of a McDonalds is not massive – they have gone to town on ensuring they get the most out of their real estate

McDonald’s are keen to empower employees but within certain constraints. They effectively operate a Just In Time production system and the concepts of efficiency, speed and consistency have to be undertaken within the constraints of the Just In Time philosophy.

For example, McDonald’s prides itself on fast food, that is, after all their goal. So it would make sense for them to start in the morning and produce 1,000 cheese burgers, keep them warm and then sell them off. But in fact what happens is almost the reverse.

You go into McDonald’s and there may be 3 or 4 cheese burgers sat on the plate being kept warm. However it is often fewer than this. So you have to ask for a cheese burger and there may be one that is ready prepared, but often it will be made up whilst your drink and fries are being prepared.

So why doesn’t McDonald’s make up 1,000 cheese burgers and then just sell them off? Well for a start it would take up a lot of room to store this number of burgers and because they are meat, they would have to be kept up to a certain temperature. This would take a lot of resources and would have an add on cost in terms of the burgers.

But the clincher in terms of not preparing an excess amount of cheese burgers is simply that they may not sell. It is really easy to think that you will sell them, but what happens if you have 1,000 cheese burgers and yet customer after customer comes in and requests a double bacon burger? Your cheese burgers will soon be obsolete and you will still have to make up the double bacon burgers. Again, this will have a cost associated awith having to get rid of 9,999 cheese burgers. So the answer is to produce them Just In Time.

However everything is always ready to spring into action as soon as an order is placed. All the tomatoes have been sliced, all the lettuce has been shredded, all the mayonnaise is ready and waiting to be added as and when. So the whole philosophy is geared towards Just In Time and everything ready to go when the order is placed.

This type of approach could certainly save manufacturing plants a great deal of money. They will not have to worry about holding too much stock, especially stock that could soon become obsolete.

In addition McDonald’s is keen to ensure that its employees are very much orientated towards the goals and aims of the company and it rewards employees who can achieve success and who can show that they are keen to develop initiatives and seek to improve existing practices and procedures, so long as these are in line with the company’s overall themes and goals. So they work with employees to get them thinking the ‘company way’ and this is seen as a way of improving efficiency.

Again this is a lesson that could well be learned by manufacturing plants, because it helps ensure that employees take responsibility whilst they are very much in line with the company philosophy. One of the best ways to appreciate it is to watch any fast food outlet in action and see how manufacturing principles have been adapted and deployed in a food retail environment.

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One Response to “What Can A Manufacturing Plant Learn From McDonald’s?”

  1. Willie T on August 17th, 2011 4:55 pm

    I’ve been telling people this for the last 15 years. Fast food, or really any restaurant, is a miniature factory!

    Too bad most of the people working at McDonald’s & other FF chains are blissfully unaware of this fundamental truth. If they truly understood the power of the knowledge they have acquired, they could really benefit manufacturing.

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