Published May 22, 2014
Susan Mentecki and Sharon Cavanaugh talk proudly about a special needs student who recently secured a part-time job and plans to attend culinary school after graduation, recalling how “pumped” he is about the new ventures.
The women, who work for the nonprofit Baker Victory Services (BVS) of Lackawanna, dream of replicating his success across the Buffalo-Niagara region. And they are tapping into the Lean methodology — through the guidance of UB TCIE — to help make it happen.
The primary catalyst for the young man’s growth is a job skills training vehicle for at-risk and developmentally disabled youth.
Mentecki, Cavanaugh and their team at BVS are focusing continuous improvement efforts on refining a café business, which is one component of the nonprofit’s Work Appreciation for Youth (WAY) Program. The WAY cafés involve approximately 50 youth, typically between ages 15 and 18, preparing and serving lunch to BVS employees and clients at two sites.
Goals of the initiative are two-fold: serve a larger student population through curriculum marketed to area school districts and turn the cafés into moneymakers.
“If we want to grow an affirmative business at Baker Victory, this is it,” says Mentecki, BVS vice president of developmental disabilities. “We’ve already got the experience, the facilities and the employees. There are all sorts of reasons we should make money on this.”
Mentecki enrolled in TCIE’s Certified Lean Professional course to learn about the Lean approach to reducing waste — and ultimately saving dollars — by identifying unnecessary processes. The 39-hour class requires completion of an improvement project utilizing Lean tools.
The WAY cafés were the subject of Mentecki’s project because they lose a total of about $2,000 per month.
“It’s a feel-good program and people love it, but it’s hard to fund. It’s disheartening,” says Cavanaugh, WAY Program director. “Saying to this team, ‘We want to make this work,’ made them have confidence that this program is appreciated and worth saving.”
With the help of Cavanaugh and WAY Program support staff, Mentecki collected and analyzed data to determine reasons behind the profit struggle. She conducted a Gemba Walk to observe operations at both sites, taking note of slowdowns and difficulties. An inventory of food and supplies was completed, waste was tracked and customer satisfaction survey data were reviewed. The current customer experience was mapped, triggering brainstorming about ways to improve four specific processes.
“The buy-in was incredible,” Cavanaugh says, referring to WAY team staff members. “With this new enthusiasm, they’re having fun coming up with ideas. They were included in all of the different suggestions and were listened to. It was a chance for them to feel they were part of it.”
The team utilized a number of Lean tools to chip away at inefficiencies, such as revamping the manner in which supplies are purchased by eliminating the practice of over-ordering without incurring shipping costs.
After discovering that a daunting order sheet created anxiety among students, a simpler form was created, accompanied by classroom training. Recording an order now takes an average of 30 seconds, down from three minutes.
The kitchen and affiliated storage areas have been decluttered and organized, banishing the hunt for items. The flow of the quesadilla work station was optimized to decrease wasted time. Occupational therapy-based accommodations, such as color coding of stations to match order forms and accompanying curriculum, has made for easier operations and a less chaotic environment.
Ron Thomas, a mentor who supervises one of the sites and works alongside the students, notes many have literacy and retention shortcomings. New Lean-based prompts, such as pictures illustrating where everything belongs and salad dressing containers tagged with colored dots for identification, are speeding up service.
“They have better tools to work with and don’t have to ask as many questions to get the job done,” Thomas says. “That’s not just helping me, but the customer, too.”
Student confidence also has been elevated with new lesson plans to complement café processes. All students at Baker Hall High School, the BVS day treatment school and Baker Academy — regardless of if they are enrolled in the café program — are exposed to customer service, the hot line (cooking), the cold line (food preparation), manning the register and dishwashing through worksheets, spelling exercises and other activities.
Mentecki expects these changes will nudge the cafés out of the red and into break-even territory. Plans to heighten marketing and re-price menu items will make operations profitable.
And with the New York State Department of Education requiring that all students — including those with disabilities — be provided with work-based learning opportunities as of the current academic year, BVS is enhancing its curriculum and examining how to make the program affordable to area school districts.
“It’s hard for a school to go out and develop and market internships for their special population students,” Mentecki says. “So for us to have a program that meets what schools have to do, it’s a good option for them.”
Districts that sign on will have access to a new training center. Rehabilitation of one WAY café begins this summer, made possible by a grant from KeyBank. The award was announced after Mentecki began her Lean training. The WAY team’s work has placed BVS in good positioning for the remodel.
BVS is continuing to educate its staff in Lean and expand application of its tools beyond the WAY Program and throughout the organization. Funding awarded through the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council is providing further training from UB TCIE.