How might we...
ensure supply, quality, and safety for our restaurants in response to fast changing consumer demands?

One of the biggest fast-food chains in the world has over 200,000 employees. The international quick service restaurant (QSR) chain approached us to help it ready itself for the future. The key to their success (they thought) was to create back room efficiencies in their restaurants. So we came in, armed with design thinking. We were ready to facilitate workshops and enable the global QSR’s leadership team to interview people to understand needs and pain points to help generate ideas and prototypes.

Through this work, the global QSR’s team showed us how vital their stakeholders are. The success of their company relies on the stability of a three-legged stool: the retail chain itself, the supply chain, and the owner-operators. If one goes down, the whole thing topples.

By the end of the first day, the original question was starting to look a little different. But when the teams reflected on their ethnographic interviews, the problem didn't seem to be the back room after all.

200 interviews with stakeholders told us that there were actually six clusters of pain points (otherwise known as opportunities). Every cluster touched on the supply chain, and together, we realized the question was not, "How do we build a more efficient back room?" but "How do we create a smarter supply chain?"

How We Did It

How did we tackle the supply chain challenge? Our first challenge was helping the incredibly skilled group move from optimizing for today to making big leaps into the unknown and imagining a new future. Breaking out of current mindsets is our jam — and we have a lot of tools for helping our partners get there.

We started by generating ideas based on the insights we gained in the interviews. A lot of ideas. 1,200 to be precise. Six teams — representing each focus area — came up with ideas in a variety of ways. One of the key tools was tech cards. Each tech card represents an emerging technology, from blockchain to virtual reality. To use them, participants took a concrete situation that could happen in one of the focus areas and used the card as a frame through which to come up with ideas. 

The results
Trusting the people in a system.

All the tinkering we did had a significant impact: we created a hybrid design solution that leveraged their multi-stakeholder resources and called upon each participant’s expertise and network. 

Through the participatory design effort, we were able to peel back the layers to reveal the real problem and in turn set our collective north star for moving forward. A deeper understanding of the needs of the system allowed us to identify what would need to be built to drive us toward the solution.

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