The peanut butter & jelly sandwich workshop: A lesson in quality

October 5, 2011

Yes believe it or not we can learn a lot from the simple peanut butter and jelly sandwich. While this is very simple it is also a low cost, fun and engaging way that you can tap into a whole range of issues. This is an ideal approach for those new to quality as a method of introduction, but even for those that have been involved with process improvement this can be a fun workshop to help refocus. It can also be conducted as a small breakout session lasting just a few minutes or as a long workshop.

The issues this can address include:

  • Communication (sharing information clearly)
  • Specifications (materials, measurements, consistency and other details)
  • Process (Scopes of Work ie approach/process and steps)
  • Customer focus (wants, needs, issues to consider and clearly defining requirements)
  • Team work (we all need to help and support each other)
  • Improvement (use of process maps, creating improvement team charters)
  • Innovation (out of the box thinking)
  • Systems (such as quality management systems)

Prior to your work session purchase three different types of bread, 3 different types of peanut butter and 3 types of jelly and make a wide variety of P&J sandwiches. Some with white bread, crunchy peanut butter and strawberry jelly. Others with artisan whole grain brown bread with smooth peanut butter and raspberry preserves and so on. But more importantly make ‘dysfunctional’ sandwiches! Some sandwiches with only jelly, only peanut butter, some open faced, some with the crust cut off, be innovative how silly or messy of a sandwich can you make. Have these all available at the start of a session or during a break along with milk, juice, soda, paper plates and napkins.

So some of those at your session will have had sandwiches with ONLY peanut butter sticking to the roof of their mouths, some only jelly, some with two pieces of bread some open faced. Some had smooth some crunchy butter, some jelly some preserves, different flavors and breads.

After they have eaten ask about the sandwiches, did they like them, some will of course, but some would not if they are honest. Some will have been frustrated or disappointed in theirs.  Some will say their peanut butter tasted funny understandable if they got the salt free type. Others will say their bread fell apart and so on.

This will lead the discussion to the wide variations that result from the simple request for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich! What was the sandwich SUPPOSED to be like?  What was the aim? This is where communication and consistency come into play. This can be related to construction and trade teams, do they really building each home the same way? This highlights the importance of specifications, scopes of work, communication and scopes of work.

From the customer point of view there are complexity to consider for example what if they had an allergy to peanut butter? Then cashew or almond butter could be used. What about gluten allergies? Then tapioca bread could be used.

You can imagine the ways this can lead to other discussions. It can also be used at this point as a fun hands-on process improvement workshop!

How would you MAKE a P&J sandwich, how could we improve the process ie the production time? Assign teams and give them a specification for a sandwich and let each make a sandwich and time how long it takes. They using such tools as process mapping have them think through how to make the sandwich faster.

To make the point about out of the box innovative thinking you can introduce the idea of using jars of combined swirled peanut butter and jelly which would in one step allow you to scoop both peanut butter and jelly. You could also share the concept of peanut butter slices, yes there is such a thing.

So if making a P&J Sandwich is THIS complicated and dangerous (allergies) is it any wonder we need specifications, scopes of work and a focus on communication for each step no matter how simple in building a HOME.

This simple approach lends itself to lots of variations, give it a try.

Denis Leonard has a degree in construction engineering an M.B.A. and a Ph.D. in quality management. Denis is a Fellow of the American Society for Quality, a Certified Quality Manager, Auditor, and Six Sigma Black Belt. He has been an Examiner for the Baldrige National Quality Award Board of Examiners a Judge on the International Team Excellence Competition and a Lead Judge on the National Housing Quality Award. A former Professor of Quality at the University of Wisconsin, he has experience as a quality manager in the home building industry as well as construction engineer, site manager, and in training, auditing, and consulting with expertise in strategic and operational quality improvement initiatives. His work has achieved national quality, environmental, and safety management awards for clients. 

Denis is co-author of The Executive Guide to Understanding and Implementing the Baldrige Criteria: Improve Revenue and Create Organizational Excellence.


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