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The Secret to Continuous Improvement Is Found in a Lemony-Lime Soda 

General Dwight Eisenhower

I consider it to be the duty of anyone who sees a flaw in the plan not to hesitate to say so.

  — Dwight Eisenhower, in a pre-D-Day strategy meeting, 1944

Years ago, I owned and ran the operations of a pharmacy. Because we implemented Lean Sigma principles on Day 1, our team embarked on a decade-long journey of continuous business learning. By the time we sold the company, we had received thousands of suggestions from team members and Customers. Most of the suggestions followed a process that addressed and incorporated a surge of intellectual property contributions. Costs went down, and quality increased. Customer satisfaction continually climbed.

This quality process is called a corrective and preventive action system (CPAS). 

Have you ever ordered a Sprite in a restaurant only to be served a glass of soda water without the sugary syrup? You take a sip, expecting a sweet, lemony soda, but instead taste plain soda water. So what do you do? Typically, you mention it to the waiter, and he corrects the defect ahead of his other duties. This is called a corrective action. When defects occur, businesses must perform corrective actions, or else they leave customers dissatisfied. In such cases, the business has completed the corrective aspect of CPAS.

The key to reaching higher and higher levels of quality, however, is when a company or organization follows up a corrective action with a preventive action, the “P” in CPAS. The prevention step ensures the error happens only once and that the process is changed in the future to reduce or eliminate the likelihood of it happening again. In many cases, CPAS is an action performed in a way that not only maintains but also grows Customer satisfaction.

CPAS in action - let's fix the "Sprite" issue

CPAS In Action: A Sprite syrup deficit leads to a better process

Imagine that it’s after midnight in the restaurant, and all the Customers have gone. The servers are having a drink and debriefing about the day. They have over 25 years of restaurant service experience among them. 

The leader asks, “Based on this evening, what are ways we could have improved our service?” 

One waiter tells the story about the Sprite blunder.

“That’s a good one,” the leader says, perking up a little. “We ran out of Sprite syrup in the soda machine. In the future, how can we prevent that from happening?” she asks. A hush falls over the team.

“Behind the soda machine are tanks of syrup, one for each style,” one person says. “I suppose we could have a meter on each tank, like the one I have on my propane tank at home. When I have people over for a barbecue, I check the level the day before so I know if I need to buy a replacement tank.” 

“What if we always have a replacement tank ready for each flavor?” another person suggests. 

“But currently it’s a pain to change over our tanks — we need a wrench, and I don’t have time during our peak hours to do it. But I know our sister restaurant has more modern couplers that allow the user to ‘hot swap’ tanks in under a minute. We could change the couplers that attach the tanks to the syrup lines, and then we can do a changeover quickly.” 

Great thoughts, and then a third waiter pipes up. “Maybe we can have the supplier who changes the tanks be responsible for that and ask him to make sure we don’t run out,” she says. 

Another good idea, and they keep coming. “How about if we put each tank on a bathroom scale? When the tanks are getting low, we’ll know at what weight we need to be watching it and have a tank ready.”

“This is probably a dumb suggestion, but…” someone else starts. In Lean, this sentence start is a sure sign that a very good suggestion may be coming because some of the best preventive actions are the simplest and most obvious. “… what if before our big-volume nights, on Fridays and Saturdays, I volunteer to check each soda tap with a Dixie cup to see if the level seems like it’s getting low?” Perfectly logical suggestion.

This conversation continues. Without building a new computer system or spending lots of money on consultants, the experienced team, with a little bit of focused discussion, comes up with half a dozen solid countermeasures to address the issue. 

Someone writes the agreed-upon suggestion on an index card, and they execute a few processes to get started, like talking to the syrup supplier. The service team stays disciplined for three weeks to get into the habit of implementing the processes in a training mode. 

With all of those countermeasures implemented, would the likelihood of committing the defect again be reduced by 100 percent?
Perhaps not, but perhaps it could be reduced by 80-90 percent — pretty good for a few tired servers at the end of a shift, with a continuous improvement culture.

As a postscript to the story, now imagine that at the next regional meeting, the general manager of each location in this chain of restaurants shares their best practices and they get implemented region-wide. The sphere of influence grows.

The CPAS process starts with collecting opportunities to continuously improve. I would love to share two simple, effective CPAS forms we use at Prime Vector.

Email me at to request your copies.


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