Dennis McGrath on How Starbucks Tests New Ideas in the Real World

The path that ideas travel from initial sketch to real-world test is often a rough one.

Starbucks is one of the companies that has been working hardest to pave that path, and as part of our IL Live series of conference calls, we spoke with VP of Global Ops Innovation Dennis McGrath about how they’ve been doing it.

McGrath says that since 2009, the Seattle-based coffee chain has been working to accelerate the way it can test ideas in just a handful of stores — in part to see what will break before they are rolled out nationwide. Now, McGrath explains, “we can have a concept on Monday and have it in the store by Thursday. We may leave it in the store for as little as three or four days, or as long as six months. …The stores that we selected [for test stores] we wanted to…be representative of the US portfolio. We wanted to have space-constrained stores. We wanted to have drive‑throughs, and all the segmentations of our customer demographic.”

One example of a concept that made it through McGrath’s testing protocol: the wildly successful order ahead feature that is part of Starbucks’ mobile app.

Highlights of the call are below, or you can listen to the complete audio by clicking play. (To download the audio in MP3 form, click the “down arrow” button at right.)

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