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The Starbucks' Operational Mastery: An Analysis Through the Lens of 'The Goal'.

Isabelle Bianca Sampaio

Dec 1

Introduction and Context Setting:


This analysis is the outcome of an assignment undertaken as part of the Business Intelligence course in my Master's program at the University of Central Florida (UCF) in November 2022. Rooted in the influential work "The Goal" by Eliyahu M. Goldratt and Jeff Cox, this analysis applies key concepts of Throughput, Inventory, and Operating Cost to dissect and understand the operating landscape of Starbucks, the first of two companies I chose to analyze.


"The Goal", originally framed in a production context, reveals principles that transcend industries. This article seeks to demonstrate the universal applicability of these principles by closely examining Starbucks, a global coffee giant with more than 31,000 locations worldwide.


An in-depth analysis was conducted, combining traditional research methods and business intelligence, to uncover Starbucks' operational complexities, complemented by its 2021 Annual Report analysis.

Data Sources and Methodology:

The insights presented in this analysis derive from a meticulous examination of diverse data sources, ensuring a comprehensive and reliable basis for the study. Primary among these sources is Starbucks' official documentation, including its 2021 Annual Report, which serves as a key reference for understanding the company's financial performance, operational dynamics, and strategic outlook.

Additionally, Starbucks' official website, industry reports, academic articles, and trade publications were examined to triangulate information, providing a broader contextual understanding of challenges and trends in the premium coffee industry.

The analysis uses Microsoft Excel as the main tool for manipulating, organizing, and visualizing data. Using Excel, tables and graphs were created, offering a clear and concise representation of the main metrics and trends. This approach highlights the effectiveness of using familiar tools to transform complex data into actionable insights.

Operational Framework and Key Concepts:

At the heart of the book is a comprehensive framework designed to reveal the operational measures crucial to a company's success. The main objective is to identify and reinforce system constraints, thus improving the overall flow of results and, ultimately, maximizing profit. In the field of for-profit companies, the primary objective is clear: “make money” both in the present and in the future.

The book presents three main operational measures that serve as pillars of effective business management:

  • Throughput: represents the rate at which the system generates revenue through sales, encapsulating the dynamic flow of money within the business.

  • Inventory: Covering all resources invested in the purchase of goods intended for sale, inventory means the financial commitment linked to the business offering.

  • Operating Cost: Covers all expenses incurred to transform inventory into revenue, providing information on the financial efficiency of the operational process.

In addition to these operational measures, the book investigates the fundamental concept of constraints within a system. Explores the identification of constraints and introduces the notions of bottlenecks and non-bottlenecks. Bottlenecks mean resources whose capacity aligns with or falls below the demand imposed on them, while non-bottlenecks exceed demand. To illustrate these concepts, the drum-lung-string production technique is presented, where the drum serves as primary containment, the lung represents strategic temporary reserves ensuring a constant supply, and the string drives other components to maintain the rhythm set by the drum.


The continuous optimization process, rooted in the Theory of Constraints, presents a five-step approach:

  • Identify system constraint: Identify the bottleneck that prevents optimal system performance.

  • Thoroughly analyze the system constraint: Thoroughly evaluate the identified constraint to understand its impact on the overall system.

  • Subordinate Any Other Decision to the Previous: Prioritize decisions based on identified constraints, ensuring a focused approach to problem-solving.

  • Increase system constraint: Implement strategies to increase the capacity of the identified constraint.

  • Reevaluate the System: Regularly reevaluate and refine the system, perpetuating a cycle of continuous improvement.

Taking these fundamental precepts into account, companies can identify and effectively face challenges or seize opportunities, promoting a dynamic and responsive operational scenario.

Timeframe Consideration:

It is essential to recognize the temporal context of this analysis, conducted in November 2022. The most recent Starbucks Annual Report available at the time is for fiscal year 2021. This information is crucial given the persistent effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on companies worldwide.

The numbers meticulously analyzed in this assessment were undeniably influenced by the restrictions experienced during the pandemic. Dynamic shifts in consumer behavior, supply chain challenges, and market volatility have left an indelible mark on Starbucks' operating landscape.

As we delve deeper into the complexities of Starbucks' financial performance and operational dynamics, it becomes clear that the numbers encapsulate a period of resilience, adaptation, and recovery. The strategies used by Starbucks to face the unprecedented challenges posed by the pandemic are revealed in the context of these numbers.


This temporal lens adds depth to the analysis, offering a nuanced understanding of Starbucks' ability to face severe constraints and emerge with resilience. It also highlights the importance of contextualizing data within the broader narrative of a global event that continues, in some ways, to shape the business landscape.


Having made the methodological considerations, let's delve deeper into the practical application of these insights in Starbucks' operational scenario.



Starbucks, a global powerhouse in the premium coffee industry, has evolved into a multinational giant boasting over 31,000 locations worldwide. Beyond its expertise in sourcing, roasting, and retailing premium coffee beans, Starbucks offers a diverse range of products, including beverages, teas, delectable food items, and premium pastries. The company's inviting store ambiance, coupled with the soothing backdrop of music, positions its spaces as hubs for study and work meetings.

A pivotal aspect of Starbucks' performance lies in its throughput, with 74% derived from beverage sales, 21% from food, and 5% from other items, per the 2021 Annual Report. Notably, Starbucks' net income, constituting 14.45% ($4.199B) of its total net revenues of $29.060B, reflects a consistent trend over the last decade, typically ranging between 10%-20%. The exceptions were 2020, impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, and 2013, where the profit margin was minimal.











The company's inventory, encompassing unroasted and roasted coffee, merchandise, packaging, and supplies, totaled $1.6039B in 2021. Starbucks faces inventory fluctuations influenced by seasonality, market supply dynamics, and commodity price variations.













In 2021, Starbucks' operating costs, comprising store operating expenses, product and distribution costs, administrative expenses, depreciation, amortization, and other operating expenses, amounted to $24.5738B.













Despite challenges like fierce competition and accusations of identity loss, Starbucks maintains a significant market share, achieving a net income of $4.199B despite operating expenses of $24.189B—an increase of 352.36% from 2020. The successful performances show that the company gets to follow The Goal key points to the letter.








The application of the Theory of Constraints offers valuable insights for problem-solving and opportunity exploration. In the process of pinpointing constraints within Starbucks' operational landscape, insights were meticulously curated from a thorough research endeavor. This included critical analyses of the challenges faced by Starbucks, as evidenced in articles such as 'What are the problems faced by Starbucks?' and 'Critical Analysis of Strategic Issues faced by Starbucks.' A meticulous comparative study of “Starbucks' menu prices versus Dunkin' Menu Prices” to the 2021 Annual Report shed light on the pricing challenges confronted by Starbucks due to its unwavering commitment to high-quality beans.














Synthesizing these findings not only highlights the complexities of Starbucks' pricing strategy but also forms the fundamental basis for addressing constraints and optimizing operational efficiency. Starbucks' dedication to exclusively sourcing high-quality beans results in a premium-priced product for consumers. This, coupled with limited supply availability, acts as a barrier to potential new consumers, confining the company's market to its existing loyal customer base, consequently, impacting its profit margin.


Thus, one of the constraints identified is the scarcity of low-cost beans, preventing the supply of more affordable coffee. To effectively address this restriction, Starbucks could strategically launch discounts and promotions, aligning its prices with those of competitors and subsequently increasing market share and profit margins. As constraints are systematically raised, the process of continuous optimization becomes imperative, ensuring sustained success in a dynamic market scenario.


By strategically offering discounts and promotions, Starbucks can attract new consumers who may have been deterred by the premium price of its high-quality beans. This approach aligns the company's prices more closely with those of competitors, making Starbucks' offerings more accessible to a broader customer base. As a result, these initiatives can potentially increase market share by appealing to price-sensitive consumers and expanding customer demographics.

Additionally, price alignment with competitors addresses the constraint of limited supply availability, providing a solution to the barrier restricting Starbucks' market to its current loyal customer base. This strategic fit can open doors to a wider audience and potentially lead to increased sales and revenue.

In terms of profit margin, the increase in market share resulting from these strategies could have a positive impact on Starbucks' overall financial performance. The broader customer base, attracted by more competitive prices, can contribute to higher sales volume, potentially offsetting the impact of lower individual product prices. Furthermore, the increase in sales resulting from these strategies can lead to economies of scale, further increasing profitability.

In conclusion, this business intelligence analysis, guided by the core principles of “The Goal,” reveals Starbucks' intricate operational landscape. By delving into the key concepts of throughput, inventory, and operating cost, we drive Starbucks' evolution into a global coffee powerhouse. Analysis of financial metrics, including net profit, inventory management, and operating costs, sheds light on the company's resilience to challenges.


Furthermore, applying the Theory of Constraints offers strategic insights. Starbucks, exemplified by its pricing challenges, illustrates the dynamic interplay between high-quality sourcing, pricing strategy, and market share. The identified constraint, such as the scarcity of low-cost grains, suggests viable strategies, including promotional initiatives and price alignment with competitors.

As we close this analysis, the continuous optimization process advocated by 'The Goal' serves as a reminder of the continuous search for operational excellence. Starbucks, like any prosperous company, must adapt, innovate, and review strategies to meet growing market demands. This exploration not only deepens our understanding of Starbucks but also exemplifies the broader applicability of the operating principles across industries.

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