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Training Goes to the Gamers at PepsiCo

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Some parents look at the video games their kids play and see mindless, even harmful time wasters. 

Marco Rodriguez Tapia looked at the game that his 11-year-old son Alexander plays, Minecraft, and saw a potentially useful, even fun employee training tool. 

The Master Black Belt of PepsiCo’s Lean Six Sigma (LSS) training program for Europe, Marco is based in the Netherlands. Alexander lives in Minnesota. The two often connect to play the phenomenally popular game — a block-based world in which players build and survive using their own creativity for direction — together online.

Their shared gaming experience helped Marco — with a big assist from his son — realize that Minecraft would be an ideal vehicle with which to move key parts of PepsiCo’s LSS program to an online environment.

Pre-coronavirus pandemic, LSS training at PepsiCo included in-person sessions in which participants used building blocks to mimic real-life situations at an imaginary distribution company that produces pallets with different products. The company needs to ship those pallets to the warehouse, which will then send them to customers based on the orders received.

“The process can be quite inefficient, with the training focused on improving it using Lean Six Sigma tools to reduce waste and increase profitability,” said Rodriguez Tapia.

The onset of COVID-19, of course, made delivering this training in person unrealistic and unsafe. That’s when Marco recalled a suggestion that Alexander made during a gaming session long before the coronavirus arrived: using Minecraft to recreate the simulation component of PepsiCo’s LSS training.

That idea really started to make sense when in-person training was no longer a viable option. Alexander created a working prototype, which design studio BlockWorks developed into a program that is now available in seven languages for PepsiCo’s 291,000 employees around the world.

A Successful Simulation

Alexander intuitively grasped the concept behind the warehouse simulation that he and his dad were creating. But he’s never stepped foot in an actual PepsiCo warehouse.

“Nor did he have knowledge about the requirements when you ship products to our customers,” said Rodriguez Tapia. “So, technically, this was like a small business class for him, because his experience had only been to see our products on the shelf.”

These challenges — combined with the six-hour time difference between Minnesota and the Netherlands — meant Marco spent some late nights outlining the program design to Alexander.

“I had to explain to him the concept of a logistics chain and how our customers measure us based on service level and our deliveries’ quality. For more practical problems — what a pallet looks like, how we receive a customer order — I showed him videos from PepsiCo or YouTube.”

Alexander got up to speed quickly.

“The result was impressive,” said Rodriguez Tapia. “He replicated our warehouses and our pallet processing very well, and it was this factor that convinced my stakeholders to fund the project.”

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Marco Rodriguez Tapia leads a PepsiCo training session. 

In addition, Minecraft’s popularity and its reputation as “a children’s game” made the simulation that Marco and company developed a good fit for the LSS program.

“This means the learning curve is less steep compared to other games on a PC or gaming consoles. As we were looking to appeal to a multi-generational employee population, it was critical to make sure associates felt comfortable even if they had never played video games,” he said.

Time-to-launch was an equally important consideration.

“To develop a simulation from scratch, it was estimated to take at least six months,” continued Rodriguez Tapia. “Developing the simulation in Minecraft was, based on the prototype my son built, estimated [to be] much shorter.”

Indeed, collaborating with BlockWorks, Marco and Alexander developed the simulation in 90 days, and PepsiCo associates began using it as part of LSS training in December 2020.

The training follows the Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control (DMAIC) structure, with each day dedicated to one of these stages.

“Each step requires a set of tools that are requisites to finish an LSS project successfully,” said Rodriguez Tapia. “This training’s key element is to make sure the attendees understand how to use each of these 20 or more tools we teach them during the week.”

The Minecraft simulation has helped teach process improvement tools as well, he said, and has become “a quite exciting team-building exercise. Each associate is learning to work together in an online environment using a three-dimensional space to complete activities together.”

Dozens of employees have taken part in the training so far, with hundreds more slated to participate in 2021, said Rodriguez Tapia.

“The impact on their learning has a positive effect on PepsiCo,” he said. “Each participant must execute a project and deliver a minimum amount of productivity if they want to attend the training. Thus, better assimilation of the tools, more chance of delivering a successful project and [a greater likelihood of helping to achieve] PepsiCo’s overall productivity goals.”

Upon completing the LSS training, all participants start a productivity project to prove their understanding of the methodology and are recognized as Kaizen Leader Trained within LSS. Upon completing the project, they receive a diploma as Kaizen Leader Certified.

Many of those taking part in the program have also come to see their participation as an opportunity to strengthen their family bonds during this uniquely difficult time, said Rodriguez Tapia.

“I’ve received several testimonials from attendees who told their children what they were doing, and they practiced together, which improved the performance of employees during the simulation,” he said. “This is a real added value, especially when households must stay together, and parents and children’s time are overlapping during the pandemic.” 

About the Author

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Mark McGraw is managing editor of Workspan.


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