I’m a foodie. Food fascinates me, in many different ways. It’s not just eating food, it’s discovering new types of foods, learning about the history of different dishes and of course, finding new restaurants. It’s hard to be part of the foodie scene these days these days without watching the numerous food channels and food shows. In this increasingly crowded space, the biggest superstar is: Gordon Ramsay, the Scottish chef with attitude! And a lot of anger. And quite a foul mouth.
At least that’s the impression that you get if you watch him today. On his way to becoming a superstar, Gordon learned that ratings soar when he loses his temper. Like many other managers, he has learned the secret of management by intimidation. Which is a pity. In the first three years of his first UK show (Kitchen Nightmares) Ramsay was quite brilliant! He was still profane, but he was also genuinely profound. When you watch him at work, you can clearly see that he is an experienced project manager at his best. Let’s take a closer look at the young Mr. Ramsay’s work and see if we can learn something!
Every episode begins with Ramsay going over the key issues with the owners. The issues were usually: not enough customers to pay the bills; enough customers, but everything falls apart at high volume; used to have customers but lost them; they have customers but they aren’t making any money; or kitchen and wait staff are fighting with each other. These are the same issues that corporate services face. The projects that they sponsor become the improvement projects that fill the PMO’s project portfolio: increase utilization, stabilize production at higher volumes, elevate customer satisfaction, reduce cost of operation, resolve conflicting processes. Gordon Ramsay may be an entrepreneur and a renowned chef, but he is also a talented project manager that can teach us a lot about process improvement.
After the first three years, Kitchen Nightmares (and all of Ramsay’s subsequent shows) spend less time on fixing problems and more time on screaming at “clients.” Hopefully, this is not the inevitable career path that we all face. Although, after dealing with one restaurant owner after another who doesn’t understand what the customer wants and who won’t make the changes that he agreed to or who is more interested in the decor than in service levels…. you can almost (but not quite) forgive him for blowing his stack. If nothing else, the later Ramsay provides us with great training videos for project managers… showing us each how we reach the breaking point and beyond. Likewise, the early Ramsay shows us how to fix the basic problems:
- NEIGHBORHOOD: Every show starts with Ramsay looking at the Restaurant to understand: who are the customers, who are the competitors, what are the local foods/resources, how lively is the location (volume of customers), what are the local demographics (price sensitivity, interest in different cuisines). When working on your projects, you need to gather similar information. For example, if your project is for a group with very high-income individuals and thick profit margins, they may be content with very expensive services that the rest of your firm either cannot afford or does not want to pay for. All other project issues may arise from a mismatch between the “neighborhood” and the service.
- GOALS: Next Ramsay speaks with the owner, to identify the perceived problem. Almost always the answer is, “I don’t know!” or the manager has some opinions but they are completely wrong. Interestingly more than half the time the owner has no experience in managing a restaurant. They liked the idea of running a restaurant and they have the money… which is often raised by raiding their retirement accounts andmortgaging their homes. Hopefully, the project sponsors won’t lose their homes if the project fails, but these managers have undoubtedly “mortgaged” their political capital with the firm after several unsuccessful attempts to fix problems on their own. Understand that the high stakes for the sponsoring department (and managers) can lead to tempers fraying.
- KITCHEN: Naturally, Ramsay wants to see the kitchen. Here, two different problems arise. Frequently, the cooks don’t know how to cook, or don’t have the experience to keep up at volume times. Just as often, the kitchen is set up poorly, lacking equipment, or space, or proper workflow. The production area for your project is no different. If the team lacks key skills or sufficient experience, performance suffers. But you also need to consider if you have too many skills or even too many “cooks.” Finding the right balance is the key.
- INGREDIENTS: A separate issue in the kitchen is using the right ingredients. Of course, the “right ingredients” changes from situation to situation. For your project, think in terms of resources. The production area might have its own macros and scripts that should be replaced by a third part package. Or other software and hardware elements in the production flow may be the wrong type. Don’t accept that the project is following best practices just because the sponsor thinks it’s a good idea.
We’ve got six more steps to cover, but no more room for today! In our next blog we’ll cover the rest of what Gordon Ramsay can teach us about project management. But for today, that’s my Niccolls worth!