Today we continue with our Foodie guide to project management. In our last blog we looked at the work of media star Gordon Ramsay. Today he’s a foul mouthed, ill-tempered egomaniac… but that’s mostly for the ratings. 10 years ago when he began his television career, “Kitchen Nightmares” took a serious look at failing restaurants and gave them straight-forward advice on how to fix their problems. We ‘went over the first four lessons from Gordon Ramsay in our last blog, and today we’re going to cover the next six steps to learn how to manage like Gordon Ramsay! Let’s jump right in with…
- SERVICE: In most episodes, when things fall apart the kitchen staff blames the wait staff, and the wait staff blames the kitchen staff. Even if the food is great, if the service is bad you’ll take your business elsewhere. Projects often have contending groups that blame each other for production problems. When building the project charter, always try to let all the different voices on the team be heard. Make sure that the proposed plan solves the problem, and doesn’t just create a false sense of team harmony. If the project just slaps a coat of paint on a failing process… dig a little deeper and get to the real problems. For those of you that aren’t familiar with the Kaisen approach to process improvement, it’s all about finding the core problem, the Gemba. Looks like that’s Ramsay’s PMO menu is international!
- MANAGEMENT: A frequent theme is owners are not managing their business. Either no one runs it or someone (the chef or the maître d’hôtel) is nominally in command but is in way over their heads. Does the head of the sponsoring group have real operational knowledge of his group, or is someone else in the organization the real expert for the group? Many groups are managed by individual who manage a portfolio of departments, some of which they are unfamiliar with or have only a modest interest in. When a sponsor does not understand the operation it does not necessarily doom the project, but if you cannot identify the “real” manager, the one who understands and controls the operation, this is usually a danger sign.
- MENU: Much of Ramsay’s management wisdom is about the menu. Too many ingredients and fussy preparation are bad… it takes too much effort and limits how many people the kitchen can serve. Likewise, don’t have overly extensive menus. Serve 10 items for dinner, not 100… it’s too had to control a kitchen with so much going on. This sounds like lean management, with perhaps just a dollop of Kaizen thrown in. Keeping it as simple as possible is always a good rule of management.
- NEGOTIATION: Owners are often tied up in the color scheme or a “theme” menu or some other peripheral issue rather than the food or the service. Is your project focused on the critical issues or on mere window dressing? The sponsor ultimately decides which projects they are interested in, but the PMO and the project managers need to keep the process honest. You may not be able to compel, but you can influence. Will even REALLY nice curtains bring in the customers you need? Don’t be afraid to speak your mind, especially if you can back up your opinion with results from previous projects. And even Ramsay occasionally needs to bring in someone from the industry to back up his point…. use expert opinions when you need them!
- SATISFACTION: When you add up all of these items, you either do get value for your money or you don’t. Owners frequently fight with Ramsay over the service issues he raises. The owner’s defense is usually that the customers are very satisfied. Ramsay reminds owners that satisfaction by a few remaining customers is less important than the dissatisfaction of many empty seats. Make sure you are measuring satisfaction correctly. Be prepared for the consequences of improved satisfaction. Every service that I worked with underserved its mandate; corporate services always have “empty seats.” If your project improves a service, work volume may rise. That either leads to a drop-off in performances (every been in a busy restaurant where it takes far too long to serve you?) or an escalation in cost as new staff are added. When an improvement project is for a service or department that does not generate revenue, success can be a problem. Does your project plan the consequences of success? Depending on the service, you may be able to get up to 70% or 80% capacity before there are problems, but some services start to falter a 50% or lower. Be very suspicious if your project assumes that a service working at 60% can add 40% more work with no additional costs.
- FOLLOWUP: Having one good night, or filling every seat one time is good… but it’s not enough to save a struggling restaurant. Reaching this “turn-around” point is like reaching the end of a PMO project. Everyone has done what they’ve said they would, and when the “big night” arrives themeasures of sucess are tested (customer satisfaction, quality of the project, turnaround time on service, revenue, etc.) and we either met our objectives or we didn’t. On a project, this is where we perform our closing processes and go home. On Kitchen Nightmares, this is where Ramsay… goes away. But, a few days later he drops in. Usually unannounced. He does a quick check and sees if everyone is still following the new processes. After just a few days it’s not unusual that the owners put back the old menu or fall back into bad habits. Ramsay makes corrections and… goes away. A few weeks later, maybe even a few months later he returns to make more corrections (if needed). Many PMO lack this follow-up. Yes, we measure if the PMO’s management of the project was on budget and on schedule, but we usually do not measure if the project delivered the corporate benefit it was supposed to and virtually no PMO tracks projects over a longer period. Yet, after projects turn into products the very problems that were controlled during the PMO stage often return to afflict the product when it is in production. What is the mandate for your PMO?
Saving a failing restaurant is hard. Completing a challenging project is just as hard. A new menu or re-launching a restaurant can save a restaurant. Nonetheless, owners often return to their old habits (and menus) when the cameras leave. Corporate managers have egos that are just as big and habits that are just as bad. A horrifying, but instructive, statistic is that of all the restaurants on the first three years of his Kitchen Nightmares series, only 2 are still in business. That’s AFTER they receive international media exposure. Most transformative projects fail. When a small country Inn fails, that’s it. The owners have no other resources to stay in business. When a major project in a big corporation fails, the results can be buried in department-wide reports or may simply not be tracked.
If you want to be the superstar of your PMO, then manage your project the way Gordon Ramsay manages his operations. Follow all the steps, don’t take any shortcuts, make sure that everyone does what they say they will and FOLLLOW-UP to make sure that the changes your project brings don’t just fade away. And that’s my Niccolls worth for today!