Mar 21, 2009

Hell's Kitchen needs some Agile and Lean lessons

I love cooking. Graduate school was overseas and the food at both the university's cafeteria and the local restaurant were less than appetizing despite of the great sea food, vegetables, and other goodies available at the market just a mile away, so I decided to take matters into my own hands and stated cooking. To my own surprise cooking was fun and easy; and I was good at it, thankfully because very few times I ate my food thinking I rather be eating at the cafeteria.

Although it is quite rare for me to watch cooking shows I have fun watching Hell's Kitchen. For those of you who don't know the show: there is this famous Chef Gordon Ramsay who recruits 16 contestants (8 women and 8 men) in two teams to compete cooking for guests at the restaurant under the same name as the show and eliminate one contestant from the losing team at the end of each episode. The winning team is treated big time with an outing to an upscale place, and the losing team has to do some quite nasty chores. The most fun part, from my point of view, is when the restaurant opens and the teams have to cook the orders because the entire kitchen turns chaotic very quickly. Food gets burned, undercooked, ingredients are missed, portions of one same dish are prepared at different times, contestants within the same team disrespect each other, customers get quite unhappy... and Chef Ramsay's shouting madly at the contestants until there is no way to save the night and the restaurant is shutdown for the night ahead of time. I don't watch the show all the time but from the couple dozen episodes I've seen out of five seasons service was completed only twice. That success record is embarrasing at the least.

Why does that happen? Both teams have strong motivation to win: not being eliminated and being treated like royalty. So, why things continuously turn bad? Here's my take on it:
- Poor communication: the team members don't communicate with each other to know who is doing what, keep their timings right, and help each other.
- Upfront planning: it would be a waste to plan how the entire evening will go because such plan would become obsolete within the first three minutes of receiving the first order; however they should all have a high-level strategy in place so that they know what to expect from each other.
- Slow to adapt: once one thing goes wrong problems escalate because they have a hard time adapting to the customer demands and the state of the kitchen
- Movement: as things start going wrong and escalate the contestants start moving around a lot more and more quickly. Such frenzy only delays things further and make it so much easier to make mistakes. They should help each other more instead.
- Lack of self-organization: were they better organized among themselves most problems would not occur.
- Lack of respect: Although it is a competition, if they respected each other they would work better as a team and significantly increase the chances of winning

Does that sound to you like what is going on in your organization or what happened at a previous job? I have many memories of projects going wrong for different combinations of the same reasons.

A very effective way to overcome those issues is by following the Agile and Lean principles. Effective communication facilitates self-organization which significantly reduces movement. High-level upfront planning allows the team predict each others actions more effectively and how to help each other. Continuously adapting to the current situation produces more and better results more quickly. And last but no least is the respect for each other, which not only makes working together more enjoyable but also increases productivity.

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