Everybody wants to save the earth, nobody wants to help mom do the dishes.  --P.J. O'Rourke

Friday, June 19, 2009

IT Project Management - Lessons from the Kitchen

86 The PMBOK and Get Cooking - Three things the IT PM can learn from a Chef

An IT project has a lot in common with a commercial Kitchen. Scott Berkin made this point in his book "Making Things Happen", and I could not agree more, in fact I have been saying the same thing for years. Why? A busy restaurant kitchen is an incredibly stressful and challenging environment, one that during the dinner rush is on the knife edge of the possible. Sound Familiar? Most of us have cooked for friends and family at Thanksgiving and have experienced the stress of cooking for a big group. The phrase "Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen" is undeniably true during these moments, and yet, you are only cooking one meal for 20 or so people. How does the relatively small restaurant kitchen crew pump out hundreds of individualized meals in just a few hours and what can that tell you about IT Project Management?
  • Meticulous Preparation
  • Appropriate Risk Management
  • Ruthless Efficiency


Meticulous Preparation: Nail the Basics

This is the ante, without it you don't even get to play. For every meal service there is at least another 3 days of prep. Menu's & specials are planned, portions and recipes are set, staff is trained, food is ordered, baked goods and deserts are made overnight and finally food is prepped as close as being plate ready as possible. Nothing is left to chance. Why? because shit happens, that's why...... learn it, expect it, embrace it. Look at the picture again, the guy on the left is clearly dealing with some "shit" that just "happened". What's the rest of the staff doing? Their jobs ! That guy is called the "expediter" he is akin to the project manager. He is able to resolve the issue without derailing other activities because they have nailed the basics.

Appropriate Risk Management: Nobody Likes Eeyore

IT folks as a group are so risk averse that they spend an incredible amount of time worrying about and planning for every little thing that could possibly go wrong (no matter how unlikely). This is incredibly counter productive and inneficient, unless you are doing Military or Medical work, if that's the case, knock yourself out. Plug the obvious holes and move on. In a commercial kitchen as in a large IT project, there is an unimaginable number of things that could go wrong; orders are late or incomplete, waitstaff get flaky, cooks get cuts and burns, food goes bad, people get sick or no show and random things catch fire. If the kitchen were run by IT folks, there would be an ambulance and fire engine stationed outside and two of everything inside. There would also probably be meetings held before and after every plate is prepared, but that's another story. You and your IT project team and business partners need to understand that all kinds of things will go wrong and be mentally prepared, because if you have nailed the basics in planning and prep, and don't freak out, you'll recover.

Ruthless Efficiency: If you've got time to lean, you've got time to clean.

In a well run kitchen, you are always working. Why? because management makes sure your working. The Chef doesn't send you an e-mail or wait for you to tell her that you're finished, she constantly walks around and makes sure you know what to do if you are idle. Let MBWA (Management by Walking Around) be your mantra. If a cook is not pulling their weight they are GONE - even in mid shift. It will kill your staff's morale and their respect for you if a team member doesn't pull their weight constantly. Be visible and keep people busy, don't be a jerk about it, but do it, quality, team cohesion and efficiency will all go up.


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