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Software Nightmares (2)

About a month ago, Michael Feathers wrote another post that cited Gordon Ramsey. That reminded me to follow up my earlier post with observations from a couple of episodes from UK series 4 that make the point (thanks Channel 4).

First up is a curry restaurant in Nottingham (which has no shortage of competition) opened by an ex-sales manager and glossed up to look like an ’80s night club. Being from sales, his view is that the customers gets what they ask for, so he’s offering design-your-own curries—whatever combination you want. The result is that the kitchen brigade (who are good) can’t cope with the variety and turn everything to mush. When Ramsey has them cook all hundred-odd dishes on the menu, the waiting staff can’t tell which is which.

The owner sees the process as simple order-taking. Offer the customers whatever they ask for, regardless of the effects on the demoralised staff and low quality. It turns out that the customers aren’t curry experts and don’t like what they’re getting, so the restaurant is losing money. Ramsey’s solution is to cut the menu back to something the brigade can do well, and to offer what the customers what they actually want.

Second up is a carvery outside London that’s been bought by Scott, an ex-IT consultant. It’s losing money so, in an attempt to fill the place, he’s offering two-for-ones at below cost price; the only people who put up with the dreadful food are pensioners. He’s hired a cheap brigade who can’t even cope with the grill idea that Ramsey proposes, and the kitchen is so decrepit that Ramsey has it condemned. Scott is discovering that reducing costs isn’t working and risks poisoning the clientele.

Scott seems most comfortable in the office behind a computer, presumably planning the work that everyone will do. He appears to be the only owner in any of the series that has no interest in food or customers—the value part of the equation. He has no idea if his people are competent or what constitutes good service.

Back-to-back, the episodes make a nice pair. To belabour the point, we can’t do good, valuable work when the process is one-sided: when requirements are forced through an organisation without thought for the consequences, or when work is driven from behind the scenes without enough attention to a paying customer.

It should be obvious, but we need reminding. Hands up if you work in one of these places.

One Comment

  1. Excellent point, and well put.

    Given how many people fail at running restaurants, where the products are familiar and the experience short, it seems faintly miraculous that only half of software projects fail.

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