IT “Kitchen” Nightmares

If you have never seen “Kitchen Nightmares” starring famed chef Gordon Ramsay, you may be missing a great IT management learning tool.  In each episode, Chef Ramsay visits a failing restaurant, figures out what is wrong, and facilitates a turn-around.  While his style may be confrontational, his analysis and solutions look at all aspects of the failing businesses.

If you watch more than a few episodes, you will notice a set of consistent issues and themes facing the businesses he helps.

Looking at IT, we see similarities when we help solve our customers’ own “IT Nightmares”.

Clean House.

Nearly every restaurant the show visits has serious issues with cleanliness.  Cooking surfaces and prep areas are filthy and disorganized, coolers are full of rotting and spoiling food, and business owners unaware of the problem and what the waste is costing them.

Look at your “IT House” and give it a thorough cleaning.  Beyond getting rid of old, unused, or impractical hardware that tends to clutter IT space and get in the way, look for rotting software and data — tools and information that are no longer of value to the business but are still consuming resources.  Decommission or replace applications; archive stagnant data.  Getting rid of the spoiled goods will free up space and resources, letting you focus on the meals you need to serve today.

As part of cleaning house, make sure your IT department is well-organized.  Clean and uncluttered work spaces, simple and clear lines of communication, and the right supporting technology give your customers (the business … the users) confidence that your IT services are professional and worth the price on the menu.

Simplify the Menu.

Managing food supplies, recipes, and quality is exponentially more difficult when the menu is too long.  In almost every episode, Chef Ramsay replaces the current, long menus with short menus that showcase the restaurant’s specialties and the local market.

The lesson for IT: focus on the applications and services that provide the best value to the business.  Work to eliminate applications and services that consume resources, time, and effort without delivering acceptable value.

Listen to your “customers” to make sure the solution you put on the menu are those they want to try or use.  As companies move towards cloud computing, this also means finding and managing “rogue clouds” that may already be in use.

Build Team Communications. 

In the kitchen, the expediter’s role is critical.  The expediter scans incoming orders and instructs which dishes to prepare so that the chefs are working in the most efficient manner possible.  Without clear and constant communication, the process breaks down, orders delay, and quality suffers.

With your IT team, communications are key.  A common understanding of priorities and objectives gets everyone on the same page.  And whether your IT Team is in-house, a service provider, or a combination of both, somebody needs to be watching to make sure priorities are met and work progresses in the most efficient manner possible.

Equip Your Team. 

Hardly an episode goes by where Chef Ramsay does not purchase a key new piece of equipment for the kitchen and/or front of house. Whether a deep fryer, a new cooler, or a POS system, poor equipment is tangibly hurting the restaurant’s chances for success.

Does your IT Team (in-house or service provider) have the tools they need to be successful?  Can they monitor and diagnose systems and applications?  Are they able to easily track projects and requests for help?  Make sure your team has the tools they need to work effectively and efficiently.

Create a Customer Experience. 

Chef Ramsay understands that changing the look and feel of a restaurant will drive success.  He regularly replaces outdated, stale, or damaged decor.  He creates clean, modern, inviting environments — inside and out — to draw in  and keep customers.

The same holds true for IT services.  From the outside, if your image is stale, old, or reflects poor quality, your “customers” will go elsewhere for what they need and want. If when they “walk in”, the experience is not pleasant and productive, they are less likely to come back.  Evaluate your IT services from your customers’ perspective (and ask them what they think, too!).  How do you look from the street?  Whether by phone, email, or on-line form, when the customer “comes in the door”, are they greeted and served well?  Is the experience pleasant, even if they need to wait for service?

Train the Team. 

The nicest decor and best wine list will not make up for a bad cook or an unprofessional server.  For many of the restaurants Chef Ramsay helps, training and mentoring are part of the success strategy.

With the pace of IT, keeping your IT team current and trained is just as important to ensuring satisfied customers.  Without the right mix of technical and interpersonal skills, your team will fail to effectively serve the needs of your customers.  And, as Chef Ramsay often notes, bad reviews spread like wild fires.

While the advice of Chef Ramsay includes a great deal of common sense, it is easy to miss the basics when working with hectic schedules and rapid business cycles.  The demand for immediate service makes stepping back, evaluating, and improving IT feel like a luxury of time that we cannot afford.  Failing to keep perspective and manage the details, creates situations that will continue to worsen over time.  Avoiding a “Kitchen Nightmare” is always easier than fixing one.