One of the joys about being on the Lean Journey is that you see Waste absolutely everywhere, you develop an almost physical intolerance of what can be improved, and feel almost compelled to intervene.

This struck home to me this week — I’ve been away at our Hursley site all week and staying in a hotel just up the road in Winchester. Now it’s a ‘working away’ principle of mine: never eat in the hotel if it can be avoided. For both sanity and cost reasons. So on Monday I strolled out into the town looking for somewhere to eat while catching up on my Kindle reading.

Being on a budget, I decided on a reputable chain restaurant that would let me have a starter, main course and a relaxing glass or two of wine for just under £25.

First up: the affordable wine was out of stock. So I asked why. Because they only get deliveries on Wednesdays.

This means that they’re forecasting how much of each type of wine and other ingredients they’re going to use in a week, paying for a large cellar to store it, and allowing all that to be dead money until customers come in and take it off their hands. And getting it wrong, thereby at best disappointing customers or worse, leaving money on the table. Or possibly the other way round. And they do it because they think it’s cheaper.

So I substituted another wine (a smaller glass), and ordered a starter and a lasagne for main course. Which was burnt when it arrived. It was obvious why — it had been made thinner on one side than the other, without enough sauce and the thin side had burnt. I complained (naturally), and the response was that they’d “speak to the chef and tell him to be more careful.”

Having spent the day planning workshops for my new team on how we were going to work for a huge improvement in quality, this was a red rag to a bull, as I considered:

  1. Someone made that uneven lasagne, and thought it good enough to put in the oven 
  2. Someone took that now clearly burnt lasagne out of the oven and thought it good enough to put on the pass 
  3. Someone took it off the pass and thought it good enough to serve to a customer 

and the best they could come up with was to tell the chef to be more careful.

Maybe I’m learning bluntness (or unlearning politeness) but I remembered the dictum of when I was doing marketing: the average dissatisfied customer will tell 9 other people — and I’m overachieving on this by blogging about it — but won’t tell you. I really could not do the restaurant the discourtesy of not telling them the problem, how unhappy I was, how easy it could be to get round it and giving them the learning opportunity to improve.

So I summoned the manager over and asked him: what are you going to do to make it impossible to serve me a defective lasagne? He tried the tell the chef to be more careful line again, but I wasn’t having it. So I made him a promise and set him a challenge: I would come back the following night and they would serve me a perfect lasagne and tell me what they had changed to make it impossible to be otherwise.

I didn’t want to just give him the answer, and was quite prepared to go another round of this, but with more challenging question, and actually going into the kitchen to go and see and ask why a lot. But even without the detailed gemba knowledge, I could think of a few simple visual ways to errorproof a lasagne such that it wasn’t too thin at one end, and even if it were, to always protect the customer and never ever serve a burnt one.

So as promised, I returned on Tuesday. And discovered a radical method of errorproofing: not serving any. They’d run out of lasagne. And Pizza (Pizza Dough isn’t made fresh, it’s in the weekly delivery). And of course my wine.

So I went back on Wednesday, to be told that they’d run out of lasagne again. At about 7.30 in the evening. Yes, they were full — and predictably so as it was graduation day for the local college and were almost fully booked — but running out an hour into the evening service is just crazy.

It turns out that they prep lasagne during the day, forecasting how much they’re going to sell in the evening, and that’s the total they make, just refusing to do any during service. To get this so fundamentally wrong as to run out in an hour even when you know you’re going to be busy and it’s one of your best sellers is batch demand forecasting to a level designed to make fortune telling look good.

Again, I had to give the manager the genuine Voice of the Customer, but I was finished with the learning. They’ve lost me.

I left, went round the corner, found another chain’s restaurant, who served me a perfect starter, lasagne and my first choice of wine, all within a £25 budget.

I’m staying in Winchester 3 nights a week possibly for the next year. Can you guess where is getting my custom on a regular basis?

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Martin Burns

Transformation Consultant at CA Inc (formerly Rally)
Previously: Leader of software delivery portfolios in large scale orgs.
Specialism: Transforming complex delivery organisations to be more Lean/Agile.
Mindset: Continuous Improvement Obsessive
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