Achieve A Five-Star Rating
Taking a restaurant approach to IT operations.
Customer Service is the Core Purpose
The most basic tenet of every role in a restaurant is customer service. Nothing happens that isn’t focused on that purpose, from ensuring the quality of the food to maintaining the cleanliness of the facility. Employees are repeatedly taught that their core purpose is to deliver the optimal customer experience, and they should attempt to do whatever they can to make this happen without negatively impacting the experience of the other customers.
In IT, we also need to recognize that our reason for being is customer service. Although we have both internal and external customers and the products we’re delivering are technology solutions, at the end of the day our core deliverable is the service we provide. If we’re inconvenienced, it shouldn’t be our primary concern as long as that inconvenience leads to the satisfaction of our customer.
And just as a restaurant is constantly reacting to changes in its operating environment to meet customer expectations, so, too, in our profession are we perpetually focused on technological change. In both professions, it takes tremendous focus on change management to ensure that alterations in the competitive environment don’t interfere with the ability to meet or exceed customer expectations.
Cross Training Means No Apologies
Rule number one in restaurant staffing is to cross train as soon as possible. When an employee only knows a single task or the expertise for a process is tied up in a limited number of employees, failure in some part of the operations is all but guaranteed. Telling a customer there aren’t any salads, for instance, because somebody called in sick or is on vacation simply isn’t an option. Yet too often in technology we seem to think it’s acceptable to say we can’t perform a task right now because of a specific staffing situation. Cross training and development of our staff should be a key concern for the technology leader, as well. As technology leaders responsible for the well-being of both our operation and our employees, we need to recognize our management and leadership duty to cross-train, develop, and mentor staff for multiple functions and, ultimately, for greater responsibility.
Within the staffing structure of my technology shop, we use something we call a “triangle of responsibility.” As we hire and develop staff, efforts are focused around a core function and two additional complementary functions. This enables cross-functional competency and team redundancy that’s ready to be deployed whenever we need it. The roles and functions in IT can readily be seen as more complex and specialized than those in other staffing models, but this can’t be an excuse to reject the logic of a cross-training model of team development to ensure operational redundancy.
Furthermore, it’s important at this moment in technology to recognize that everything is changing due to virtualization, including the lines that separate many of the traditional functions. The desktop support, server support, and networking silos are collapsing due to virtualization of the desktop, servers, and network components, and there needs to be broad understanding among staff not only of these areas in general, but also of how they layer and interact. Cross training is imperative to long-term success in today’s tightly staffed IT operations.
Communication Drives the Core Purpose
Communication is the key to success in restaurants, where a constant flow of information throughout the system is required to manage the activity. Hostesses coordinate the dining room; expediters coordinate between the kitchen and the wait staff, and line leads typically coordinate the kitchen. None of these systems, however, can operate successfully without an understanding of both how the others operate and what’s happening from moment to moment in the rest of the organization. Restaurants commonly refer to this as cross-communication.
In an IT shop, cross-communication is equally central to success, and it’s imperative that IT understands holistically what it’s doing. If an IT shop isn’t operating with an understanding of what all of its parts are doing, it won’t act as a unit. Silos of behavior in the broader organization are bad enough; if this is allowed to occur within IT, it undermines the entirety of the shop and the rest of the organization, as well. Efforts that should occur in unison quickly become disjointed and less effective if communication isn’t a key consideration.
Expanding this thought, tactical and strategic success is tied to effective communication between IT and the broader organization. If an IT shop is not aligned to the business or the strategic goals of the organization, it can’t achieve its potential. Accordingly, communication of the organization’s tactical and strategic goals must come to the IT. function from executive leadership, as well as from the business units themselves. IT, meanwhile, needs to encourage direct communication to understand operational needs and should be positioned within the organization to facilitate this exchange, retaining focus as a service organization dedicated to empowering the entire organization through technology. To help achieve this dynamic, IT must position innovation not as some “techie” thing but as a means to solving business problems.
Measure Where You Are
The single most important management tool in a restaurant is measurement, and everything is measured and monitored. Sales are measured constantly in six-minute increments, and labor spend is tied directly to this measure. Usage of high-cost items, commonly called “yields,” is under shift-by-shift scrutiny to ensure that quality control is in effect. And the list goes on and on.
In restaurants, staff will compete over everything, and it takes minimal effort from the manager to leverage this to his or her advantage.
Measurement should also be the heart and soul of IT. Report cards, metrics, monitoring, and key performance indicators (KPIs) are among the types of foundation pieces that should drive IT operations. Collecting qualitative as well as quantitative data is a good way of providing context for the numbers.
IT shops that are serious about success shouldn’t stop at measuring their own variables to track performance – they should also benchmark against other organizations. There are plenty of independent performance measures worth watching, such as uptime, aging, help desk tickets, and defects in software. Continuous improvement models and active monitoring will drive a great deal of performance improvement, and most IT shops do this.
Comparative measures, however, are tougher and need extra attention. This is the most common type of myopia in IT shops: They don’t look outside of themselves to measure their work. Restaurants do. By not looking outside of itself, the IT organization fails to seek data that can be used to develop constructive performance criticism. This information should be drawn not only from the larger organization but also from peers. Restaurants typically have peers with which they share information and compare performance on practically every level. IT shops also need to seek out industry standards and peers, and use the comparative information as a means of improving operations and validating decisions.
Create a Sense of Competition
People naturally get caught up in competition, and it can bring out the best in us. We all want to be the best we can be, do the best job possible, and be recognized for our successes.
This entire concept of competition ties back to measurement. In restaurants, staff will compete over everything, and it takes minimal effort from the manager to leverage this to his or her advantage. But whether the venue is a restaurant or an IT shop, the competitive instinct can help deliver results that a team just “left to do its job” might not achieve. If your team is too small to develop internal head-to-head competition, devise mechanisms and incentives for the team to compete against itself (e.g., month-to-month KPIs). When used properly, competition can give focus to the drive for performance improvement, and help produce solutions to tactical and strategic challenges.
While there are numerous similarities between running a restaurant and an IT organization, most IT leaders are blessed with better working hours and blissful ignorance of what lurks within the grease trap. Nevertheless, the bottom line in each environment is that there’s a customer to be served, and the better the organization operates, the more satisfied the customer will be and, as a consequence, the better life will be for the people who made it happen. In so doing, you elevate the experience for all involved and produce something truly special.