Monday, June 2, 2014

Efficiency, over-maximized #apmp


During the APMP Bid & Proposal Con that I attended last week, there was obviously a lot of talk about process. Proposals are projects, and as I've noted previously, a number of people and other resources need to be coordinated when a large proposal must be shipped.

But other people have to follow processes also, including the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers. This was the host hotel for Bid & Proposal Con, and one of the hotel's tasks was to coordinate the lunches on Tuesday and Wednesday. Since there were 800 attendees at the conference, this was no small undertaking, and the hotel staff had to figure out how to feed 800 people in an efficient manner in 90 minutes.

Apparently, "efficient" was a key priority of the hotel.

Now I wasn't irritated at how the hotel staff responded to the challenge - this was nothing like the manhandling that took place when I attended a Hewlett Packard sales conference a decade ago - but I was somewhat amused at how the process was executed.

The hotel staff clearly had instructions. When the attendees arrived at 11:30, they were to be provided with a salad, along with rolls and water. After each attendee finished salad, the staff would provide the main course. After an attendee finished the main course, dessert would be provided.

On Tuesday, I arrived at lunch at 11:30 and got to observe the efficient way in which the hotel staff handled the challenge. They obviously followed a detailed set of instructions - for example, when a person's salad plate was removed, the staff also removed the person's salad fork and salad knife. Everything went according to plan, and the waiter at my Tuesday table was able to handle exceptions; for example, one person arrived while the main course was being served, but the waiter was able to provide a salad, then the main course, then the dessert.

Come Wednesday, I got to observe the exception process first hand. You see, on Wednesday I didn't get to lunch until 11:45. (I had to call my office at 9:30 Pacific time.)

I found an unoccupied chair at a table, and there was even a salad sitting at that place. Perfect timing, I thought.

Not exactly.

About one minute later, the waiter came to serve me the main course. He told me that he was not taking my salad away, but he did move the salad toward the center of the table so that he could put the main course where it was supposed to go.

Unfortunately, the waiter's process conflicted with my own. According to the Bredehoft Fine Restaurant Lunch Process (May 2014 update), paragraph 2.1 clearly states that I should eat salad before I eat the main course.

So, after the waiter left, I switched the places of my salad and main course, placing the main course at the center of the table while I ate my salad.

We'll return to my lunch placement in a minute. In the meantime, the waiter obviously had a task to perform, since the main course had already been served. There was still an unoccupied seat at the table with a salad sitting there, so the waiter removed the salad and the place settings.

You can guess what happened a few minutes later. Yes, another person arrived to lunch late and sat at a chair with no salad and no utensils. The waiter picked up on this, and provided utensils and a main course. (Unlike my waiter on Tuesday, this waiter apparently chose not to exercise the "serve latecomers a salad first" exception.)

As I previously noted, I was not angry at how the waiter followed process, because his following of process provided me with a great potential benefit. After a few minutes, the waiter realized that I had finished my salad, so he came to remove my salad plate. (I had thoughtfully placed both my salad fork and my unused salad knife on the salad plate to make his removal task easier.) So now that the salad had been removed, and there was an empty spot in front of me, the waiter automatically proceeded to the next step in the process, and provided me with a main course.

I had to point out to the waiter that he had already provided me with a main course, that I had moved to the center of the table. Since I didn't want to eat two main courses for lunch (I didn't want to be sleepy that afternoon), he removed the new main course that he had placed there, and allowed me to eat the old main course that he had previously provided.

My amusement continued throughout the meal. For example, after the waiter had served dessert, the process obviously dictated that the bread from the salad course had to be removed from the table. (Maybe this is in Leviticus, but I don't recall that particular verse.) So the waiter removed the bread...and the butter...and the half-eaten piece of bread from one person who hadn't finished her bread yet.

This is especially amusing because of the way that I approach meals.


Because of working for an international company, and because of my family's involvement in Youth for Understanding, I have obviously met a number of Europeans. And some of my French and Swiss co-workers and friends have observed that my dining habits pretty much consist of eating, and that's it. Other cultures make the dining experience more of a social experience, and meals that last several hours are not uncommon in those cultures.

So on the face of it, I should have enjoyed the efficiency of last Wednesday's lunch, but I'll admit that it was a bit TOO efficient for me.

This is something that I'm going to try to remember as I work on my processes and my company's processes, most of which do not revolve around lunch. Do my processes allow the flexibility for exceptions, while still allowing the overall goal to be realized?
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