Month: August 2014

Patrick, Remember: Focus On The Pizza Process, Not The Pizza People

I’ve been pretty happy with Pizza Hut for a number of years now.  For me, it has been hard to beat their $10 any large pizza deal for value and quality, and I’ve also enjoyed their dinner boxes.  I like others too – Domino’s, Papa Murphy’s, and a great local place called Stuc’s.  But in a pinch we tend to rely on Pizza the Hut.

So the other day we ate from Pizza Hut, and at the bottom of my receipt I noticed a question posed to me from them.  It said, “Were you WOWED today?”  The answer to this was no.  No I was not.  Here’s the flow of what happened:

IMG_0909 b

We were at a friend’s house and had decided to get pizza, and since we were starving and needed several pizzas, we picked Pizza Hut.  Quick and good value.  We popped online to see their deals, found some that we liked, and my friend gave them a call to place our order.  She was on the phone, told them the name and price of the deal she wanted, went through all the toppings we wanted, added on some sauce, was just about done… then it seemed there was a problem with the deal we wanted.  The employee on the phone said she couldn’t find it, and that it must be an “Online Only” deal.

Now, I had watched as we scrolled through the deals on the website, and yes I had seen some deals listed as “Online Only” but this was not one of them.  My friend smiled and sarcastically asked, “What, do you really want me to hang up and submit it online?”  The employee said “yes thank you” and hung up on us abruptly.  We were a bit taken aback, but said, alright, fine, let’s do this online.

So we pulled it up again, looked for the deal, it still did not say online only, but we went ahead and built our large 3 topping pizza and our dinner box.  I went to add one of the toppings we asked for over the phone, but it wasn’t available online.  What now?  Well, I called them back, asked them how to add a topping that wasn’t listed, and made sure they had the green olives the kids wanted so badly on their pizza.  So now we have two calls in to the store with no pizza ordered yet.  It wasn’t until the final checkout page that anything indicated that the deal we chose was an online only deal.

My wife mentioned that this recently happened to her when she was home with one of her sisters.  They were driving and called the Pizza Hut on the way to place an order, but were told it was an online only deal.  So they had to drive until they had a cellular network that they could hook their smartphone browser up to, pulled over and did the deal online.  In addition, while they were in the store waiting to pick up their pizzas, someone walked in, wanted an advertised deal, and was told it was online only.  The person walked out of the store, and they looked to have lost a sale.

I chose to go pick up the pizzas.  On the way over in the car, I was a dormant volcano of lean thinking ready to erupt on the manager when I asked for them, spewing nuggets of wisdom around focus on the customer and number of order touches before actually beginning to create my pizza and waste and frustration and surely this enlightening information would get back to corporate and they would change their policies…

When I walked into the store, I saw four employees and no manager.  I looked each one over, and determined that none of them would be remotely interested in hearing about my frustrations and good advice to become better, and that I would quite possibly waste a lot of energy and potentially make a scene.  Instead, I paid for my pizza, waited about two minutes and out came my order and I was told to have a nice evening.  And so I did.  I brought that pizza home like the hunter-gatherer that I am, and the two families chowed down and were full and satisfied.  And there were leftovers.

As I look at this situation I am reminded not to focus on the employees at the stores, possibly not even the managers.  They are clearly handed down policy around online only deals from a regional or corporate office, and their systems probably do not allow them to make what you and I would see as logical adjustments to that policy.  My hypothesis for why this policy exists is that their goal is to eliminate waste on their end and streamline the pizza ordering process to bypass an employee needing to be on the phone taking an order when they could be creating pizzas.

However, I would argue that this is likely not their tightest constraint to creating more pizzas.  In times when they are backed up beyond 15 minutes (say, halftime of the Packers game) my guess is that they simply do not have enough room in their ovens to cook as many pizzas as are ordered, not because they are taking too many orders over the phone and not making pizzas instead.

So while I applaud their efforts to focus their employees on more value-added work, I must criticize the method of driving customer compliance, by punishing us for using the phone and wanting to talk with a human.  If you are going to go this route you must make the system so simple, easy, and possibly fun, that it will drive customers to go there instead of picking up the phone.  A system that did not highlight an online only deal, did not have the toppings I wanted and knew they had, and caused me frustration does not meet those criteria.

The bottom line is that I got my pizza eventually, for the price I wanted, and it was tasty.  And yes, I’ll continue to order from them.  But I’m going to check a little more carefully for those two words “online only” in the future.

pizza the hut

An Ah-Ha Moment With A Simple PDSA Flowchart

Recently I saw Karen Martin post a PDSA flowchart on Twitter.  The graphic does a wonderful job of outlining the steps of problem solving and PDSA thinking, highlights the importance of defining your problem and how much time you might need to spend before moving forward in the process, and covers the question of “what does adjust really mean?”.  There’s a good chance printing this out and handing it to my leadership team in our next capability building session will generate some rich refresher discussion.

Karen Martin PDSA Flowchart


But there was one line on there that really sparked something in me as I read through it.  Line 3 says “Set a Target Condition”.  Seems simple, seems in line with most problem solving training… so why was I so interested?  What sent my brain off racing to analyze this line?  This line really resonated with me because many recent kaizen events I’ve been involved in struggle and bog down at the point of discussion about the target, especially if they are trying to go somewhere they’ve never been before vs. getting back to a level they’ve obtained sometime in the past.

Yes, the problem is the difference between target and actual, and understanding the target condition is critical – you have to know where you need to be in order to understand why you aren’t there.  But this is not always easy, especially in fledgling lean organizations.  I believe manufacturing environments in a company attempting to go through a lean transformation are able to understand and articulate a target condition much faster than those in the office or product development organization.  That’s still not saying it’s easy!  But they tend to have more historical data, understanding of their manufacturing process and where defects occur, where their problem modules are and where to focus, and how quality, cost, and production rate have trended.  Many times you can go back several months or even years in the data and say, “oh, we clearly have trended downwards from where we once were”, or “oh, we clearly made an acute shift in June, you can see it right here on the timeline”.  It’s much easier to do this step when you have relevant data available, and when you have people who know how to mine it.

But take for example people in an organization dedicated to innovation, who are attempting to do a kaizen event.  Many times the most difficult question is “what should the target be?” because you don’t have a database telling you what the health of your innovation process is, or how many defects that process produced over the past 3 months… or even a clear definition of what a defect is!  The same holds true for most office processes:  there simply is not a plethora of data to sift through in order to identify targets and potential causes.  So in these types of kaizens, either as prework or as a part of the kaizen itself, sometimes the group must develop a system to measure what is going on in order to even understand if they really have a problem!

So back to step 3 – “Set a target condition”.  I just like the meaning of the process behind this so much better than something along the lines of “What is the target condition?”  Asking “what is it” implies that there IS one out there in your organization and you either don’t know it or can’t find it.  The concept of “setting” a target condition seems to empower the group to define what that target should be:  either because they know what it should be, or because they decide to set a target that corresponds with some level of improvement from where they think they are.  And if they are able to do that, they are able to move to the next step!

I haven’t put it into practice yet, but I believe sending that strong message of empowerment to a kaizen team will enable them to align much more quickly in an event, and move forward to defining causes and countermeasures rather than arguing over what the target actually is.  Because no matter what – you’re in that room because something was not up to snuff, and the bottom line is that is doesn’t even matter what the target is – all that matters is that you are not yet where you need to be.

See a great guest post by Karen on Mark Graban’s blog about PDSA vs. PDCA, and another spirited post by Mark himself on the subject.