Friday, February 26, 2010

Successful Blue-Collar Jobs Employ Agile Practices

Inc's magazine February 2010 cover has Nick Sarillo, a blue-collar millionaire who owns Nick's Pizza & Pub. To create a successful business with high profits, low turnover, and very satisfied customers he instituted a framework akin to the lean principles of Agile. He compares his model to that of Navy Seals, where they're self-managed teams.

Created a backlog of daily tasks:

Nick was excellent in managing the daily tasks of activities to handle the huge volume of orders. But in order to scale he needed to successfully duplicate himself. As the interview in Inc states:
"So what did he do? 'I built a system to replace me,' Sarillo says. 'I put together a checklist of things that had to be done by 4 p.m., so we could handle the volume. It took about four weeks until it could work without me. Now we're nailing it."

Established their own form of a task board:

If you have a self-managing team the team becomes responsible for the work, not a specific supervisor who you are dependent on to make things happen by telling everyone what to do. Mr. Sarillo instituted his own form of a task board to get the process of opening and closing the kitchen down to a science, and something anyone on the kitchen staff can do:

"Take the process of opening and closing the kitchen. In a typical restaurant, a supervisor is responsible for both, has a long checklist of things to be done, and tells everyone what to do. At Nick's, by contrast, the whole kitchen crew is responsible. To help people keep track of what needs to happen, there is a laminated "ops card" for each task involved. Each ops card is red at the top and green at the bottom and has its own slot in a converted timecard holder. In the morning, when staff members come in, the ops cards are in the slots with the red end showing. Whenever a task is completed, someone turns over the corresponding ops card so the green end is showing. By closing time, all the cards are showing green. It's then the manager's job to make sure they are all red again before people arrive the next morning."

Trust & Track versus Command and Control:

Many business owners claim that no one cares about the company as much as an owner. In the successful Agile frameworks I've instituted in the past, the best way to get the team to care about the work and the business is by empowering them. Encourage self-organization and that the team is smart enough to know what's best. It's what'll keep them coming back every day to the office, because they know they have a direct impact on the decisions and direction of the projects they're undertaking. Nick Sarillo understood this fact and instituted his system, albeit unknown to him akin to an Agile framework, to create a trust and track culture:

"The system is an important mechanism for creating a trust-and-track culture and for breaking the habits of command and control. 'Managers trained in command and control think it's their responsibility to tell people what to do,' Sarillo says. 'They like having that power. It gives them their sense of self-worth. But when you manage that way, people see it, and they start waiting for you to tell them what to do. You wind up with too much on your plate, and things fall through the cracks. It's not efficient or effective. We want all the team members to feel responsible for the company's success."
Nick Sarillo's story is another example of how of lean principles and practices found in Agile, especially with Scrum in my experience, are frameworks that can work with almost any team in almost any industry or environment. What you find are highly motivated, self-managed, high-performing teams.

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