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October 23, 2006

Pizza and Performance

The other day, I went to Pizza Hut to pick up some pizzas. We had ordered online and they were supposed to be ready at 5:45, so that's when I showed up. To make a long story short, I finally got my pizzas at 6:30.

OK, now to take that abruptly shortened story and turn it back into the long story it so richly deserves to be...first I'll talk about my group at Microsoft for a bit. In Engineering Excellence today, we are primarily a training organization. We prepare and teach classes for internal audiences at Microsoft.

However, our goal is to become a Human Performance Technology consulting group. What is HPT, you say? Well, it's basically anything to do with how an organization delivers on its desired results. The key is to analyze the current performance of the organization (the "is"), then figure out the desired performance (the "should"). If you compare the "is" and the "should" you come up with a gap, which you then work to address.

To aid in addressing this, we subscribe to a theory that gaps can be classified into six boxes. The six boxes are expectations, tools, compensation, knowledge, capacity, and motivation (those are the terms we use; others may use slightly different ones, such as here at sixboxes.com, and there are also HTP theories using different numbers of boxes). If the gap is, say, a problem with expectations, then adding to knowledge or motivation is not going to help.

Also, typically when you have an internal team like ours and they get asked for help by a team that is in trouble, the team will be asking for training. Training addresses only one of the six boxes (knowledge), so it may be ineffective in remedying the actual gap. But training is what most groups (such as ours) mostly do, and it's what teams mostly ask for. The goal of a good HPT consultant is to step back, find out the real "is" and "should", analyze the gap, figure out which of the six boxes need to be mitigated, and then address those appropriately.

So what does this have to do with Pizza Hut? Well, in the old days when I was waiting for my pizza which the workers were unable to find, I would have likely been cursing them under my breath and questioning their abilities and likely thinking they needed training in something--better olive slicing or whatever. In other words, I would have been acting like a typical team that notices a problem. And you might say about Engineering Excellence, "Pshaw, all that HPT stuff is hooey, you're just a training group that's putting on airs." But I have to say that having been exposed to HPT theory, I really did look at Pizza Hut in a different way.

The employees certainly seemed motivated; they were working hard to crank out the pizza (one exception was the woman in the back who was folding pizza boxes--she looked a little grumpy). I don't know about their compensation, but it didn't appear to be affecting their work in a visible way. They certainly had the expectation set on them to produce pizza on time, and the customers (like me) milling around waiting for their pies helped reinforce that. They seemed to have the capacity--the right number of people working there, the ovens cooking fast enough. And I think each person had the requisite skills to do their job.

The problem seemed to be the process. In particular, what was happening was that as pizzas came out of the oven (which is one of those continuous thingies), they had trouble figuring out which order they were associated with. Literally they would be gathered around looking at a freshly-cooked pizza, trying to determine if it was a hand-tossed veggie or a thin-crust supreme. Then they would get it wrong, hand out the wrong pizza to somebody, then when the rightful owner showed up they would need to make it again, which delayed him and got them behind, and then they had to struggle to catch up, and in the hurry they messed up more orders, etc.

Geary Rummler, a grey eminence of performance consulting, says, "If you put a good performer in a bad process, the bad process will win every time." And that is what was happening. They had a bad process for matching up pizzas and orders, and it was overcoming all the motivation, compensation, knowledge, capacity and expectation that they had working in your favor.

So the next time your pizza is late, don't automatically blame the employees. And if you manage a pizza place, don't automatically assume that more employee training will fix it. You need to slow down, survey the situation, and order a full HPT workup. Stat.

Posted by AdamBa at October 23, 2006 06:24 PM

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Just wondering - do you think the fact that they are (probably?) paid barely minimum wage be a factor in this? Just learnt an interesting fact this morning - Kansas is the only stage whose minimum wage rate is lower than the federal rate (Actually I'm not entirely sure what that means but it sounds pretty bad)

Posted by: anonymouse at October 24, 2006 09:42 AM

No, I don't think their wage was a factor. You might think that instinctively ("they do a bad job because they are low-paid and therefore unmotivated and/or unemployable elsewhere") but from what I could tell everybody was trying to do their job well. The pizza-makers were making them fast, the boxer/slicer guy was working fast...and as far as I could tell, doing the job well. I mean, the problem that I saw was not related to the quality of the work they did. Perhaps the pizza makers were not spreading the pepperoni as evenly as they could, but that wasn't the cause of the observed problem or the customer dissatisfaction.

- adam

Posted by: Adam Barr at October 24, 2006 09:40 PM

I'm curious about HTP... can you recommend a good book to serve as a starting for a kid early in his IT career?

Posted by: Jon Abad at October 26, 2006 07:49 AM

The book that our team used to use as an intro was "Serious Performance Consulting" by Geary Rummler. Rummler has the experience, but his writing style defies adjectival annotation. We are just switching to use a book called "HPI Essentials", a collection edited by George Piskurich, which I haven't read but our HPT gurus like.

You can also check http://www.ispi.org.

- adam

Posted by: Adam Barr at October 26, 2006 02:45 PM

Having worked at Pizza Hut in the past the process here isn't so bad. When an order comes in a ticket is printed out which includes the encoded ingredients for the pizza. When I worked there (over a decade ago) that was something like:


which would be a medium, thin, green peppers, onion and pepperonni pizza.

So the cook pulls down the order, grabs the dough from the fridge right next to the make table, sauces it (sometimes pizza's are pre-sauced to prepare for the rush), puts the toppings on, and throws the pizza in the oven. Repeat for additional pizzas on the ticket and break up into a pipeline of people during busy times. Pretty simple, pretty straight forward. At this point the ticket goes onto the oven and will be popped off at the end when the pizza is done.

Now at a busy time (as 5-6 usually will be) there may be both ovens in flight. This complicates things but you're only talking about 4 pizzas coming out at the same time. And discerning the difference between the pizzas isn't that hard of a task if you know the coded system. You can pull off all 4 pizzas, pick out what's what, slice them, box them, and move onto the next four pretty quickly. Things like onions can be tough topings - e.g. if you have a pepperonni w/ onions and a plain pepperonni, sometimes it's easy to miss the onions. But there aren't too many of those challenges.

What's potentially worse is that at some stores the drivers will be in charge of cutting the pizzas. While you'd expect the drivers to be just as talented they may come in less frequently and therefore may tend to be fighting more fires (as in "uh-oh, the ovens backing up, gotta move quick!").

The tough thing here is that it's sometimes hard to figure out where the mistake was. If a wrong pizza went out was it that the cook made a wrong pizza and you only have one mistake? Or do you have a 2nd mistake waiting to happen down the line somewhere? Sounds like they had a 2nd mistake :)

Posted by: Anonymous at October 29, 2006 08:05 PM

Well, the problem I saw definitely seemed to be in the identifying the pizzas and matching them to the orders as they came out of the oven. So I was thinking some sort of heat-proof device that the pizza makers could put next to the pizza on the tray, with say the last digit of the order number on it. Then as the pizzas came out they could quickly be matched up with the order.

People could still make the wrong pizzas, but that's a separate issue.

- adam

Posted by: Adam Barr at October 29, 2006 09:42 PM