Ramsay might be an engineer, Kitchen Nightmares and the six sigma process

After watching a few episodes of Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares series, K pointed out to me that Ramsay pretty much follows a six sigma process for business improvement in every episode.  In case you’re not familiar with Six Sigma, it is essentially a formal process to follow to identify problems, implement changes and measure the effectiveness of these changes.

From wikipedia:

Six Sigma seeks to improve the quality of process outputs by identifying and removing the causes of defects (errors) and minimizing variability in manufacturing and business processes.

Although six sigma is often thrown around the boardrooms of large corporations wanting to cut costs, the premise it is built on is very sound and can be applied to all small businesses with little more than a basic understanding of how it works.  The six sigma process follows five steps: Define, Measure, Analyse, Improve and Control.

Define the problem (and not the symptom)

The first part of a six sigma process is to define the problem.  The first question Ramsay asks the would-be-restauranteurs is “what is the problem” and they invariably answer “not enough clients”.  No! This simple response just shows how many people confuse the symptom of a problem with the actual problem.  In Kitchen Nightmares, the problem is usually bad quality food, poor management, or lack of direction. “not enough clients” is the symptom, or result of one or many of these.  It is therefore vital that if you want to improve an aspect of your business that you carefully (and honestly) identify and define the actual problem before you continue.

Measure (how will you know you made a difference?)

You need to measure what the problem is causing, or the extent of the problem before you can asses if the changes you implement make a difference.  Kitchen Nightmares is primarily focused on restaurants, so Ramsay measures the effects of his changes by quantifying the number of covers a night, the amount of profit, people served, number of complaints, number of dishes sent back.  This is usually the second thing he asks, eg “how many people do you have booked for dinner?”.  For other businesses, you could measure number of visitors to your site, number of orders, number of conversions on a site, number of hourly phone calls etc. Remember to document these before continuing.

Analyse the problem (and find some solutions!)

The analysis step is very important to the six sigma process. It is very important to analyse the process or system prior to implementing any changes to fully understand how the system is (or isn’t!) working.  You shouldn’t dive in with a solution without taking a good hard look at the problem, or you might be addressing the wrong one (“not enough clients” is not the problem remember?)  On the first night in Kitchen Nightmares, Ramsay always watches a dinner service in the background to analyse how the kitchen and staff run the business.

Make an improvement to the business

After analysing the process you can identify areas of improvement.  In Kitchen Nightmares Ramsay implements small changes to address the problems he picked up during the analysis part.  If the problem is slow service with dishes coming out hourly and the chef is competent but struggling with the variety of choice then an improvement would be cutting down the size of the menu and using simpler dishes.  For web based businesses, improvements could be cutting clutter on the site, implementing a call to action button on every page, using basic SEO techniques or offering part of your business for free.

Control the change (and make sure it sticks!)

The Control part of six sigma is to ensure the improvements you’ve implemented stay and you don’t revert back to your old ways.  In Kitchen Nightmares, the control part is often overlooked however Ramsay often implements it through a variety of ways, including bringing in a consultant chef for a period of time to supervise, or simply by encouraging the owners to change ways.  Unfortunately, some stubborn owners who are reluctant to change slip back into their old ways rather quickly.

So there you have it, the next time you want to change something in your business or improve a process, have a look at Kitchen Nightmares and follow the steps Ramsay makes.

Filed under:   six sigma