Write it down, get it right

NotepadI was in Napa Valley, California last week; beautiful area with great food, wine and people.

I also kept getting free food. It goes like this, waiter takes my order, brings the wrong thing then takes that thing off the bill as an apology. It happened more than 75% of the time over 3 days. If this is typical (and it happens a lot in my experience) it must be a massive reduction in profitability for the hospitality industry.

The cause is always the same – nobody writes things down. I am sure that waiters feel that if they are professionals they should not make notes but the failure rate of memory is too high for real quality. I love a waiter who writes down my order and then repeats it back, because then I know I will get what I asked for. However this happens maybe one time in 20.

It reminded me of the excellent book “The Checklist Manifesto” about a surgeon who was also an amateur pilot. He took the airman’s approach to creating checklists of the most common surgical errors. By implementing this approach in his work he was able make a significant reduction in the number of these errors. He then struggled for years to get other surgeons to follow this approach. They were reluctant to use such simple measures because they were “professionals” and thought such simple measures were beneath them. So their patients suffered avoidable errors.

Maybe its because we don’t measure the outputs of a professional as closely as we do a manufacturing operator for example. In manufacturing we measure non-conforming events and try to drive out the quality problems that cause them. With so called professionals we tolerate massive variance in performance to protect their egos.

Surely the mark of a professional is to want to constantly improve your craft. Whether this is as a waiter, a surgeon or a manager. Back to my Californian waiters and restaurant owners – such a simple measure as writing things down can make a major difference to the delivery of a service, why not just get out your pen.

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