The other day I had another bad experience buying coffee. The one I remember most was in a place that had a captive market, a long queue running out the door, and three people behind the counter, of whom only one seemed to be doing anything—taking orders, taking the money and making the drinks. The other two seemed unsure of their function. This latest experience wasn’t quite that bad, and was more about disengaged staff, but it was certainly one of the frustrating ones.
My first reaction to these situations used be “How hard can it be to make a cup of coffee?” But these days I always think of companies such as Starbucks and McDonald’s who have large operations manuals and regimented training for all their staff. This may appear to be excessively controlling, but I’m sure it’s not a coincidence that they are global corporations, while my bad coffee experiences are almost exclusively with retailers who don’t have more than a handful of shops.
When I work with tech teams, sometimes I question whether we’re going too far when we spend time in retrospectives examining the minutiae of our processes. We fuss over how much text should or shouldn’t be in a ticket, how to signal that something is ready, how we might best display the work in progress, and so on. I wonder if non-technical people look in and ask themselves the same questions, wondering if we’re just navel-gazing.
But the bad coffee experience tells me otherwise. It might be fine to run a small operation on intuition, and spread knowledge through osmosis… as long as we don’t have much ambition. But to be really successful—to be consistent, to survive team changes, to be able to handle the unexpected, and more—we need to be much, much more rigorous.