an agile tale

An Agile Tale – The Best Pizza in Town


This is the agile tale of why engagement, quality and productivity are suffering in the workplace.

We are watching Master Pizza Maker Gustav lovingly place the mozzarella on to what is another celebration of the humble pizza pie. Gustav cares about pizza deeply. For him it is not just a food. It is a social enabler, a food which can be consumed anywhere with nothing else required for its consumption but the pizza itself.

Brilliant in its simplicity, matched in its vision only by the 18th culinary creation of the Earl of Sandwich. 2,000 plus years of pizza versus 200 years plus of sandwiches. It’s not even a competition thinks Gustav as he dismisses sandwiches en masse as a rival to pizza.

With the reverence which Gustav has for pizza, it is not hard to see why Gustav is the creator of the best pizza in town. Which it truly is.

Gustav slides the pizza out of the oven expertly and places it on the shelf behind him to be boxed up for delivery. He then turns his attention to his next masterpiece.

Pizza problems…

15 minutes later the pizza is still on the shelf. Jane, who boxes up the pizzas is looking for pizza tables. These are the 3-legged small bits of plastic that they put on pizzas so that the cheese doesn’t stick to the top of the box. She knows they are here somewhere.

Claudio the manager is getting stressed as there is now a line of pizzas, all in various states of decay. With each passing minute, there is more likelihood that they will arrive late. And then he will have to give discounts to irate customers.

Steven, the pizza delivery driver is staring intently at his phone. He is having the game of his life and has just smashed his high score. He can see the pizza tables that Jane is looking for. However, if he tells her where they are, she will pack up the pizzas. Then he will have to leave his game. So he pretends to be unaware of Jane’s search as he continues to crush candy.

The tension in Claudio rises, “Steven, get those pizzas delivered!”.

“I can’t, they are not packed up.” protests Steven.

“Claudio, I can’t find the pizza tables” Jane yells out, knowing the blame is edging closer to her.

“Jane, just pack these ones up, I’ll find you some pizza tables later. We have already lost £30 tonight in discounts” says Claudio sternly.

Claudio makes a good point, we can’t afford to be late with our delivery, they just have to go regardless of if we are ready.

Solutions (sort of)

Jane finally has the pizzas in boxes (sans tables). There are 12 boxed pizzas ready, but the container on the bike only has enough room for 10 pizza boxes. Steven doesn’t want to make 2 trips out as some of these pizzas are very late. So he takes all 12 boxes with him. He manages to squeeze an 11th one in the container at the back of the bike. The 12th one he balances on his knees, since this one is just two streets away. It’s only a small risk, as it’s unlikely he will drop it in just two streets.

Delivery dilemmas

Steven made it to the first address, the pizza stayed on his knees. He did not drop it. “That is the work of a truly gifted pizza delivery guy.” thinks Steven, smiling to himself.

The second address is the destination of the pizza we saw being crafted at the start of our story. Steven tries to take the box out of the container at the back. However, it is wedged tight in the stuffed container. After a few tugs, he manages to extract the pizza box.

On answering the door, the first thing Peter, our customer says is “You are 7 minutes late. It’s 50% off if you are late”.

Steven is used to being greeted by customers in this way. Even though he is often late, due to the customers receiving 50% off, he finds they almost want him to be a couple of minutes late. And as long as he does not argue with them over the discount, he finds that the lateness does not affect his tips. In fact often it increases his tip as the customer feels flush having only paid half for their pizza. It’s good business for Steven to run a few minutes behind.

Customer complaints

When Steven arrives back at the store, he hears Claudio on the phone to Peter, our customer. “Yes sir, but we already discounted it by 50%”.

“Squashed, cheese stuck to the top of the box. Cold…” says Claudio as he makes a note of the customer complaint. “I agree, you should not have to pay for a pizza in that condition. Our driver will be back with you in 30 mins with a free replacement” Claudio promises Peter. Just like he has already promised 6 other customers this evening.

Claudio covers the phone for a moment, and whispers to Steven. “Steven, there are 15 more pizzas on the shelf, packed up and ready to go. See if you can fit them all on the bike because we are really behind”.

Then Claudio calls over to Jane “I’ll find you those pizza tables as soon as I’m off the phone.” He knows this won’t be for a while, since he can already see 3 other lines blinking with calls ready to be answered… Gustav, obliviously pulls out another beautiful pizza from the oven.

So, what’s the problem?

So, that my friends is the tale of the best pizza in town, which at the end of its journey is not even considered worthy of payment.

How did this happen to the glorious culinary creation crafted by our Master Pizza Maker Gustav?

  • It didn’t happen because Jane could not find the pizza tables
  • It didn’t happen because Steven was more interested in his game than his job
  • It didn’t happen because Steven squashed the pizza into the container on the bike
  • It didn’t happen because Steven did not care it was late because he may get a better tip

All of those things above are symptomatic of a much deeper issue. A critical issue which is damaging engagement, quality & productivity in the workplace.

The issue is a lack of ownership.

The team focuses only on ownership of their own role in the process, rather than ownership of the whole process. Therefore, they only care about the success of their role.

In their individual roles:

  • Gustav only cares about making the best pizza, which he does. However, he then puts it behind him, where it then becomes invisible to him, while he focuses on his next creation
  • Jane only cares about boxing the pizzas up in a timely manner. She finds it acceptable to miss a key step in the process (the inclusion of the pizza table) if directed by her manager to do so.
  • Steven thinks it is heroic to try to carry 15 pizzas when he knows the safe carrying load is 10 pizzas. Steven also doesn’t even want the pizza to arrive on time. This is because it benefits him personally to be a few minutes late, since he will probably get a larger tip
  • Claudio is looking at his stores figures,. Getting pizza out the door is more important that getting the “best pizza” out the door.

The group is siloed and not connected by a shared goal or vision, and so they do not feel a collective sense of ownership.

Gustav has a personal mission to “Create the Best Pizza in Town”, however that goal is not shared by any of his team.

What if the whole team had a shared goal to “Deliver the Best Pizza in Town”. Now all parts of the delivery process are aligned under a common goal to ensure the best pizza is not just what is made, but what is actually delivered into the hands of our customers.

If it was a goal that the team could take ownership of then:

  •  Gustav would not simply turn his back on the pizza he had just created. Instead, he would be making sure that Jane was aware the pizza was there and it was going in to a box as soon as possible so that it could stay warm.
  • The whole team would make sure that all of the critical parts of the delivery chain (e.g. pizza tables) were well stocked and readily available before their shift starts. This way, the quality would not be compromised at any point.
  •  Steven would join Jane in packing up the pizzas so that they could be ready for delivery more quickly.
  • Claudio would make a case with senior management to remove the policy of 50% off for late orders, knowing that this artificial constraint will drive unhelpful behaviours (such as Steven’s go-slow for more tips strategy), and inject artificial stress into the process. They would instead opt for setting better expectations with customers over when pizzas can be delivered based on the time of day and how busy the store is, knowing that customers would be willing to wait that bit longer if what was arriving was indeed “The Best Pizza in Town”.
  • By not aligning our people under a singular goal that they can all contribute towards, we are not allowing them to feel a sense of ownership and care for the overall quality of what we create and deliver.

Each misaligned step in the process is just another crack stopping us from working as a team towards a common goal.

When you work in a team and you all have a shared goal that you can all contribute towards, it feels great. It actually feels like a team. A group of people who work together towards a common goal, caring for and supporting each other in the process, holding each other up to a higher standard and pushing each other to be better for our collective good and our collective pride in our work.

That is the kind of team that not only makes, but delivers, the best pizza in town.

Gaining knowledge is the first step to wisdom, sharing it is the first step to humanity


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If you liked this agile tale, you may also like my other messages:

The Agile Prison

Destined to Fly

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