I don’t watch much TV, but there’s one show that I’m addicted to. It’s Kitchen Nightmares with Gordon Ramsay. There are two versions of the show, the British version and the American version. The British version is a bit better – it’s not quite as fluffed up, but regardless, both shows are worth a look. In them, Gordon Ramsay, a famous chef, goes to failing restaurants and tries to turn them around in a week. And, the way that he does it is incredible. He walks in, tries out the food, criticizes the hell out of it, and then proceeds to tell everyone on the staff just how insanely bad everything is and precisely how responsible they are for it. He doesn’t mince words either. Often every other word is bleeped. A couple of times, he’s gone to restaurant owners and told them to f--- off. It might just be that that’s how you say “pay attention” in the restaurant trade, but I’m pretty sure that it doesn’t work in software development consulting.
Ramsey has some advantages, as a consultant. Every meal service is a new iteration. He can walk in, teach the staff something, and see immediate
consequences. He tears people down and
builds them up, as needed, but when he leaves, the restaurant is a bit better
off than it was before and people know what the problems are. Ultimately, they have to decide whether they
are going to solve them.
The fact is, this is very much like software development consulting, except for the “rough and tumble” bit. And, that’s why it’s porn to me. I think that ultimately, in the restaurant business, you can get away with a bit more because it’s a less polite industry. It’s seen as blue-collar. People yell at each other to get dishes out of the kitchen. It’s expected. In most software development teams, if anyone raises their voice it’s a big deal. Developers walk eggshells with each other, and it can make communication less direct than it should be. But, really, we need to call each other out when good practice lapses in a team. If we don’t, it’s not politeness; it’s abdication.
Ramsay gets results but sometimes it doesn’t work out. In the British version of the series, he goes back to restaurants he’s visited in the past and sees how they are doing. Some take what they’ve learned and continue to make progress; others fall back on old behaviors. I noticed early on that some teams I work with fall back also, and it led me to take a bit of a different tack than Ramsay takes. The question that I always have in mind when I’m working with people is what they’ll be doing after I’ve left. How do I give them something that they can build on and know whether they will own it. Maybe that’s what politeness is for.