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Project Management Lessons I Learned at a Bad Fast Food Chain

I stopped by a fast food restaurant a couple of days ago to get my morning coffee and sandwich. It was my first time at that particular branch, but my brief experience was enough to make me swear never to go back. The service was slow, the food was bad (even for fast food) and the staff were at each other′s throats.

On my way back to the office, I reflected about how much team relations and cohesion affects everything else, from the customer to the product itself–even in a project management environment.

People handle stress different ways. And that stresses people out.

I got to see many different personality types in the fifteen minutes it took to get my order, each drastically different from the rest. There was the middle-aged woman at the coffee station, who was so tense and wound up that she snapped at every provocation. There was the elderly woman manning the register, who seemed so unruffled that it was like she was working in a different place but would blame problems on other people. There was the college student who seethed and took every comment personally, and seemed to grow angrier with every mistake.

These negative emotions fed off each other. A harsh comment would invite a harsh reply. This leads to sloppy work, which would invite another angry remark, which would raise tensions even more. It was uncomfortable to watch.

Good Leadership is Vital

If there was a manager at that location, they must′ve been hiding in the back room, because I didn′t see anybody trying to calm things down. As a result, things spiraled out of control as more customers came in and more orders piled up.

An effective leader would′ve been able to step in and keep people focused on their tasks instead of wasting time sniping at each other. All that negative energy could′ve been channeled into getting the job done, thereby removing the source of the tension–the order backlog.

Don′t Work Angry

When I say you should “channel energy into getting the job done,” I do not mean you should take your anger out on your work. The college student did this, and the sandwich she made me was a sloppy, barely-presentable mess–and this was after they got my order wrong the first time. I have to assume all of her other sandwiches were similarly bad. The coffee was the same way, too. Temperamental mishandling spilled the coffee (thanks to an improperly applied lid) and it tasted off.

This was for food. Can you imagine what would happen if you were trying to work on a six-figure budget project through a red haze? I can safely predict there would be plenty more mistakes than usual.

Customers Shouldn′t See the Drama

This is kind of hard to avoid in the fast food chain′s case, because the working area is so visible to customers. But there′s no denying that seeing the staff acting as they did didn′t improve the mood of the customers. Some muttered among themselves, others spoke sharp words to the staff. There were even those that left the store entirely.

You can′t avoid inter-team conflict, no matter what business you′re in. But showing the customers your bad side damages their trust in your abilities, and therefore the quality of the product you′re making. Eventually, this will start to affect your business′ bottom line as customers get turned off by the internal drama and leave.

It wasn′t the worst coffee I ever had, but it was one of the worst customer service experiences. I′m definitely not going back to that restaurant any time soon.

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