Agile mindset in a restaurant

What is “agile mindset” and do you need it in traditional project management? How do you know if someone has an agile mindset, or not? It was the topic of a recent conversation that we had in a San Francisco restaurant.

Now, a little bit about the restaurant. It’s called Educated Palate. It’s run by the City College of San Francisco. That’s where “students practice culinary & service skills in a 50-seat dining room with a rotating menu.” What it means is that it’s run by students.

Those folks are not yet fully experienced restauranteurs. They are there to learn by doing. The food is good, - especially for the price. (I do recommend it!) Everyone is really nice - trying hard to practice their service skills - good place! However, there was a feeling that something was missing. I was not sure what it was, but after about thirty minutes it dawned on me - the agile mindset! See, these folks are trained to follow the process (which is important). They greet you, they seat you, they take your order, they update you on the order status, they bring your food, they stop by to ask how you like your food, etc. Problem is, they are not sensitive to the subtle changes in the environment - to the feedback. What they lack is situational awareness. They can stop by at your table and ask, “How’s your food?” Which is really sweet, but I have my mouth completely full at the moment. They don’t yet notice that kind of stuff. You ask for a check, they run to ring you up without noticing anything else around, not even that lady at the next table who desperately needs another napkin. 

In contrast, I remembered having a quick meal at an airport in Dallas TX. One thing I love about Texas: food is excellent even in airports. Anyway, the waiter there was a real pro - amazing to watch. He did follow the process and he was fast! The amazing thing though was how much in tune he was with everything that was going on around him. He would be carrying food to one table and notice a subtle frown on someone’s face at another table and immediately nod and say, “ What do you need? … I’ll be right back,” and carry on, and then he would come back and take care of things. He would notice if someone needed a fresh napkin, and he would just bring it - to a complete surprise of the guest. It was an excellent service! He was not only working inside his required service process but also constantly scanning the environment for signs of feedback and input and constantly adapting to the situation. He was very busy there, but he did stop by to ask me how my meal was - I was not chewing at the time. The guy had a true agile mindset.

So, how can you tell if someone has an agile mindset? Easy - professionalism! True professionals seem to have a highly developed agile mindset and are ready for anything.

Do you need an agile mindset in the waterfall or traditional project management environment? Well, what do you think? Perhaps waiters should consider getting PMI-ACP certified? 

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