Bringing in Outside Experts




I work for a company that likes to keep things in house. We’ve been a family-owned company for over a hundred years and one of our hallmarks has been a desire to keep our information and accumulated knowledge private and secure. So when I read Project Nightmares- Gordon Ramsay to the Rescue! the author Bill Dow struck a chord with me on several points. To briefly summarize the premise, this article advocates for an approach towards evaluating projects that is similar to what celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay does on his show Kitchen Nightmares:

Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares Evaluation Process

  1. Samples the food (he tries almost the whole menu)
  2. Review of the surroundings (color, lighting, atmosphere, etc.)
  3. Review of the kitchen processes (billing, wait staff, line cooks, how orders are processed, etc.)
  4. Review of staff (including qualifications, background, experiences of owners, wait staff, bartenders, chiefs, etc.)
  5. Review of fridges (walk-in’s, freezers, food quality, etc.

The article notes that Ramsay evaluates the restaurants on the basis of his expertise. While each restaurant he observes tries to differentiate itself on one or more of the above criteria, he knows from experience what is likely to resonate with customers and what is likely to lead to disaster. He spends a brief period of time making suggestions and changes and then leaves to head onto the next reclamation project. Dow argues that many companies and project managers would benefit from bringing in an experienced outsider to take the temperature of their efforts and get things back on track if necessary. He argues that the evaluation process could look something like this:

Project Management Evaluation Process

  1. Review the project health data (Is the Project in Red status, is the budget Green, Risks/Issues…etc.)
  2. Review project deliverables (no getting around it, you are going to have to look at the deliverables and the content)
  3. Review project processes (Look for areas going well and areas of improvement, how does the project manage change? What about the budget process?)
  4. Reviews project resources (Look at their qualifications, their background, experiences…etc.)
  5. Talk to customers and team members (how are the relationships, what is the working environment like…etc.)

Dow believes a major shortcoming in many projects is a lack of objectivity in the evaluation process. While project managers should be responsible for keeping their projects and teams on track, Dow writes that traditional project audits may lack efficacy in uncovering the pitfalls that could bring the project off the rails. While checklists may ensure a basic level of progress is made on a project they are not always able to guarantee that a project is headed for its intended destination. Dow is not arguing for bringing in outsiders to run the project but rather advocating for bringing in an expert in the relative field to gauge the project’s likelihood of success based on observation and experience. To return to the example of Kitchen Nightmares, Gordon Ramsay doesn’t stick around to enjoy the fruits of his labor. He shakes up the status quo, gives suggestions to the owner/management, and heads off to the next episode.

As I stated in the beginning I think there are times when my organization could benefit from hearing more from outside voices. There are times when it can feel like we’re doing the same old projects the same old way and almost know ahead of time we’ll have the same old results. I’ve definitely noticed a push to change things up, but it can be hard to do that when the initiatives are being run by people accustomed to doing things a particular way.

I’d be interested to hear about your organizations and any experience you have in dealing with outside experts. How do your companies and teams keep projects on target?


The Virtues of Virtual Teams

virtual team


Today, globalization of the marketplace continues to become more and more widespread. A growing number of companies not only interact with suppliers, vendors and customers abroad but also extend outside of national borders themselves. As a result, many employees are asked to work closely with coworkers they have never met and will likely never meet in person. In his HBR blog “Virtual Teams can Outperform Traditional Teams“, Keith Ferazzi discusses three key advantages enjoyed by virtual teams.

For starters, he notes that virtual teams can pull together experts from any location. This is increasingly important for large multinational corporations that may have top talent spread around the world. Secondly, he notes that many teams have used a “follow the sun” strategy where the members in one portion of the world leave follow up tasks for the members who will come in after they’re done for the day. Finally, they are often quite diverse which allows the team to understand how their results may be received by customers and clients around the world.

I found the second point particularly interesting because I believe that team members scattered in different time zones around the world is commonly perceived as an obstacle to overcome. Communication options can be limited in these instances. When an urgent issue arises towards the end of the work day in Chicago, the expert in London may already be sleeping. I don’t interact with anyone outside the United States in my current role, but I’ve experienced delays in communication just from the two hour difference between Chicago and Los Angeles if I’m looking for an answer first thing in the morning.

I feel like a “follow the sun” team would require a good deal of structure in their communication and planning. It sounds nice to leave work for the next geographic team to complete, but if they don’t understand what they’re being asked to do the work will either be carried over for clarification or completed incorrectly. While e-mail and other forms of online messaging are likely to be the primary method of communication for these teams, there will likely be times where conference calls or live video conferencing are preferable to get things resolved quickly. In many cases, one or more participants will be on early in the morning or late at night, which could easily hinder attentiveness. This could also quickly become a sore spot if the employees in one location feel like they are carrying the brunt of the burden in accommodating the schedule difficulties. I also feel like it would be easy for team members to perceive a disparity in communication if the project manager interacts in person with some of the members and only through online communication with others. It would definitely take discipline to keep everyone fully in the loop.

I’d be interested in hearing from anyone who is on a team with coworkers abroad. Has the experience been frustrating and time consuming, enlightening and productive or somewhere in between?