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?