The Dinner Party

We created this fictional "story" to describe a composite of obersations and experiences we've had over the years concerning strategy and the resulting product portfolio. Have you ever been to a Dinner Party like this?

There once was a couple that decided to invite some friends over for a dinner party. The husband invited 4 couples and 2 singles. He said that they could all have any meal they wanted and his chef would prepare it. The chef began making preparations for a dinner for 12 guests.

The chef was not sure what they all wanted, so he bought more than he needed just in case. He bought chicken, fish, many different meats, and different kinds of vegetables. He bought spices for all sorts of different cuisines, not knowing which ones the guests would choose. He made some assumptions and hoped he would be right. Of course this uncertainty came with a cost, but he was assured by the hosts that, “Money was no object” since the event was so important Further they said, “The dinner would have to be world class and at the cutting edge of culinary art.” He was up for the challenge, what could go wrong, he was a professional?

Shortly before the evening of the party the husband’s wife, after having reviewed the household budget, decided that money tight that month and she would need to reduce the chef's food budget by 30%. She told the chef to buy less food and to "get creative."

To be prepared, the chef knew he needed some new kitchen equipment, in particular a new food processor in order to handle the expected volume of food and the number of different recipes he anticipated. So he specified the one he wanted and then asked the wife’s personal assistant to order it. But the assistant became annoyed and said he was busy with other projects and would get to it when he had time.
The assistant reminded the chef that he had to balance all the needs of the household and that his food processor was just one of many “needs.” He also ask the chef why he needed such an expensive food processor, “Wouldn’t a less expensive one work?” he asked.

The chef explained that the equipment was critical to the dinner’s success, but the assistant was not moved by the argument. He continued to remind the chef that money was tight. He asked the chef, “How close to the event date would he really need the machine?” He explained that he could preserve the limited cash in the budget if the chef could just wait until the night of the party to receive the machine. The assistant needed to make his cash last, he explained. If the chef really wanted the machine sooner he could “make a proposal” to the hosts and see if they would approve a faster delivery time. The chef was concerned and wondered if it would arrive in time, since he didn’t have time to make the proposal. He hoped that the unit would be in stock when the time came.

A few days before the big event, the wife decided to invite 3 more couples. She also told the chef that he needed to prepare chinese food in addition to the other meals he had anticipated preparing and further, that he needed to shave another 5% off of his limited budget. She expected a great performance for the 18 person party. She said, “Nothing less than the best would be tolerated,” since she was trying to better her neighbor, who ran a very successful party a few weeks prior.

The day before the party, another couple was added. The hosts figured, “What harm would a few more people do when so much food what being prepared?” The anticipation was building and all the invited guests were talking on their Facebook pages. The word was out.

Unexpectedly, the sioux-chef was fired just a day before the big event. The husband did not like her, so she was terminated. Seems she was making disparaging remarks about the hosts and complained that too many people were invited, and that they might not have enough food for them or not be able to meet the unexpected menu requests. The husband decided that this kind of “negative energy” would ruin the event. The assistant chef had to go, if this was going to be the success he expected. He asked again for everyone to “think positive thoughts.”

The day of the big event arrived, but the food processor didn’t… so a backup blender was substituted. This was also new and the chef was having trouble getting it to run at the proper speed to make the special soup recipe he had developed the day before, but never was able to get fully developed. He figured he’d improvise that night. Why not, he’s the “pro.”

The dinner guests arrived, late of course. They put their orders in for the "meal of a life time," which is what the husband told them they should expect. Each order was slightly different, enough so that each dish would have to be made individually. The chef’s plans for some shared entrées would have to be abandoned if he was going to met everyone’s needs.

No one had ever been to a dinner party where they could decide what they wanted to eat on the spot, with virtually no limits, and then have it prepared any way they wanted, and in a matter of hours. Everyone was excited to see how it was done. The anticipation and excitement was in the air.

Much to the chef’s surprise, the 9:00pm dinner time had been moved up to 8:00pm, which added more pressure to the chef's impossible task. He would have to do this short handed, and with new equipment, and with new recipes; but he was a team-player and up for the challenge. He’s a pro he reminded himself.
Then 3 guests changed their minds and instead of chinese food, they wanted special indian dishes. The husband said, of course, no problem, his chef was the best in the world and would deliver, at 8:00pm, anything they wanted. Next came the wife, storming into the kitchen demanding to see the progress and asking if the chef would be ready in time. The chef didn't have a clock in the kitchen and had no idea what time it was. The wife screamed that he'd “better not be late” and she hoped he didn't spend too much money on the dinner. She ended with, “I expect great things from you, but I don’t expect to pay and arm and a leg for it.”

At that moment, one of the guests, who happened to be a management consultant, hearing the commotion in the kitchen offered to help the chef stay on time using his sophisticated and expensive wrist watch and management methodologies. He didn’t know much about cooking, but that didn’t matter, “management was management” no matter the subject. He figured they just needed a little planning and discipline, easy.

He’d stand over the chef and time each of his actions in order to improve his efficiency. He even had a sophisticated model that calculated the costs and did real-time cost-benefit analysis. All the inefficiencies would be gone soon enough. Science would fix the problem.

But first he explained, in “business-like” language, that they would need to have an “alignment meeting” to make sure their goals where “synchronized” and that they were “fully communicating” their feelings and expectations to one another. The chef complained that this would waste valuable time and he needed to be cooking, not talking. The consultant demanded that they plan before they went any further. This debate went on for 30 minutes.

The 18 guests were having a great time in the other room. The husband was a superb entertainer. He provided lots of spirits and had great stories of his world travels jetting around as an executive in a global high tech corporation. The guests were all excited about the meal he had promised.

While they were all eating the starter course, he had really set high expectations for the feast to come; promising it would be “twice as good” as his neighbors party, that they had all attended a few weeks earlier. Just then, 2 more unexpected friends showed up at the door. They were driving by and saw all the people in the living room and decided to see what was happening. They were welcomed into the party and their dinner order taken, but of course. They were told that they could specify any food they wanted, “Anything to make you happy” the gracious host assured. He wanted everyone to be his friend.

As 8:00pm approached, the husband decided to check on the chef in the kitchen. He was surprised to see the mess and turmoil. Nothing was ready, although the chef continued to assure the husband that it would all be ready in time. The management consultant (with his fancy watch) complained that he didn’t think the chef would finish in time, but was ignored by everyone and accused of overreacting, and worse, “Being negative.”

Just then, the wife burst into the kitchen yelling and screaming that the food must be ready and must be more than what everyone expected, that her reputation was at stake. She also announced that they had all been watching the food channel and saw a new recipe that 3 of the guested wanted instead of their original order. Someone from the neighbors party had texted that they had watched the same show and their chef was in fact making the dish as they wrote. The pressure was on.

Of course the accommodating hosts committed to their guests that their chef could “do anything” and would surely be able to make this unknown dish in the remaining time before they were all to be seated for dinner. If the neighbor could do it, she reckoned, so could they. She said it was simply a matter of “commitment” and “conviction.” This was a “world class” team and she expected world class results, why not she rationalized to herself, “She was paying big bucks for it.”

She also announced that due to the chefs excessive spending to meet the expanding demands of the guests, that his budget would be further slashed by another 10%. He just needed to be more efficient and he would need to go a little faster. They had a long meeting about this topic, while he was trying to cook, which further slowed him down. The hosts wanted to impress upon him the importance of this event and how much it meant to them, and how much money they had spent. He simply needed to go faster and be more creative.
As dinner time rapidly approached, it seemed that things had slowed down in the kitchen. The first course was delayed, nothing was coming out of the kitchen, just a lot of noise. The wife asked the “consultant guest” to cheek on the cook and find out when he’d be ready.

After a detailed investigation, some more meetings and interviews, the consultant concluded that the chef needed more help in the kitchen. He further reasoned that the chef had a “motivation problem” and “lacked focus.” Further, the chef didn’t appreciate the importance of keeping a schedule. In short, the chef lacked urgency. If he’d just go faster, the problem would be solved. He showed the chef many examples of where this was done, from his best practice database.

Of course the husband ignored the request, suggesting that nothing was wrong. Eventually, 3 guests were dispatched to the kitchen to help out. All three were “expert” chefs themselves, at least this is what they announced to the chef as they barged into his kitchen.

Soon there they were, all the chefs engaged in a heated discussion about how to prioritize the remaining work to get the entrée out on the table. By now, it was 8:30 and the guests were getting hungry. People started to talk and wonder if they would get any food at all. Some considered backup places to eat that night, just in case they really got hungry. The hosts assured the guessed that it would be worth their wait and to, “Have another drink, food was just around the corner.” He turned the music up a little louder to drown out all the arguing in the kitchen.

It seems they had problems with the soup, this is what was delaying the first course. The bender was not installed correctly and had shorted out the power in the kitchen. The special recipe that had been sent in by the 3 guests watching the food channel was not working. The pressure was on, since the neighbor’s party was in full swing next door which they could all see through the windows. They were already sitting down to dinner and lots of food was being placed on the big table. All the guest started to talk about going next door to eat, since they were getting really hungry at that point. The hosts assured them that dinner was coming soon and to wait.

By now it was 9:00pm and the soup was not even out, so they decided to go right the main course. This lacked one of the side orders, since they ran out of time and ran short of carrots. The service was slow and they only had enough food for half the guests, so they divided what they had between everyone. Better everyone get some, than only a few get it all.

When some of the food eventually started to trickle out, it was cold was well, since some of it had waited while the problematic side order was being worked on. Apparently, this delayed side order needed that special blender which continued to operate unpredictably.

The last we heard, some of the guests had left the party because they were very hungry and had to eat.

They went next door some said. Some even could see the defectors through the window chowing down what looked like a great meal.

We understand the party is still in progress and the hosts have promised that the second course would make up for the failures in the first course. The last we checked it was 11:00pm and only a portion of the second course had reached the table. Only half of the special dishes could be made and the host was trying to persuade the remaining guests to take the substitute dishes. Stay tuned…