4 Things I learnt from McDonalds

22nd June 2011

I was passing through Sydney airport not that long ago, and I had some time to kill. I ended up near the food court and was close enough to observe the nearby McDonalds. As it turns out, it was a fascinating experience. I noticed a number of practices that related to software development projects.

Manage expectations

The first thing I noticed, was that as soon as a customer had placed an order, they were asked to moved to a small waiting area next to the till. This area could only hold 3 people, but it was instantly clear that who was ahead of you, and therefore vaguely how long your order was going to take to be prepared. Remember, we were in an airport - people need to have an understand of how long they’ll be waiting. Once you see the two people ahead of you receive their orders within 2 minutes of each other, it’s a good indication that your order will take a further 2 minutes.

Parallelise, but limit your work in progress

One of the tenets on Kanban is to limit your work in progress to what can be effectively achieved by a team. The 3 person order waiting area effectively performs this. Once this waiting area is full, no new orders are taken. This also reenforces the earlier point of managing expectations - you cannot expect to have order fulfilled until after you have placed one.


Behind the counter, orders appear on many screens in the kitchen. As the orders age, they change in colour, from green to red. This clearly indicates the priority of an order and allows kitchen staff to manage their time accordingly.

Management should remove blockages, not micromanage

Behind the counter there was at least one supporting manager. From observation, it was clear that her job mostly entailed spotting orders that had turned red. She then took immediate action to determine what the blockages were and acted upon them. She also immediately focussed on any situation that was impairing the effectiveness of an employee, such as a difficult customer who was challenging the cost of the meal they had ordered.

tags: process, post
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