Kitchen nightmares. Lessons from Gordon Ramsay

Kitchen nightmares… lessons from Gordon Ramsay.


I had a great conversation last week talking with former clients Gemma and Gary from Alliance and their new colleague Tre. We were discussing the joys of the product development journey. As Gemma, Gary and I were describing the highs and lows,Tre, who comes from the world of premium restaurants working as a chef, laughed and said ‘it’s just like Kitchen Nightmares!’ – the TV series that showed a few years ago where master chef Gordon Ramsey would come in and help the owners of struggling restaurants to revive their business.

The owners were typically at their wits end, putting in massive long days and just couldn’t get on top of their business.They’d be super frustrated, disappointed and out of energy. They’d tried so hard. They just couldn’t see a way out.

To give it one last go, they’d get the expert in. Chef Ramsay would come in, he’d have a look at what’s happening, then works with the owners and their team to create a formula that works for them. With a simplified fresh menu and inviting decor. All easy to manage. Which has the team smile again and the owners relax and feel this is doable after all.

Imagine how frustrated you’d have to be to put all your worries on TV, ready for the world to see?

When I described to Tre how I work with businesses to help them to improve their product development he noted ‘just like Gordon’. Yes, but without the swearing. 

Here’s how I drew up the journey:

Starting at the bottom, a teams journey into product development often starts by just  ‘giving it a go‘. Developing that idea with lots of enthusiasm and fun, plenty of stumbling, plenty of worries and scrambling along the way in to a product. And getting that first product out in the market. Yay! Did it! It wasn’t a pretty smooth road but we did it! A lot more hours went in than we intended, the project took a lot more time and money than we thought, but hey, it’s out there. New news! Let’s make the most of it! Start selling!

And then, a bit later, there’s another idea for a fresh new product. Well, we did it the first time, let’s try again, for sure we can do this a bit better now with all the learning from the first project. And so starts mucking around round 2. And yes, some things are a bit easier and quicker the second time around and there’s plenty of enthusiasm and energy to pull the project through, but it still takes longer and cost more than was planned.

Right, phase 3. By now you realise that there’s a bit more to this. Maybe it’s time for some ‘procedures‘. Let’s capture the process. Gary recalled this. And he recalled this still didn’t work. The return on investment was still pretty hopeless and by now the teams enthusiasm started to dwindle as well.

Gemma described what happened next: the team started looking for shiny tools. What do other companies do? What do others use to control this process? Someone heard of Stage-Gate. Let’s try that. Another person learned about Design Thinking. Let’s give that a go.

But frustration starts to creep in. All the different tools and all the energy that goes in, but nothing seems to have much effect. The projects still take a long time. It’s still stressful, with many last minute changes, unexpected twists and time pressure. And sure, we can take shortcuts, but it means big risks. Which is scary.  How can we control this better? How do others do this? Why can’t we get it right? Do we have the right team? What’s wrong? Why does this feel like such hard work? It’s supposed to be fun.

It’s much like the restaurants in Gordon Ramsay’s ‘Kitchen Nightmares’ program. It feels like they’ve tried everything. They’re working so hard, long days and they’re only just scraping by. They just can’t get on top of it.

Often that’s when I get a call. It’s time to get help. Because it’s hard to see a way out when you’re in the midst of it.  And just like Chef Ramsay, I come in, have a look at what’s happening, then work with the leaders and the team to create a formula that works for you. With a simplified fresh menu (process) and inviting decor (tools). All easy to manage. Which has the team smile again and the leaders relax and feel this is doable after all.

That’s when I see teams start to flourish. The leaders and the team notice the freedom – they find they have time back in their day to do things better, for the team that means the time to think of other options, smarter solutions, and to ‘dot their i’s’. And for the leaders it means time to focus on the other parts of their role. No longer need to micro manage. It takes you out of the kitchen and back to front of house, where you should be: with the customers and over viewing the business.

 “Saskia helped us design a process that’s clear for all, with clear responsibilities. Now, 3 months later, the number of loopbacks are significantly less. Which makes a huge difference for our BAU teams.It saves me a lot of worrying, easily an hour back in my day” 
– Simon Towns, CEO Constellation Brands, May 2020. 

You’re now on a growth path, flourishing and on the way to mastery. Where you just can’t help to continue to improve. You’ll find that now you are the one being asked to speak at conferences and explain how you cracked the code. How you get so many new products in the market successfully and have so much fun doing it.

Don’t forget to mention Ramsay (Saskia) when you get there!

Three questions for you:

  • Did the journey look like this for you? Where is it different? Let me know!
  • Where are you on the journey?
  • What’s your next step?

Don’t let it get to the Kitchen Nightmare stage. Get help earlier, it pays back for itself and more. And it is way more fun!

You can be amazing.You and your team have got it in you. With a bit of a master’s touch we can bring it out. And now is a great time to have some good news!

Let’s get better by design.

Thank you Gary, Gemma and Tre!

Onwards & upwards,

ps. Have a question? Give me a ring (021-68 49 68) or hit reply here to have chat!


About Saskia

Saskia is a new product development expert. She helps businesses to unlock their potential to consistently deliver new products faster, better, more profitable and with more fun.


Get the training. Come join me!

I’ll be in Invercargill on Friday 11th of September to deliver the Streamline NPD workshop. In person! Live! 

This 1-day workshop is for you if you:

  • like to learn (or refresh) the Basics of New Product Development (NPD)
  • want to be up to speed on the latest thinking in NPD
  • would like to get a step-by-step guide of how to take an idea through development and launch in the market
  • want to know how to do that faster, better, more profitable and with more fun.

Learn more here.


PS – Whenever you’re ready, here are five ways I can help you to make a difference by design:
(1) Set up a time to talk, give me a call (021-68 49 68) or send me an email.  I’d love to have a conversation with you.

(2) Download my “Product Development Warriors’ whitepaper. Find it here!

(3) Sign up to my newsletter.

(4) Connect with me on LinkedIn, you’ll also find me regularly posting there.

(5) Forward this email to a colleague.

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