Go to gemba: why Dodo Pizza’s office is going to be empty today

When somebody mentions gemba, it always makes me think of veggie smoothies. You know you should drink them because they are super healthy. But you never do.

Too much trouble and not as tasty as a greasy bun with some fried beef and cheese from the fancy burger joint around the corner.

Have no doubt: gemba is as healthy for your company as the smoothies are for your body. Yet while millions tout the benefits of the gemba process and continuous improvement and hammer home again and again how good it is to go to gemba, mere dozens put these ideas into practice.

Gemba is doomed to be at the end of the priority list

Take Dodo Pizza for example—an enterprise where just about all the managers absorbed the gemba approach with their baby food.

In 2011, when it all started with a single pizza delivery, the founder used to go to gemba 24/7, since he worked in the kitchen and made deliveries along with his team.

The first managers who joined that small venture started in the kitchen as well, and thus, they knew their business inside out.

They all believed in the benefits that gemba brings to restaurant management, and at some point, a rule was introduced: you could get an office job at Dodo Pizza only after you spent a month working at one of the company’s pizza shops.

Then life happened.

The business started growing faster than most people imagined, and nobody noticed how going to gemba gradually shifted to the bottom of the company’s priorities.

Filling vacancies with the right candidates was a priority. Assigning them to their tasks as soon as possible was a priority. Keeping up with the pace was a priority.

When you’re already pulling a backlist as long as a freight train, what’s the point in going to gemba? The perspective of learning about a problem that needs to be fixed doesn’t look enticing if the best you can do is address it next year.

Even the founder started to forget the recipes of half of the pizzas on our menu.

What we’re doing about the gemba question at Dodo Pizza

That’s why today, Dodo Pizza celebrates “Director’s Day.” The founder, directors, and top and middle managers from the head office, members of our IT team, general managers, and other very important and busy people will all be working in our pizzerias, taking orders, making pizzas, or doing deliveries.

It’s not the first “Director’s Day” in Dodo history, but for sure, it’s the first event this big. This time, not just the managers from our Moscow head office, but our partners all across Russia are going to gemba simultaneously and taking part in the celebration.

All sane entrepreneurs who care about their business seize this opportunity to

  1. be with their teams and show respect for the work that is being done in the kitchen;
  2. directly talk to their customers; and
  3. get useful insights that will help them do a better job for their customers and employees.

The team has prepared a checklist for our partners that will help them get fully armed for the celebration. Of course, our gemba day is no mystery for our customers—we’re promoting it on social media, inviting bloggers and reporters to come, and decorating our pizza shops.

On top of that, this year, we’re improving our gemba process and taking a more systematic approach to gathering insights that our managers will inevitably have after working kitchen shifts. We’ve put a form online and encouraged everybody to share their thoughts. After the celebration, we’ll revisit all the ideas.

From now on, this celebration will be annual.

Fyodor Ovchinnikov, Dodo Pizza founder, in gemba
Fyodor Ovchinnikov, Dodo Pizza founder, in gemba

You can’t go to gemba just once a year…

Of course, just one day can’t solve all our problems. Gemba isn’t a thing you can do only once a year. Being dedicated to this business approach, the Dodo team is now working on other good practices that may help us stay in the game despite the challenges of our rapid growth.

This month, a program of kitchen training in our corporate pizza shops has been launched by our IT team, which has been suffering from the lack of kitchen practice. Our training pizza shop is located in Syktyvkar, while most of the team’s new members came to work in our Moscow head office.

Luckily, we now have three corporate pizza shops in the capital. So from now on, three members of the IT team will be chosen every month to go to gemba and work at these pizzerias. Each of them will take at least six kitchen shifts and a few more shifts on delivery.

Dodo’s IT department has been under immense pressure for the last year. Rolling out new features, addressing some ugly bugs, doing general maintenance—their hands have been full. Their backlog could be exhibited in a museum.

Still, the leaders are hell-bent on sticking to the gemba plan and letting their people make pies in the kitchen instead of cranking out some useful code. They believe that it will pay off and expect them to get fresh ideas and great UX solutions after their coders will use by themselves some of the programs they have created.

We’ll check on them in a few months to see how it’s going.

But I bet that there will be at least one immediate benefit: after a few kitchen shifts, the IT team will have no shortage of exciting topics to talk about at lunch.