Customers Despise Centres of Excellence

Imagine you make pizzas for a living

You are the master baker

You have an army of under bakers at your disposal.  They run the best fleet of pizza ovens in the country, no sooner are they given an uncooked pizza than it is baked to perfection.  You run a pizza baking “centre of excellence

But the delivery and dispatch department are giving you grief, they say your pizzas are always late.  They don’t understand.  It isn’t your fault and it isn’t fair.  The real problem is the cheese jockeys and the dough boys, let alone the fool who makes the tomato sauce

And it isn’t your job to make tomato sauce.  You are not paid to make tomato sauce.  Tomato sauce is non of your business

Now you have a choice.  Spend the rest of your life in crisis meetings with distribution, blaming other people and ducking the issue.  Or take some accountability for the situation and start chopping and stirring

Incidentally, if the delivery is late your customers don’t care if it was the chef or the scooter boy at fault

Of course this is purely apocryphal story, I bet it doesn’t happen where you work

Chopping Tomatoes

Read another opinion

Image by abyssalmissile


  1. Hello James

    Excellent. I believe Goldratt pointed out that the system is only as strong as its weakest subsystem. He used the chain to illustrate the concept: the chain is only as strong as the weakest link.

    Leaders stand up and take responsibility for that which requires responsibility and accountability. And that may or may not be under their formal area of responsbility / control. That is why these people are being called leaders – they are taking the lead, being proactive, taking ownership. And you as you full well know there is a huge leadership void in many organisations.

    The final thought that occurs to me is that being a centre of excellence whilst being surrounded by centres of not excellence is just wasteful. It is like putting a first rate engine into a car that will allow the car to go at speeds of 200 mph and last for say 500,000 miles when the rest of the car can only tolerate a car that drives only as fast as 100mph and where the car body will fall apart after 200,000 miles. Pointless and wasteful!

    Yet, this stuff, this practice is prevalent in functionally, designed and managed organisations – that means ALL organisations, right?


  2. Hi James,
    In the Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith talked about the division of labour and how it could be applied to boost productivity and production, particularly in a pin factory example he used. However, nowhere in his example did he include a division of responsibility as part of the division of labour.

    I wonder who’s responsible for that reduction and can we separate the two?


  3. James Lawther says:

    Thank you for your comments, I’d always wondered about Adam Smith’s pin factory and the division of labour, it seems to cause so many issues. Your point about the division of responsibility is a very interesting one


  4. My question is how does one center of excellence pop up within a non-optimal setting? I would see this issue as a failure of management to understand the entire value stream specifically from a customer point of view. As management saw the impressive results from the baking center, maybe they could have pulled top performers out of the area and had them evaluate and improve the areas that were lacking. This would be similar to how companies like Toyota take the best performers from an area and move them to lacking areas. It is not meant to be a punishment (as many places would see it) to be moved from the best to worst areas, but an opportunity to use creativity and the beginners mind to look at change from a new perspective.

    I think this idea is one aspect that is missed by managers and workers alike. If there was an understood “promotion” to go from a “good” job to a “bad” job with the understanding that its up to you to improve it, and that management understood the move and backed the changes, I see a shift in mindset about the value of the entire value stream and not just your individual area.

    • James Lawther says:

      Thanks for your comment Wes, I think you are right it is a “failure of management to understand the entire value stream”, but then by their very existence isn’t that what centres of excellence show? There is nobody quite as blind as those who won’t see.


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