Lessons in Management, Leadership and Flawless Execution

Anticipating a nice long nap on a flight from Jaipur to Bangalore, I was instead given a memorable life lesson or two...

A few nanoseconds after the seat-belt sign went off, a flurry of activity ensued.

Three people in seats around me jumped up, bags and boxes of food were opened and paper plates magically materialized. Kachoris, chips, two types of sweets (laddoo and another one I couldn’t view due to the alacrity of operations) were put in each paper plate and the game was officially on.
There were at least twenty plates that were distributed across the aircraft, incredibly enough with very little communication and zero confusion on roles and responsibilities. One guy was opening the food boxes at high speed, the other was loading the plates ensuring perfect balance in portion size and one more guy was going around the plane dishing out the plates. The frenzied efficiency of the entire operation was a sight to behold. There was even this one white guy who just couldn’t resist all this food being passed around and requested for a plate. Not an eyelid batted; he got a plate with no disruption to the supply chain operations. The flight stewardess wanted to bring her food card down the aisle to serve us less fortunate mortals but she was informed politely but firmly that she’d have to wait 2 minutes.  The estimate went up to 3 and then 5 minutes all within a matter of a couple of seconds but at the end of 5 minutes, the perfect operation culminated with a trash box to gather the remains.

My learnings:
1.       Overall Planning – These folks were born to do this. At no point was there any sign of trouble or mismanagement. They made it look easy and seamless. I’m sure that only comes from years of training in the trenches of kachori and ladoo service with the constraints of time, space and resources
2.       Capacity Planning - Ability to cater to unplanned demand (they even asked the stewardess if she wanted a plate)
3.       Scale and Speed - The entire operation was geared for the shortest possible flight duration.  A 20 minute flight suffices for end to end execution
4.       Division of labor - Immaculate – everyone knew their role with minimal inter communication
5.       Optimization & Efficiency - Only three people were involved and 20+ people in different parts of the aircraft got served in under 5 minutes. As my colleague on the same flight put it, this was a surgical strike done with clinical precision
6.       Customer Satisfaction – The white guy had his fill and promptly fell asleep with his mouth open and a look of contentment on his face
7.       Quality – Zero defects, zero wastage, zero evidence of any food/service

Needless to say I couldn’t sleep after this immersive educational experience and spent the rest of the flight in a state of anti-climax.
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