February 2013

The Cheesecake Factory & Analytics

  • Adrian Reed 
  • 4 min read

One of the things I love about my job is that I get the opportunity to travel—and occasionally my work takes me outside of Europe and into the USA.   Last year, I had the opportunity to travel to Atlanta, Georgia.  Sadly, my schedule was packed with work related commitments, and although I became very familiar with the inside of offices, hotels and airports, I only got to see the city briefly.  However, two things vividly stick in my mind: The first was a visit to the Olympic park, which is well worth a visit if you ever happen to be in the city.  The second was (several) visits to a restaurant chain called The Cheesecake Factory.


As far as I know, we don’t have The Cheesecake Factory here in the UK, so I’ll explain it to anyone who hasn’t yet experienced it: It’s a restaurant that, as well as serving main courses, serves every conceivable type of cheesecake you can imagine served in extremely ample portions!  Here’s a picture I took at the counter which shows some of the range (I particularly recommend the “red velvet”, so if you happen to be passing please feel free to mail me a portion…)


Cheesecake factory counter


Now, as those of you that know me will appreciate, I find it very difficult to switch off the “business analyst” chip in my head, so whenever I visit a restaurant, I’m always thinking about how the business operates.   And I have to say, businesses like The Cheesecake Factory fascinate me.  There’s a huge variety of dishes on the menu, with (presumably) a huge range of ingredients being required.   The numbers are huge:  I recently read that the chain serves around 80 million people a year, with 200 dishes created from scratch in each restaurant.    There must be a significant number of businesses processes and procedures being carried out to support this – everything from taking an order and serving a customer right through to sourcing ingredients, running payroll and managing quality.   The organisation must be dealing with huge amounts of data about its customers, its profitability right through to data about its ingredients and its supply chain.  That’s quite some complexity and some “big data”!


Yet as a customer, I don’t want to worry about the complexity of the data or processes that are making the business run – I just want an excellent experience.   The challenge for a business like the cheesecake factory is how to assure an excellent and consistent customer experience, every time. How to ensure that the small but essential details are right — like the quality of each individual ingredient meets corporate standards.


A stack of coloured memo notes with the following words written on them: Yes, No, Maybe, Don't Know -- and a number of notes with question marks

The curse of the Business Case

A stack of coloured memo notes with the following words written on them: Yes, No, Maybe, Don't Know -- and a number of notes with question marksWhether you work for a large, small or mid-size organisation, one thing that is certain is that you’ll have access to limited resources.  Even the organisations with the deepest pockets still have a limit on the amount of financial (and human) resources that they can draw upon, and increasingly organisations need to focus on utilising their resources as effectively and efficiently as possible.  This inevitably means that it isn’t possible to progress or investigate every good idea or “light-bulb moment”.  Sometimes even the best and most innovative ideas have to be delayed or deferred in order to progress more important changes which have an imposed or regulatory deadline, or perhaps initiatives with a better return on investment are progressed first.


A key tool to help organisations decide on which ideas, projects or product developments to progress is the business case.  The “business case” certainly isn’t a new idea, and it’s certainly true that a well-written business case can help executives to make informed decisions over which initiatives they want to progress.


Know the bet you are placing


Business case templates and standards vary, but a good business case will state the expected costs, benefits, risk as well as other relevant factors.  I often draw a parallel with progressing projects and placing a bet at a horse race.  I’m not a betting man, but if I was, I’d want to know the odds of the horse on which I was betting.  The same is true of projects – senior stakeholders within organisations need to know the likely costs and benefits.  To put it another way, they need to know the size of the stake, the size of the prize, and the chance of success.  It’s an essential decision making tool.


However, in some organisations, the creation of a business case can sometimes be seen as a formality.  It’s like a dreaded “check box” activity. It’s rushed, insufficient time is spent on understanding the likely costs and benefits, and in a worst case it’s used to legitimise the wrong type of change.  (“Well, we want to buy XYZ system, so let’s just cook the books until the numbers stack up”).  When this happens, organisations are setting themselves up for a fall; over-inflated business cases just lead to disappointment.  A robust business case helps decision making, and enables a benefits realisation exercise to take place after the project has been deployed.  Benefits realisation is the discipline of measuring the actual benefits achieved, perhaps 6 or 12 months (or longer) after the project has been implemented.  This helps organisations to assess the real success (or failure) of their projects, in light of the business value and customer value that has been created.


Avoid the red tape


So how can we ensure business cases are useful, and steer away from a red-tape laden “check box” exercise? Business cases are varied, but here are a few quick tips for making them as applicable and useful as possible:


A picture depicting a woman holding an umberella, with data raining down on her

The importance of pictures

A picture depicting a woman holding an umberella, with data raining down on herI’ve recently started reading “Back of the Napkin: Solving problems and selling ideas with pictures” by Dan Roam.  In the book, Roam tells an a story of an executive who had commissioned a detailed market survey, only to be presented with hundreds and hundreds of pages of graphs, text and data tables.  The raw data that returned may have been exactly what the executive had asked for, but it was virtually impenetrable.  Even the “executive summary” was sixty pages long, and the executive must have felt very lost in the detail.


Roam goes on to describe how he pulled out key patterns from the data and information in the report and presented it succinctly and visually.  This got me to thinking about how collecting and analysing data is really only useful if it can subsequently be presented in a way that the consumer, user or executive decision maker can actually understand.  In his book Roam has hit upon an issue that is all-to-common in business.  The availability of raw data makes it so tempting to show every column, every pie chart… to cut data from every conceivable angle and present it to the decision maker.  With the abundance of data we can create run scenarios, experiments and make deductions… but if we’re presenting this data in 197 slides, will anyone pay any attention?


The reality is they won’t.  I remember seeing an excellent blog post on the Presentation Zen site which demonstrates the importance of using the right visuals when presenting.  These points are even more important when trying to make sense of (or communicate) complex data.

Man with megaphone

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